The 3D Printers of CES

CES, the Consumer Electronics Show, is in full swing. That means the Hackaday tip line is filled to the brim with uninteresting press releases, and notices that companies from the world over will be at CES.

3D printing has fallen off the radar of people who worship shiny new gadgets of late, and this is simply a function of 3D printing falling into the trough of disillusionment. The hype train of 3D printing is stuck on a siding, people are bored, but this is the time that will shape what 3D printing will become for the next ten years. What fascinating news from the 3D printing industry comes to us from CES?

Makerbot gets a new extruder

The new Makerbot Smart Extruder+.
The new Makerbot Smart Extruder+.

Two years ago, Makerbot released their fifth generation of 3D printers at CES. These printers were not open source, and Makerbot was called a traitor by the community that contributed most of the technology that went into these models of printer. 2015 was not a good year for Makerbot – they had two rounds of layoffs, cutting their staff by 36% and shuttering one of their offices.

The fifth generation of Makerbots included a Smart Extruder – a subassembly responsible for drawing filament into a heated chamber and squirting it out onto a build platform. In every RepRap and consumer 3D printer, an extruder should not fail. Makerbot’s Smart Extruder had a mean time between failures (MTBF) of somewhere between 200 and 500 hours. This Smart Extruder was, by any measure, a complete failure, the basis for a lawsuit, and will come to be known as the beginning of the end for Makerbot.

This year at CES, Makerbot has released their update to this failure of a product. It’s called the Smart Extruder+. The price is now $200, an increase of $25 over the earlier model. The extruders have been tested for, “over 700 hours”, with 90% of test units printing successfully after 1200 hours. According to the video released with the introduction of the Smart Extruder+, the new extruder was tested for 160,000 hours across several machines. This should be enough to determine a MTBF, but no data no data that could be used to determine how long one of these extruders lasts has been released yet.

Ultimaker

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Ultimaker 2+ hotend. Source

Moving on to companies you should support, Ultimaker released an update to their very popular Ultimaker 2 printer. The Ultimaker 2+ and Ultimaker 2 Extended+ both feature a hotend based on the Olsson Block. This heater block allows anyone to change the nozzle in 20 seconds. A readily changeable nozzle isn’t a feature commonly seen in consumer 3D printers. The technology has been around forever in the RepRap world, consumer 3D printers have been slow to pick up on the potential of swappable nozzles. It is an interesting device, though; by swapping out nozzles, the user can choose to optimize for detail or print speed.

Additionally, the Ultimaker 2+ features a better, more powerful geared feeder. Flexible filaments are all the rage, but these were difficult to use with the older style of feeder. The new feeder allows for more torque or less clamping pressure; it’s a finer level of control than what was previously offered.

You can check out the video for the Ultimaker 2+ here.

Lulzbot

The Lulzbot Dual Extruder Tool Head v2
The Lulzbot Dual Extruder Tool Head v2

The hardware news from Lulzbot is an improved Dual Extrusion Tool Head. No, it’s not a 1.75mm extruder, but that really doesn’t matter anyway; for one reason or another the 3D printing market has settled on two different sizes of filament, each with about 50% market share. I would love for an economist to explain that.

Luzlbot is also showing off their edition of Cura, and announcing a partnership with colorFabb, Proto-pasta, and Chroma Strand Labs to put cool and exotic filaments in these machines.

The big news from Lulzbot has nothing to do with hardware, software, or consumables. Lulzbot is going gangbusters. Their revenue is now more than what Makerbot’s was in its prime, they now have more than 100 employees, and they’re setting up a fulfillment center in Australia. They’re doing great, and it couldn’t have happened to cooler people.

3D Printers Are Getting Cheap

Da Vinci 1.0
Da Vinci 1.0

XYZprinting is the creator of the da Vinci, a $500 offering that follows the Gillette model: sell the printer cheap, make your money selling replacement filament cartridges. In 2014, a $500 printer was cheap. Now, they’re making them even cheaper. XYZprinting released the da Vinci Mini, a filament-based printer with a 15cm cubed build area. The da Vinci Mini has an MSRP of $269.

The UP mini 3D printer will be upgraded to the Up Mini 2.

3D Systems is introducing a direct metal 3D printer. The ProX DMP 320 uses laser sintering to create objects out of titanium, and stainless steel using a 500 Watt laser. How much is it? If you have to ask…

A few years ago, Monoprice made an entry into the 3D printing market with a clone of a clone of the Makerbot Replicator. It was, and still is, a good printer that sells for about $650. Now, Monoprice is introducing a $300 filament-based printer with the Maker Spark 3D (press release with few details). They’re also releasing a resin-based printer for $300. The Monoprice resin printer uses either a DLP projector or a laser – the press release isn’t clear on which. There’s also a $1000 CNC mill coming from Monoprice.

65 thoughts on “The 3D Printers of CES

      1. That’s… actually pretty reasonable, for what it is. That’s an “I’m just going to go ahead and print this rocket in inconel now” grade printer – the CNC mills and lathes that my old college has are similar.

  1. “…Makerbot released their fifth generation of 3D printers at CES. These printers were not open source, ”

    The 4th gen Replicator 2’s were not open source either.

    “…Moving on to companies you should support…”

    How about just giving us a run down of CES and not your opinion. Yeah, the Makerbot 5th gens suck but if they didn’t I’d buy one whether it was closed source or not. I still love my old Replicator 2 but I can see the company has been taken over by morons.

        1. The 50/50 usage thing isn’t really true. 1.75mm has won the war long since and is the standard these days. There is no real technical benefit to one size vs the other and everyone standardizing on the same size helps reduce the cost and increase the availability of filament.

          Why are lulzbot machines all designed for 3mm? Is it just because most places aren’t selling it anymore so there is a better chance people will buy consumables from lulzbot? I’d be good with that but has it occurred to you that offering filament in both sizes might result in increased filament sales?

          1. Both LulzBot and Ultimaker use 3mm. So two of the top rated brands use 3mm. You can also print 1.75mm on a TAZ 5 and Mini without modification. It actually works. You can see threads in our forum about it. The 1.75mm doesn’t work well for materials like Ninjaflex, but that doesn’t work well on other printers either. I’m not quite sure where you’re getting that 1.75mm has “won”. Taulman mailed me a few weeks ago saying they were about 50/50, fwiw.

            > Is it just because most places aren’t selling it anymore so there is a better chance people will buy consumables from lulzbot?

            You’ve uncovered our conspiracy! Oh no! ;) But seriously… No, that isn’t why we use 3mm. There are lots of vendors that sell 3mm. Offhand, I can’t think of a single filament we can’t get in 3mm that only exists in 1.75mm.

            We have considered selling 1.75mm filament too, but just keeping up with 3mm has kept us plenty busy and allows us to offer a very wide range of compatible filaments.

          2. There are benefits of 3mm. (or 2.85mm)
            Overall, I would say 1.75 is better for PLA and ABS. But for flexible materials we get better results with 3mm.
            And, as your diameter tollerances are less tricky, it’s easier to produce some exotic materials in 3mm.

            But the main reason why we are at 3mm with Ultimaker is legacy. It’s hard to change over your whole stock of materials, you suddenly need to keep twice the stock. And we’re having a tough time getting enough material in stock already.

            1.75 vs 3mm is 50/50 in sales according to suppliers. But it’s a win for 1.75 if you look at the amount of machines that support 1.75 vs 3mm. However, I would look at sales of material suppliers, as that reflects actual usage.

          3. Flexible filaments are one reason 3mm is still hanging around, however the biggest reason is that 3mm is actually much easier to push with an extruder. 1.75mm’s contact patch is much smaller and therefore easier to grind instead of pushing.

        2. Congrats on the 5 year mark!

          Silly question, is there any plans to make a 3D printer that mere mortals can afford? Disability pay from the military sucks, don’t have a lot of money for a 3d printer but dang I’d like one =]

          Ash

          1. I hear you. Your best very low cost machine at this point is probably a printrbot. Alternatively, track down a local hacker/makerspace/library and see if they can get one. We have a refurb reseller that has LulzBot printers discounted: i-t-w.com.

      1. Lulzbot is pretty much the model of open hardware, to me. At any given point, I can rsync and get the design files for the entire machine, along with updates. I did it once just to see if I could, and it worked. If I felt industrious, I could download and print a dual-extrusion head right now, at least the cheap parts of it. Service has been top notch and we’ve placed several orders so far for consumables. I can use just about anything I want as far as software, I’ve designed parts in FreeCAD, Autodesk, Inkscape, and some funky web-based pattern generators and it all comes out fine, then onto my choice of slicers. I’m using their Cura build at the moment for convenience, but nothing prevents me from going back to Slic3r or whatever. The online instructions are super cool too, check out OHAI.

        Also, the Taz just works. Zero problems that weren’t self-inflicted. All of that cool stuff before doesn’t even matter if the machine is junk, but it’s a beast that just keeps trucking.

        1. Same here: It just keeps going. I had to tighten the belts after a few years to maintain maximum speed and keep my small printed holes circular but nothing else has gone wrong. Also, my TAZ 2 came with a 4GB SD card containing all the design files so I didn’t even have to type “rsync”.

      2. Yes, we updated the coupler, we did do 3 updates on the material which it is made of already quite silently, and the UM2+ replaces the spring with a spacer solving the issue even better.

        Got UM2+ machines here with 2400 printing hours on it, without maintenance.

        The new feeder will also be a available as an upgrade kit. The spacer can be printed, and the Olson block is available as upgrade kit already. So if you have an UM2, it’s possible to turn that into an UM2+ (not sure if we’re going to supply little stickers with a + on it so you have the full experience)
        For the UMO we did 5 upgrades. So we cannot only claim that we are updating our machine, we actually are, we have proof.

        (And that’s only the visible improvements. You do not want to know how tough it is to scale up your production facilities and keep the quality high)

        We are in turbulent times. We grew to 150 people in 3 years from 15 people. I spend about 50% of my time just on talking to people, getting them up to speed.

    1. This is hackaday. Designs that are closed aren’t hacker friendly. Designs that are based on open hardware and not open sourced aren’t just unfriendly to hackers they are also IP violations.

  2. In a few years’ time we’ll likely see consumer grade SLS machines, which is where things will really get interesting (as it will open the door to high resolution printing of engineering type plastics)

    1. It’ll take a lot more then a few years for DPSS lasers of required power to fall down into the consumer grade range of prices…
      Also, SLS needs fine dust. Fine, flammable, not-a-good-idea-to-breathe-in dust…

      1. Hopefully the DIY hacker variants will fall within consumer budget range a lot sooner though.

        As for the dust there is no shortage of equally dangerous materials already in houses. Powdered sugar is a fine explosive for instance.

  3. “The Monoprice resin printer uses either a DLP projector or a laser – the press release isn’t clear on which”

    A lot of newer smaller form factor DLPs use a diode laser light source. This might lead to some confusion between a rastered laser and a laser powered DLP printer.

    1. I’m not sure what wasn’t clear about their press release… it says, ” a $299.99 Maker DLP 3D Printer offering laser printing precision.” That clearly tells me that it is a DLP printer. They are comparing it to a laser based unit, however.

  4. Now Lulzbot has their own Cura, forked from daid’s actively maintained Cura repo and maintained on a dedicated server, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with the Ultimaker Cura fork anymore.

    Does anyone know what happened there? Is 15.04 merely on life support, or did I miss an Internet fight?

    1. Hey,

      We communicate with Ultimaker about Cura developments. We’re trying to get on the same page as much as we can. All our code is available for them to merge, but we have been working on the wxgtk version. Ultimaker is just focused on the QT version, so isn’t super interested in our changes (at the present). We are looking at the QT version, but we don’t think it is quite ready for prime time, so need to maintain wxgtk. They also don’t push all their changes live on the QT revision, so it is a bit difficult for us to be in sync. We will be working on more development on QT around Q2 and hope to work more deeply with Ultimaker on cura in 2016.

          1. I have a cubieboard3 with a 7″ touchscreen running pronterface on Debian connected to the TAZ3. At present, slicing is done on an Allwinner A80 based host with slic3r. Exported gcode is saved to a directory that is nfs mounted by the cubie3. Let me know if you come up with something… I will be happy to test it out on my rig if you like.

        1. Ok, we have the latest stable Cura we just released now built for armhf. It hasn’t seen (much?) testing yet. I was able to install and launch it on my Novena, but I haven’t printed yet. The display is real slow due to no 3d acceleration on the novena, so I shrink the screen. I’ve only poked at it for a couple minutes, but it looks like it is all there. Note, we have two repos, download.alephobjects.com which is released products, and devel.alephobjects.com which may be anything.

          Some info at:
          http://devel.alephobjects.com/ao/aodeb/

          Here’s the repo URLs:

          deb http://download.alephobjects.com/ao/aodeb jessie main
          deb http://devel.alephobjects.com/ao/aodeb jessie main

    2. Checks user name. Yes. I know what’s going on!

      Lulzbot forked Cura at a bit of an unfortunate time. At that time we where just growing from 2 software developers to 7. So I had no time to communicate with them, was stressed out to the limit already with just internal stuff.

      Because the GUI code of the “current 15.04” Cura is a huge steaming mess. We started to build on a new Cura. Cura 2.0 is what we call it now. We’ve had a bunch of failed prototypes. And now we are starting to get somewhere which isn’t too buggy to use. We switched from wxPython to PyQT, for the reason that wxWidgets simply gave us too much bugs on MacOS.
      We also changed how we handle settings, quite a few users expressed the need for more settings. But with settings comes complexity. So we build a system where you can decide to show/hide settings yourself, so you can get the complexity you need, without cluttering the simple users.

      Next to all that, the new GUI code is based on plugins, making it extendable.

      So TL;RD version: Daid stressed. Lots of new people working on Cura at Ultimaker. New Cura GUI, not 100% stable yet. Lots of new features hidden in there.

  5. Can somebody tell me what has happened to Cura for Lulzbot? The newest version of Cura is totally different to anything before (18.04). The version from Lulzbot is still the old. In the new version is no support for anything other than Ultimaker! Workarounds don’t seem to work…

      1. If they are assembled and calibrated well, they have bigger print area, better quality, less failure rate and really cheap to repair and maintain. Also lots of free or near free upgrades after you buy it. You can even get a Prusa i3 assembled&tested directly from Josef Prusa for ~1000€, while a comparable Makerbot is 2400€.

  6. “3D Printers Are Getting Cheap”
    Yeah like years ago paper printers “got cheap” – until you figure-in what the hugely over-priced ink actually cost! 3D printers overall have been a big let-down in my opinion. I see nothing on the horizon to change that.

      1. Before ordering filament, I keep revisiting the economics of extruding my own from PLA/ABS pellets. Honestly, it seems like one would have to be printing full-time on at least a couple of printers, probably more, for it to make sense. Even then, I’m not sure. And since my filament comes from the US and arrives in Canada, shipping and taxes make my filament a lot more expensive than those that live in the US.

        I do know that my current favourite filament supplier does not extrude their product. They buy big spools and re-spool to smaller spools. How big are their source spools? No idea. But I’d sure like to find out his source, if only to know the mark-up.

        1. I’d like a filament maker just to recycle the test prints. More than half of my filament goes to test prints to check fit and tolerances. It’s all sorted by colour and filament type waiting for a bot to recycle it.

  7. I appreciate the article being written and the facts provided. However, while the facts were there, a good article should refrain from personal opinions getting mixed in. Making opinionated statements as to what printers should and should not be supported takes away from the credibility of the writer and makes readers question why they feel the need to support a specific product over another. Readers of a good well written article with facts cited can make their own opinions and will likely choose the best option for them.

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