When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became clear that organizers would have to pull the plug on any large social events they had planned. Many organizers decided to take their events online, but blurry web streams and meme-filled Discord channels can only get you so far. At this point we’re all keenly aware that, while they do have some advantages, virtual events are not the same as the real thing.
Which is why I was looking forward to making the trip down to Bel Air, Maryland for the first in-person East Coast RepRap Festival (ERRF) since 2019. I’m happy to report that the event, which was still in its infancy prior to the pandemic, was just as lively this year as it was doing my previous trips. Perhaps even more so, as local hackers and makers were eager for an outlet to show of their latest creations.
I’ll admit that part of me was concerned the two-year shutdown would have robbed ERRF of the momentum organizers had worked so hard to build. But judging by what I saw over the weekend, it seems even a global pandemic couldn’t slow down this fantastic event.
A Tough Time to Innovate
That said, you definitely got a different vibe while walking the show floor this year. It wasn’t a matter of attendance, from what I saw, there was certainly no shortage of excited folks milling about. But one couldn’t help but feel that there was a sense of hesitation on the part of many of the vendors, as if they didn’t want to fully commit to a large scale showing.
The fact is, these are difficult times. We’ve covered the part shortages in great length here at Hackaday, and when you combine that with rising inflation around the world, it’s not hard to see why many of these companies have decided to keep a low profile. When you’re having enough trouble keeping production going on your current products, it’s hardly the ideal time to launch a new one.
So while Prusa, both the man himself and his eponymous company, were in attendance this year, there was no surprise product reveal like in 2019. A Prusa XL was there running off some demo prints, and the ambitious large-format machine definitely attracted a crowd, but we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for that mythical i3 MK 4.
Of course, it’s not just hard on companies right now. When folks are struggling with energy and grocery bills, a new 3D printer or a couple rolls of exotic filament are luxuries that are going to have to be pushed to the wayside. For what I paid in gas to drive to Maryland, I could have stayed home and ordered a decent printer on Amazon. The fact that so many people still made the trek out to ERRF given what’s going on in the world really shows how excited people were for this event to return.
Invasion of the Death Racers
Just because the big boys didn’t bring too many new toys to play with this year doesn’t meant there wasn’t anything interesting to see. After seeing suspiciously similar printed combat robots on various individual’s tables, I had to take a closer look and see what it was all about.
It turns out the basic design originated from Michael Baddeley, but over the last half a year or so has taken on a life of its own thanks to the 3D printing community on YouTube. As you can see in the gallery here, most of the modifications to the core tracked bot are cosmetic, so as to keep the performance as similar as possible for competitive purposes. The idea is to use the rotating boom on the back of your tank to knock the head off of your opponent — cleverly, the main power running to the electronic speed controller is wired through a chunky toggle switch mounted under the head in such a way that once the “driver” has been decapitated the vehicle is no longer able to move.
But why were so many hanging around at this particular event? Keen-eyed readers may notice that several of the Racers feature Polymaker’s logo, which isn’t just a coincidence. It turns out the filament maker was running a promotion where they would provide anyone going to ERRF the filament they needed to print a Death Racer, so long as their name was proudly emblazoned along the side. Clever.
Hey, I Know This Printer
For me personally, one of the best parts of going to an event like this is that I’ll inevitably stumble across a project we’ve already covered here on Hackaday. Seeing these creations up close and meeting the passionate people who build them is always very rewarding. Especially in the event that our coverage had a beneficial impact on the project, because at the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about.
This time around I got to spend some time chatting with Adam Fasnacht and check out the Ender 3 he modified with a conveyor belt for “infinite” printing. We covered the open source modification, as well as Adam’s fledgling company PowerBelt3D, last month — but there’s still nothing quite like being able to see the hardware in person.
During my visit, I also saw the latest iteration of the Cocoa Press chocolate printer. The first time I came across this project was during the 2018 World Maker Faire in New York, and back then it took up nearly the whole table and was literally made out of wood. The design had been refined considerably by the time the 2019 Philadelphia Maker Faire rolled around, but this new version of the machine appears to be a real leap forward technologically.
Still not 100% sure there’s a huge market for 3D printed chocolates, but can’t deny that the Cocoa Press team are pushing their technology forward like mad.
Prints For Days
While seeing what the vendors have to offer is interesting, and getting some face time with the 3D printing community certainly has value, the reason you really make the trip out to an event like the East Coast RepRap Festival is to see all the incredible 3D prints people have brought along to show off.
The following gallery is by no means an exhaustive record of what was on display this year, but should give you an idea of what kind of things you might see if you make the trip come 2023.
Stay Tuned for More
You’ll be seeing a few more articles from the 2022 East Coast RepRap Festival here on Hackaday shortly, there were simply too many cool projects to try and collect them up in just one go. But even after you’ve read them all, you’ll still only have experienced a tiny fraction of what this event has to offer.
If you’re into 3D printing and can possibly make the trip, I’d highly recommend heading out next year. It might not have the pedigree of the older Midwest RepRap Festival, but ERRF does have the distinct advantage of not taking place in middle-of-nowhere Indiana.