The $269 iBox Nano, billed as the “world’s smallest, cheapest 3D resin printer,” offers WiFi and 328 Micron resolution, and runs Linux on a Raspberry Pi.
The Raspberry Pi has been used as a computer interface device for 3D printers, as well as a calibration add-on, but as far as we know the iBox Nano is the first 3D printer in which Linux is running the show internally. Last month, an engineering student named Owen Jeffreys showed a video of a Raspberry Pi-based 3D printer project, but the project has yet to be completed (see farther below). Meanwhile, the only other commercial 3D printers we know of that run Linux are the three MakerBot Replicator models announced earlier this year.
iBox Nano and its progeny
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Whereas the Makerbot Replicators and most other 3D printers use plastic to build up 3D objects, the iBox Nano uses resin. Measuring only 235 x 119 x 85mm (9.25 x 4.3 x 3.4 inches), the iBox Nano is not only the world’s smallest and most affordable resin 3D printer, but also the only one to offer optional battery power, says Florida-based startup iBox Printers.
In addition, the iBox Nano is claimed to be the first resin printer to use LCD-based UV technology instead of lasers or DLP projection. It’s also the world’s quietest (29 decibels) and lightest (1.1-kilogram) 3D printer using any technology, claims iBox Printers. In addition, it runs on an average of only 2.7 Watts, making it the world’s most power-efficient 3D printer, according to the company.
Bunny (left) and extrusions made with iBox Nano
The tiny printer has just surpassed its $300,000 Kickstarter funding goal. While the $189 and $229 early bird slots are gone, you have until Nov. 14 to pick up a $269 model due to ship in April 2015, or a $299 model due in March. A $399 beta developer package promises shipments in February. Prices include three 95ml containers of resin in red, green, blue, or yellow.
The small size limits you to a small build area of 90 x 40 x 20mm (3.54 x 1.57 x 0.79 inches). However, due to the material cost and time it takes to do 3D printing, most users print items that are considerably smaller than their build areas allow, claims iBox Printers. The device is primarily designed for building toys, jewelry, crafts, and gifts, says the company.
The iBox Nano is constructed of precision laser cut extruded acrylic, and runs Linux on a Raspberry Pi. The particular Raspberry Pi SBC model is unspecified, but considering it has four USB ports for connecting a keyboard, monitor, and storage devices, it’s probably the most recent Model B+. No RAM stats were supplied, but the device is said to be further equipped with 8GB of storage and an HDMI port,
More views of the iBox Nano
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The iBox Nano does not require a separate desktop computer to be connected, so you can skip the software installation process. However, if you do want to connect the printer to a PC, you can use the built-in WiFi connection as an alternative to the available Ethernet port. An optional 10-hour ($29) or 20-hour ($39) battery will also be available.
The iBox Nano, which can also be used as a general-purpose RPi Linux computer, offers a “robust ecosystem of open source and free software for 3D modeling and editing,” says the company, without offering further details. You can also print from mobile devices, including Android and iOS, or from any browser, says the company.
iBox Nano UI
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The key advantage of using resin, vs. using plastic filament deposition modeling (FDM) technology, is that it makes it easier to create fine details. Such details are often desired on smaller objects, says iBox Printers, by way of spinning the small build area. Also, resin in a 3D printer’s vat tends to degrade much faster than plastic, so it’s better to work with small amounts of resin, anyway, says the company. Meanwhile, many objects can be constructed by combining smaller objects using screws or glue.
Rook in resin
Other touted advantages of resin over plastic include less odor, less noise, and in these small quantities, relatively low materials cost. Resin also has its own unique visual and tactile quality compared to plastic. No performance stats were mentioned, but TechCrunch quotes iBox Printer founder Trent Carter as saying that a 30 x 20mm Rook chess piece took about two hours to print and consumed about 50 cents worth of resin.
Most resin printers use DLP projection or laser technology that requires cooling fans to be running continually, increasing power consumption and noise, says iBox Printers. DLP bulbs are said to be expensive and fade over time, reducing quality, and they need to be replaced after several thousand hours. By contrast, the iBox Nano has no fan and uses UV LEDs rated at 50,000+ hours. UV resin printers tend to cost thousands of dollars, such as the $3,299 FormLabs Form 1+, which uses a UV laser stereolithography technology as opposed to the iBox Nano’s “unique” UV LCD technology, says iBox Printers.
Resolution comparison chart
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The iBox Nano is also touted for its high resolution. It prints at 328 microns on the X-Y axis, and can print at down to 0.39 microns on the Z axis, says the company. A comparison chart on the Kickstarter page (shown above) suggests that the Form 1 and more expensive Pegasus and B9 Creator DLP projector models can do better on the X-Y axis, but not on the Z axis, and they cost $3,000 to $5,000.
Summary of iBox Nano Specs
Specifications listed for the iBox Nano include:
- Processor (via Raspberry Pi) — 700MHz Broadcom BCM2835 SoC
- Storage — 8GB flash
- Material – Resin (UV LCD deposition) at $45/liter; ships with 3x 95ml containers in multiple colors
- Resolution X-Y — 328 Microns
- Resolution Z — 0.39 to 100 Microns
- Networking — WiFi “and/or” 10/100 Ethernet port
- Other I/O — HDMI port; 4x USB ports
- Other features — travel case, USB adapter and cable
- Noise level — 29 db
- Power — 5V; consumes 2.7 W (500mA @ 5v) active, and 1.5 W (310mA @ 5v) idle
- Dimensions — 235 x 119 x 85mm (9.3 x 4.3 x 3.4 in.)
- Build area — 90 x 40 x 20mm (3.5 x 1.6 x 0.8 in.)
- Weight — 1.1 k (2 lbs, 7 oz)
- Operating system — Linux; browser-based software
iBox Nano video demo
Raspberry Pi-controlled 3D printer claimed to be world’s first
This summer, an engineering student named Owen Jeffreys posted a Vimeo video demonstrating a prototype of what it claims is the world’s first true Raspberry Pi based 3D printer. According to Jeffreys, most projects claiming to be Pi-based 3D printers actually only use the Linux-based SBC to act as intermediary between the device and the desktop PC, which is still required. In addition, the Pi SBC doesn’t actually control the printing process, a function that’s usually delegated to an Arduino or other microcontroller-based board.
Owen Jeffries’ Raspberry Pi Printer in mockup form (left) and in the actual prototype
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By contrast, the Jeffreys’s unnamed printer, which is still under development, actually controls the printer’s plastic (ABS or PLA) deposition process. The device was almost entirely built from scratch, including “the circuit board, the aluminum framework, the drive system and the C++ program to run on the Pi,” writes Jeffreys.
The next step for Jeffreys is to modify the interface board used to connect the Raspberry Pi to the 3D printer. Instead of the current, hand-etched, double-sided PCB, Jeffreys plans to switch to a more compact shield add-on. He is also considering improving the speed, as well as possibly adding a twin print head. The current prototype runs at about a quarter of the speed of a typical hobbyist model, such as a RapMan, taking about 25 hours to print a 60mm high chess piece, writes Jeffreys.
The iBox Nano is available on Kickstarter through Nov. 14 for $269 (ships in April 2015), $299 (ships in March), or as a $399 beta developer package that ships in February. More information may be found at the iBox Nano Kickstarter page, as well as at the iBox Printers website.