Is 3D printing ready to be adopted by mainstream consumers? The short answer is “we don’t know.” However, Judging by scale of the desktop 3D presence on floor of International CES 2014, huge marketing dollars are now being spent to push desktop additive manufacturing mainstream.
With industry giants like Adobe and Microsoft rushing to add integrated 3DP drivers, and Martha Stewart taking a keen interest in both FormLabs and MakerBot (with a rumored partnership with MakerBot for a Martha Stewart collection of 3D printable products) can other large companies be far behind?
The movement to mainstream 3D printing is aggressively pursuing a sea change that replaces “experimental” with “easy”. We’re seeing more auto-leveling build platforms and new extruder designs which address the two biggest desktop 3DP issues: nozzle clogging and print adhesion problems. However, it is apparent that some of the hardware changes that claim to facilitate “ease-of-use” can also result in more closed, priority chip-locked systems; engineered to create cartridge-based filament dependency.
CES 2014 3D Printer Roll Call
The show floor at CES is as large as 37 football fields. Although the 3D Printing Techzone was only a small part of this orgy of consumer tech, it featured 30 3DP focused booths that included both established, industrial companies (3D Systems, EnvisionTEC Inc., Kevvox, Mcor Technologies Ltd, Incodema Group, DWS Systems, Sculpteo, plus Stratasys and their newest desktop division, MakerBot) as well as some smaller companies (Afinia, Solidoodle LLC, Beijing Tiertime Technology), complete newcomers (Old World Labs, LIghtForge, XYX Printing, CEL Technology, FSL3D and SolidIdea) and Kickstarted machines (FormLabs, Pirate3DP Pte Ltd, Robo 3D, AIO Robotics and Matterform).
There were a few surprises that were not listed in the directory of published exhibitors, who partnered with those willing to pony up for a pricy CES booth. Members of the Deezmaker crew (Diego Porqueras and Rich Cameron (you know him as “whosawhatsis” and I’ll be referencing his comments through out this post) were also in attendance, printing models from the 3D digital sculpting platform Leopoly. The Hyrel Engine and System machines were on display at filament provider and printer reseller 3DPrintLife. More details to come in the Fused-Filament Fabrication section of this article.
New Trends in FFF: Who’s Doing What?
One exciting development is that the new machines from Robox (aka CEL Technology), XYZprinting, 3D Systems’ Cube line and MakerBot’s Replicator line all have implemented some type of auto-leveling, joining the ranks of the Up Plus 2, the Mini Kossel and many other RepRap initiatives already in progress that use Marlin firmware. Although not seen at CES, the newly open source Mbot has also announced a newly automatically leveling machine, the Grid II, I have also heard through the Jetty Firmware Google Group grapevine that due Mbot, which uses Sailfish firmware, that auto-leveling implementation in Sailfish may be on it’s way.
Chip Away: Open or Closed?
The new 3DS and XYZprinting machines have filament loading systems that require proprietary filament cartridges. In the current cube line (prior to the new releases), we know that 3D Systems has used a Dallas Semiconductor 1-wire chip in each cartridge that stores the filament color, remaining amount, and ensures the use of their proprietary filament in their machines, although there’s a hack for that. It is unknown, if XYZprinting has chipped their da Vinci 1.0 printer filament, but it seems likely.
There is some debate as to whether MakerBot will begin to chip filament for the new line of Replicators. Their PLA filament page now sports the disclaimer “1KG & 5LB spools are not compatible with MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer (Fifth Generation Model)”, so there is defiantly some type of filament management system change to come. Rich Cameron reports that “The new Makerbots don’t use enclosed cartridges, but they do appear to … have non-standard dimensions that will ensure that it is as difficult as possible to use third-party spools.”
As is typically the case, it’s not the technology itself that is problematic, but how it’s applied. Identifying the material properties of the filament to ensure that the correct profile is used during printing is a good thing. We all want better prints and chipping filament can make it easy to physically transfer / recognize filament profiles. However, if the the secondary application of chipping is used for DRM and prevents the user from choosing their own consumables, it stifles experimentation.
Unless dramatic price increases occur, a market segment shift to proprietary materials is not necessarily a bad thing for a device target at the mainstream consumer market. For 3D printers to cross the consumer device divide, manufacturers will need to remove as many possible points of failure as possible. Taking “tinkering” out of the equation means they are better able to support the average consumer and that they can control the quality and formulation of the filament supply used, but it makes the tinkers very unhappy.
I was interested to learn that Robox, although chipping filament, is making their chips re-configurable. I ran into them at CES as did Rich Cameron, who had this to say on G+:
One pleasant surprise was the Robox 3d printer. When I first saw their Kickstarter campaign mention chipped filament spools, I assumed the worst, but I discovered at the show that their chips are simple EEPROM chips containing data about the filament to automatically configure certain print parameters. They told me that rather than being used as a DRM scheme to prevent using third-party print materials, the chips are rewritable and reusable, and can be configured with specifications of anyone’s filament. This model provides all of the legitimate benefits of the proprietary cartridge system without the single-supplier lock-in and overpriced materials. I personally started the UFID project to create an open standard with this same goals back in May, and I invited them to collaborate on the project when I spoke to them.
The Universal Filament Identification System (UFID) referenced above is a open source project (here’s the GitHub link) created by Rich for “Developing a method for tagging, tracking, and identifying filament for 3d printing in machine-readable formats to eliminate the guess-work.”
What’s Changed Since 2013?
Matt Richardson was the only member of our MAKE crew who attended last year’s event and I asked him to share his thoughts on what has changed in the CES 3DP presence from 2013 to 2014. Here’s what he had to say:
What struck me about 3D printing at CES 2014 was the huge difference between this year and last. In 2013, there were a few 3D printing companies on the floor, none of which had a huge presence. This year, the 3D printing companies really brought out the big guns. With big, flashy booths and major product announcements, the exhibitors made a huge splash and perhaps solidified CES as a key event for 3D printing companies to reach a mainstream audience.
The Big Guns
There were several industrial professional printers with hefty price tags on the floor of CES 2014. I glimpsed the Mcor Iris ($15,866 per year with 3 year service and materials plan) whose “MYEASY3D” service partnership with Staples has been rolled out in Europe, the $14,999 Perfactory Micro (which launched last year at CES 2013) and the $10,000 Strataysis Mojo.
3DS vs MBI
However, consumer tech is the focus of this event and the expensive industrial printers were completely eclipsed by the latest announcements from 3D Systems and MakerBot whose colossal booths were visible from all points of the 3DP Techzone.
3D Printing Evangelist Michael Curry, formerly of MakerBot Industries and creator of the incredible 3D printable Minifigs, was also present at CES 2014 and shared his thoughts on the event. I’ll be sprinkling in his take at various points during this article. Here’s his summary of 3DS vs MBI:
MakerBot and 3D Systems continued there slugging match in the FDM technology category. Makerbot announced 3 new printers, including the massive Replicator Z18, and a premium service for downloading printable content. 3D Systems launched a newly redesigned product line and a comprehensive strategy focusing on offering printers models for environments ranging from school desk to factory floors, all in one product family.
With their focus on owning and delivering “easy” and new materials tech, 3D Systems stole the show at CES 2014. They launched 12 new consumer and professional products, including their radically updated sub-$1,000 auto-leveling, dual-extrusion Cube FFF printer line, CeraJet ceramic printer, the CubeJet full-color power printer, the Touch haptic device, the 3DMe 3D photo booth and my personal favorite, the ChefJet line of sugar and cocoa printers.
Right on the heels of the launch of their Windows only Sense scanner at Engadget Expand, 3D Systems announced their new iSense 3D scanner for the iPad at CES. The iSense will be closed-source and focused on scanning for 3D printing. The iSense was created using IP they licensed from Occipital, the creators of the open and “made to be hacked” Structure Sensor (which I wrote about as my CES “editors pick” here)
I have already written extensively about 3DS’ new printers in the following three articles, so I won’t repeat all the details here.
- 3D Systems Breaks the Mold: Sugar, Chocolate, Ceramic, and Full-Color Powder 3D Printing On Your Desktop
- Here Come the Cubes!
- Meet the Machine Makers: The Stories Behind 3D Systems Newest Printers
MakerBot released three new printers during Bre Pettis’s CES keynote; the enormous Replicator Z18 (large enough to create the helmet that Pettis donned at the start of the presentation in one piece), a new mid-size version of the new Replicator (not to be confused with the original laser-cut Replicator) and Cupcake build size Replicator Mini Compact. See Bre Pettis on MakerBot’s Three New Printers by our Executive Editor Mike Senese for details.
There were no changes to the MakerBot Digitizer, but a 3D scanning partnership with the computer vision company SoftKinetic, who I also interviewed at CES, was announced.
All three Fifth Generation MakerBot Replicators feature new swappable “smart extruders” that can detect filament absence and automatically pause failing prints. The Replicator line now also has auto-leveling, full-color LCD displays, built in USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity, onboard cameras for print monitoring and print photo sharing through the forthcoming MakerBot Apps. Also announced was the new MakerBot Digital Store, which will sell printable 3D models in the XG3 format. There’s also a new control dial that “emulates high end stereo equipment”, of which Mr. Pettis seemed particularly proud, as he mentions during the interview we conducted on the show floor.
Resin on the Rise
As expected, desktop resin printing exploded at CES 2014 and orange shields were visible all over the 3D printing Techzone at CES. We saw a steep $2,000 divide between the pricing of $3,000 – $3,500 range of “desktop” SLA machines and their $5,000 “professional” counterparts. In the desktop category we saw the Form1, the Pegasus Touch and the LightForge, with the FABX and OWL Nano in the more expensive “professional” category.
Here’s Michael Curry on the state of SLA:
CES 2014 saw a proliferation of UV resin desktop 3d printers. LightForge, DWS Labs, Old World Laboratories, and Full Spectrum Laser all joined FormLabs exhibiting machines based on stereolithography. Speculation within the industry was that the ongoing litigation between 3D Systems and FormLabs over stereolithography patents would have a chilling effect on development, fortunately that has not been the case.
FSL3D, the creators of the Full Spectrum laser cutter, are currently Kickstarting their successfully funded Pegasus Touch at a lower price point, but it will retail for an estimated MSRP of $3,499. The Pegasus Touch has a 177 x 177 x 228mm (7″x7″x9″) build area, a minimum layer thickness of ~5 micron, but with “typical layer thickness” 25-100 microns, and a minimum feature size of 250 microns. It also has USB, Ethernet and WiFi connectivity via its on-board color touchscreen Linux computer.
Check out the full tech specs for the Pegasus Touch and here’s MAKE’s 2014 CES interview with FSL3D engineer Andrew Boggeri.
I’m waiting on concrete pricing information from LightForge, but they tell me that it is an “affordable desktop solution”, and that the price range will fall somewhere between $2,000 to $3,000.
The only DLP consumer desktop printer at CES, LightForge has a build volume of 192 x 120 x 228 mm (7.6 x 4.7 x 9.0 in). It’s got a minimum layer thickness of 25 microns, which is same as the Form1 and the smallest “typical layer thickness” of the Pegasus Touch. However, with a minimum feature size of 150 microns, LightForge reportedly bests both the Form1 and the Pegasus touch in the resolution department. The LightForge SLA printer’s estimated availability is currently listed on their site as “coming in 2014”. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to check out the full tech specs for the LightForge and print pics of MAKE’s test objects from our 2014 Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Italy-based DWS Systems, is already established in the high-end industrial market, but their XFab printer is their first foray into desktop 3D printing as DWS Labs. Currently scheduled for an estimated spring 2014 release, the XFab can print in an exciting range of 9 different materials: standard acrylate amber, ABS-like grey, ABS-like white, polypropylene-like, rigid opaque grey, transparent, ceramic nano-filled light blue, rubber-like black and rubber-like transparent. It’s got a build area of 180 × 180mm (7″ x 7″), a minimum feature size of 80 microns and with a possible minimum layer thickness of 10 microns. That’s the smallest “MFS” I have seen so far and the surface finish on the parts shown at CES was impressive. The XFAB will retail for $5,000, but there is a lower cost consumer model on the way for around $2,500.
Old World Labs released the OWL Nano printer at CES 2014 and their website states that it is already available for order. Old World Labs claims that the OWL Nano is capable of SLA printing at an incredible 0.1 micron layer height and laser focus area. No, that wasn’t a typo – they are claiming point one micron layer height and minimum feature size! Build area is 150L x 150W x 200H mm (6″ x 6″ x 8″).
From the OWL Nano specs:
Single strand laser beam, virtually no distortion: OWL Nano takes traditional stereolithography to a higher level. Unlike other stereolithographic printers, which bounce a laser beam off mirrors before reaching the voxel, the OWL Nano positions its laser source just centimeters from the voxel. This decreases beam distortion and allows the highly tuned, single strand laser to focus on an area as small as 1/10th of a micron.
That’s quite a claim, for as Bacteria World states in their un-related post How Big is a Micron, “for size comparison, a human red blood cell is about 5 microns across. A human hair is about 75 microns across (depending on the person). Bacteria can be between about .2 microns and 3 microns in size”.
Don’t believe the OWL’s specs are possible? I’d love to hear what you think about this dark horse printer, sound off in the comments!
The first affordable commercial desktop SLA printer, the Form 1 from FormLabs was successfully Kickstarted in October of 2012 at $2,945,885.00. It is priced at $3,299.00 and is currently available for preorder with an estimated delivery in April of 2014. With an OLED display, a build volume or 125 x 125 x 165mm (4.9 x 4.9 x 6.5 inches), a minimum layer thickness of 25 microns, and a minimum feature size of 300 microns, it has the smallest build volume of the three desktop units. At 300 microns, it has the same minimum feature size as the LightForge, but slightly larger than the reported “MFS” of the Pegasus Touch. Currently, it is currently the only SLA printer shown at CES 2014 that has been “in the wild” and it preformed very well during our 2014 Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing tests.
Here’s the full tech specs for the Form 1 and check out MAKE’s 2014 CES interview with FormLab’s Sam Jacoby
New Desktop FFF, Available Soon
As printers proliferate and vie for consumer dollars, making 3D printing easy and reliable has become the goal. I’ve already discussed the growing trends toward auto-leveling and proprietary filament cartridges and this section will touch on specific features of individual printers that are currently available / for pre-order.
The Robox from CEL Technology features a build volume of 210 x 150 x 100mm (8.3 x 5.9 x 3.9”) an auto-leveling build platform, single or dual replaceable print heads, automatic material recognition and a minimum print resolution of 20 microns.
In addition to the automatic material configuration through chipped filament that I mentioned above, the Robox has a unique extruder with world’s first dual-pinch-wheel extrusion system. Which, according to the Robox tech specs:
… allows for very consistent and reliable extruder operation with excellent resolution and control. The filament is fed to the head by two indexed contra-rotating feed wheels which are powered by a worm & wheel gearbox. This arrangement virtually eliminates the possibility of ‘stripping’ your filament, causing a loss of extrusion and poor print quality.
The’ve also built in a print pause feature and a unique nozzle valve system that stops the ooze and stringing that occurs from over-extrusion. Instead of retracting the filament, they have implemented a needle-valve system which according to Robox:
… completely closes the nozzles at the point of extrusion, removing all stringing and ‘blobs’ from the part – resulting in an amazing surface finish.
The Robox was successfully Kickstarted on December 20th 2013 and is currently available for preorder / backorder for a sale price of £799.90 or $1,310.72. The “regular” price is listed as £849.90 or $1392.65.
Michael Curry’s take on the Robox:
The CEL Robox is an impressive bit of mechanical engineering, With an extruder mechanism like a space shuttle thruster and a clever system for allowing users to chip and track there own spools, i’m excited to see how these machines mature. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see someone acquire Robox to get their hands on all that engineering talent.
I met up with Pirate3D, the makers of the Buccaneer 3D printer, to hear more about the status of their company after their phenomenally successful Kickstarter which raised $1,438,765. I learned that they will shipping the first batch of Kickstarted printers in January and the final batch will ship in April.
Michael Curry’s take on the Buccaneer:
The Buccaneer is the first machine to come onto the FDM market that has given any serious thought to the industrial design. Its a beautiful machine that will look right at home on your desk next to your Apple devices.
The Pirate3D Buccaneer was originally announced with a non-standard spool system that would have made it difficult (though probably not impossible) to use third-party filament, but the version they were showing appeared to be using a more standard spool.
We’ll have to see what shakes out by the final version. It also comes as no surprise that their “to-good-to-be-true” initial price of $347 was not sustainable and has been raised to $597 for the current batch of pre-orders. In addition, that the price will further increase in May / June to $897 to account for distribution costs.
da Vinci 1.0
XYZprinting unveiled the da Vinci 1.0 at CES 2014 and where it was awarded a “CES Editors Choice Award”. Retailing at just $499 with a build volume of 200 x 200 x 200mm (7.8″ x 7.8″ x 7.8″), it also has an “auto adjusting build plate” and uses proprietary XYZ printing filament cartridges. XYZprinting’s site also indicates that they have a “XYZ Cloud” website where they will provide free 3D printable models but it doesn’t seem to be live at the time of this writing. Their site also mentions that their free 3D modeling & printing software “XYZware” is coming soon.
Is $499 a sustainable price point for this printer? Time will tell.
Here’s Michael Curry’s take on the da Vinci 1.0:
XYZ Printing came of nowhere and showed up at CES with a $499 machine. Information on the da Vinci’s capabilities was limited, but that machine looks light years ahead of anything else at that $499 price point.
By the time I stopped by the SolidIdea booth at CES to check out the $99 Chocolate Printer, the ChocaByte, their table was empty. I have since caught up with Quinn Karaitiana of the SolidIdea team and he told me a bit about the background of how they design of this syringe-based chocolate extrusion printer.
The SolidIdea crew decided to question all the assumptions that go into a typical 3D printer build and by stripping away all functionality (and expense) that was not necessary for extruding chocolate. Their prototype started out with a Prusa i3 with a Ramps 1.4 shield plus an Arduino, and cut down the build size and part count until they reached the current dimensions of 2” X 2” X 1” high. After reconfiguring Prusa so that the X,Y and Z axes were on the bottom of the machine, they mounted syringe on top, with a stepper pushing the plunger down. After they had an early working prototype, they redesigned the machine to look like a kitchen appliance, as shown in the rendering.
This printer has a resolution of 1.5mm per layer and simple designs without overhangs work best. Currently, there is no heating element within the printer itself and the chocolate must be preheated and then manually loaded into the syringe prior to printing. The chocolate is cooled as it is extruded so the print keeps it’s shape.
Quinn told me that SolidIdea intends to make the Chocabyte open source, sharing all the files on GitHub and actively encouraging modifications. The Chocabyte is currently available for pre-order for $99 from the SolidIdea site as they prepare for a production run of 500 units, with an estimated delivery around March / April. Like most of the other printers mentioned here, there may also be a Kickstarter in their near future.
System / Engine
As mentioned above, Hyrel was in the 3DPrintLife booth and I grabbed some shots and vines of their Engine multi-and System 30 material printers. The Hyrel printers don’t have auto-leveling, but they can be configured with multiple types of swappable extruder heads that have the ability to print in the following materials:
Sugru, Clay, Porcelain, Precious Metal Clay (PMC), Silicone RTV, Play-Doh, Plasticines… and coming soon, Wax, Chocolate, Cheese, Peanut Butter… etc.
As they appeared at LeoPoly‘s booth, Deezmaker wasn’t listed in the CES directory and so I was surprised to see them at our Thursday CES “flash maker meetup”. I hadn’t expected to see an open source kit printer on the floor of CES and I was disappointed that I had missed the chance to check out the newest version of their successfully Kickstarted Bukito printer in action (check out our review of their earlier prototype).
Luckily Hak5 captured a demo and you can see Diego Porqueras flipping the Bukito completely upside down as it continues to successfully print.
The Bukito has a build volume of 5″x6″x5″ and is now available for pre-order from the Deezmaker store with an estimated late March delivery.
Solidoodle is back in black with a brand new version of their printer, the Solidoodle 4. Retailing at $999.00, with a build volume of 8″ x 8″ x 8″, it’s a $200 jump up in price from their $799.00 Solidoodle 3. Although their third generation printer didn’t preform well in our 2014 testing, I’m hoping for an improvement in version 4. It’s available now from the Solidoodle site.
Another successfully funded 3DP Kickstarter, Robo 3D has an interesting look. I didn’t get to meet with them, but I did snap a picture of their robot mounted 3D printer.
The Robo 3D has a 254 x 228.6 x 203.2mm (10″x9″x8″) build area and starts at $599 for the PLA only version. It’s also available with a heated bed for $699. It looks like these machines are currently backordered due to priority Kickstarter orders.
I also took a vine of the Robo 3D in action.
Scanners In Brief
Although I touched on or linked out to all the scanning news from CES (except Matterform and AIO Robotics), 3D scanning really deserve it’s own writeup. Scanners will receive more attention when they are reviewed. In the meantime, here’s the skinny.
Matterform was at CES and I interview their founder Adam Brandejs on his company’s 3D Scanner. The AIO Robotics Zeus “all-in-one” 3D printer. scan, copy, print, fax machine was over in a distant, separate zone and I didn’t get to see it in person. Luckily, Matt Richardson make it over to “Eureka Park” where the non-3D printing startups were located and shared his photo with me. I hope to catch up with them soon.
That’s the state of 3D printing after CES 2014. It’s obvious that push for mainstream adoption has begun both in hardware and software, but will these new consumer (and professional) focused printers live up to their “plug and play” billing? We at MAKE will be testing every unit we can get our hands on, but we want to hear from you. Do any of these new printers appeal to you? Which ones? Are you a maker, an “average consumer” a small business owner or a design professional? Let us know what you buy and how it preforms!
Although I was impressed with the SLA printers, 3D System’s new materials, and the FFF updates, was still holding my breath for something else entirely. I’ll close with a final comment from Michael Curry, which echoes my own sentiment:
More interesting at CES was what we didn’t see. I went to Las Vegas fully expecting to see someone offering a low cost SLS machine. Guess I’ll have to see what shows up at this summer’s Maker Faires.