Sunday, November 29, 2009

Breaking down the cost of RepRap firmware

Given the delay in MakerBot restocking the Makerbot Store, I decided I was going to go the Hacker route and just build all the components myself (Considering I haven't touched a soldering iron in 10 years, what could go wrong?). I started going through the RepRap parts lister, and after flipping through 20 pages, I was COMPLETELY confused.

You can tell someone put a lot of work into it, but it seemed to be set up for someone who would have some of this stuff sitting on the shelf, which I assume most RepRap enthusiasts will not.

So I decided I would try to improve on the idea. I added an electronics section to the Mendel M4 Assembly Data Sheet. Hopefully I didn't make it too confusing, or miss post anything. Sort of intimidating when you boot Mr Bowery from the top spot :).

I am glad I completed this project, because I learned something I would have never guessed, MakerBot is BY FAR a cheaper choice than trying to build the boards yourself... Let me explain.

The cheapest route to getting all the firmware is Buying the MakerBot DIY kits from MakerBot. For all the boards you will need it comes up to only $148 dollars.

Second cheapest route is buying all the PCBs from MakerBot, and all the chips and such from Mouser & Digikey. Total Came to $158.81 plus 2 chips I could not find (HELP!!). Assuming they go for $1 a piece, which looks about right, that's $163.81, or 15 dollars more than Buying the MakerBot DIY kits. This surprised the heck out of me.

Both of these options require you to buy a hot plate, Zeph paste, solder, and likely destroy some PCBs and chips in the process. Everything I have read says that the soldering process on the 11 boards would take someone who knows what they are doing 5-6 hours, or 2 days for someone like me. At $10 an hour, that's $160 of my time to put them together... ICK!

The 3rd cheapest option is buying the MakerBot Assembled Kit. Open it up, plug it in, and you are good besides the end stops, which need a little love. I hate spending money, but I think I spare some beer money to let them handle that job! $10 more is a steal... when they get them back in stock.

Most expensive option is buying the boards separately from Makerbot. That would end up being $203.00. Again considering it would take a real hacker $50-$60 dollars worth of time to put it together, it's still a deal.

Makes me wish I had bought the boards separately when they where in stock...

If you have a chance, go over to the RepRap Wiki and see if you can add more information to the Mendel M4 Assembly Data Sheet. God knows we are all dreaming of that Mendel RepRap goodness at this point.


  1. Thanks for doing the research. I checked the Tab and it made sense to me. I had already made the decision to wait for MakerBot restock simply because I am time limited and will gladly pay for a built board at a reasonable price.

    One thing - a hot plate is not absolutely required for SMT soldering. I would shy away from it with out test runs on junk boards with a particular setup. I fine tip soldering iron works fine for me.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I really hope someone steps in as competition to Makerbot, or a European Makerbot esk company comes online.

    We can only hope

  3. So the other night when I saw this post I looked, and saw what you mean - the particular stepper driver IC has a minimum quantity (at digikey) of like 800+ (at around $2 each). But I did see that if you search on digikey for just the Axxx (I forget it's number) - just the a and 4 letters - you see that the particular version from the part lister site is obsolete. The other parts are cut tape and tap & reel formats, which I googled to determine are packaging mechanisms for automated building (a reel of chips). I think though for one of them that you can order a quantity of 1 for like $5.xx.

  4. I have built a (very basic) stepper controller from an ULN2004AN darlington transistor array 52p, and an LM317T current regulator 76p

    The current regulator is capable of sourcing 1.5A and the darlington is capable of sinking 2.5A, so should be fine for my NEMA17 's which draw 1.2A

    It can be controlled with an Arduino using four wires, or with a few 1k resistors the darlington can be configured to use only two wires.

    I will post further details on my blog soon, but my intention is to build cheap temporary electronics on breadboard until the makerbot ones are available.

  5. Just a little terminology correction: Firmware is the software for the Arduinos (which costs nothing).

    You're talking about the cost for the _electronics_. :-)

    Yes, a European shop or shops that supply general RepRap parts at good prices would be very good. I'm sure it will happen.