Last weekend, approximately seventy-five teams of students from local universities, including MIT and Harvard, as well as visiting teams from as far away as Toronto and Los Angeles, converged on the MIT student center for the fifth annual MakeMIT 2018 event.
Ultimaker was a sponsor of the 2018 event, and attend as both exhibitors and mentors to work directly with hackathon participants. We provided a fleet of six Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 3 printers for participants to use, to produce custom parts, test unique concepts, and fabricate jigs and fasteners that accelerated their invention process.
Each Ultimaker ran non-stop throughout the challenge until more than an hour after the buzzer sounded—so that the other mentors had a chance to print as well.
The MakeMIT hackathon is unique in a number of ways: not only is it rare to see hardware-focused hackathons, but this one tightens the screws by reducing the inventing time from the more typical 72-, 48-, or even 24-hour time limit down to a grueling nineteen-hour sprint. And sprint they did; a record number of teams completed and demonstrated original product ideas at the stroke of midnight, and ten energy drink-fueled finalist teams were selected to present their work on stage at 1:00 am to the cheers and support of hundreds of their peers and mentors.
Ultimaker hackathon tips
Incorporating desktop 3D printing into hackathons can be a challenge (expertise we have gained supporting Make48 inventor challenges over the past two years), but we find that a handful of strategies can really help the success of short hackathons like this one.
- Limit materials to PLA only, and encourage participants to use colors already installed on the machines. This significantly reduces the time involved with swapping spools and (more importantly) troubleshooting materials profile slicing strategies.
- Install 0.8 mm print cores and nozzles on all of the machines. As a result, we printed as many as three to four times as many parts as would have been possible in the same time period using 0.4 mm nozzles.
- Explain to participants how to tune and tweak their designs to take the wider line widths into account. While this might sound like a hassle, there are positive side-effects of this constraint for a hardware hackathon. The wider line widths also mean that more plastic is extruded into each outline on each layer, reducing the need for many outer shells as well as boosting the strength of the part as a whole.
- Ask participants to use 0.3 mm or 0.2 mm layer height. We did permit a few smaller parts, but most were happy with at least the 0.2 mm layer height out of respect for other users who needed to print parts.
These strategies don't take advantage of the higher resolution usually associated with Ultimaker printers, but the resulting parts were printed rapidly, looked great, and were tough enough to handle rough usage in the large hardware inventions produced by each team.
Ultimaker design iteration challenge
This year, as part of the hackathon, we introduced the "Ultimaker Design Iteration Prize," encouraging participants—both despite and because of the limited printing time available—to force themselves to create a smaller feature test print first to validate their design, fit, and plan before running longer parts. Introducing this strategy to attendees boosted the number of participants who could use the printers, as well as helping those who did make better parts.
The winner this year was the team that created GNAT - Guided Nerf Automated Turret. This team printed a portion of their nerf dart tube a couple of times to learn more each pass through about how that small feature (at the crux of multiple systems) could best be accomplished, making a number of part revisions before framing up the entire assembly for this aspect of the machine.
At 2:30 am, with all of the projects wrapped up and hackathon participants streaming out to dorm rooms, parking lots, and rideshare pickups, the Ultimaker team headed to bed as well, happy with the quantity of printed parts completed successfully, and the details shared to the MakeMIT team for hackathon printing strategies that they can draw on for the 2019 edition of their event.
Visit the event's page on DevPost to see all of the winners and participating teams.