We should be applauding the development of a less than $10K high quality 3D printer, not criticizing

The Stratasys Mojo 3D printer system has only been out a couple of days and already critics are complaining that this technology still costs too much. Some have assumed the reason we don’t have their ideal affordable, accurate, fast, high quality, multiple material, highly reliable 3D printer yet is because corporations must make profit first, and this is somehow a bad thing.

So let’s look at this complaint from the other side. If an affordable, accurate, fast, high quality, multiple material, highly reliable 3D printer is so easy to make, how come the likes of MakerBot, Bits from Bytes, RepRap, and so on have not introduced one to the market? After all, they have broken the less than $5000 price barrier. What is stopping them from introducing a higher quality, higher accuracy, faster, multiple-material unit that competes with the high-cost professional systems? Is it a need for profits? That does not seem to be influencing them.

Are patents being horded? Probably not. Such companies have demonstrated sufficient creativity and innovation to find ways around patented technology.

Could it be that developing an affordable, accurate, fast, high quality, multiple material, highly reliable 3D printer is not as simple as those who want one assume?

Developing any system that is accurate, fast, of high quality, highly reliable and affordable is neither easy, fast, nor inexpensive to do. The cost of components, like precision grade ball screws and servomotors, are factors. High-quality components are not cheap. Testing is a factor. The time and effort to ensure components play nicely together for reliable operation is always a challenge. These are just a few of the challenges engineers must overcome to develop a good product.

Technology helps reduce the costs of development, but there are costs, and they are not small. It isn’t corporate greed that did not give you the less-than-$2000 accurate, fast, high quality, multiple material, highly reliable 3D printer that you wished for. Your dream has not come about because the technology is not there yet. Give it time.

Instead of lamenting that we don’t have a low-cost, super high quality system, we should be celebrating the engineering that enabled the introduction of a less than $10,000 high quality unit—this is a remarkable achievement!

(Note to those who don’t approve of corporate profits—if you own stock in a public company (i.e., a 401K plan), then you want a company to make profits. Their profits help fund your retirement. And if you work for a public company, you want profits—they pay your salary. Profit is a good thing.)

Leslie Langnau
llangnau@wtwhmedia.com

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I think that the complainers have forgotten a crucial Engineering Maxim:

"Good, Fast, Cheap.  Pick two."

If you want an affordable ('Cheap'), accurate, fast, high quality, multiple material ('Good') 3D printer, then you are going to have to wait for the design challenges to be overcome to bring that level of quality down in price (not 'Fast').

If you want an accurate, etc. ('Good') 3D printer, and you don't want to wait for the design challenges to be overcome ('Fast') then you will either be spending $10K+ on a printer (not 'Cheap') or you need to find a company making the type of printer you want, and throw metric boatloads of money at them so they can hire on scientists, engineers, technicians to solve the design challenges quickly, as well as giving them the money to hire on the support and logistic staff to allow the designers to work at peak efficiency, and afford the new office/lab space needed to house the design army, and afford the myriad of supplies and capital machines needed to complete the design work (SO not 'Cheap').

I'll wrap up by stealing a line from a rather famous Engineer; "You canna change the laws o' Physics, cap'n." 

Thanks for the comments Andrew.  You are exactly correct.  Love that Engineering Maxim.  The other issue is that most of these 3D printers are not built through much automated assembly.  There's lots of hand labor involved.  Until the number of units sold grows substantially, the cost will reflect that hands-on touch. 

Exactly, I still have bouts of 'sticker shock' when I look at the prices for 'common, simple' industrial devices, like conveyor belts.  Even after years in the industry, there's still a mental block keeping me from realizing at an intuitive level that industrial equipment will be more expensive than consumer goods because even a 'stock' machine like a conveyor belt is not sitting around in a warehouse with thousands of identical models waiting to get put on a truck and shipped out, it's sitting around as 'raw materials.  Every industrial machine is a custom build, even from 'stock' plans, and custom always costs more than 'off the rack.'


Leslie Langnau said:

Thanks for the comments Andrew.  You are exactly correct.  Love that Engineering Maxim.  The other issue is that most of these 3D printers are not built through much automated assembly.  There's lots of hand labor involved.  Until the number of units sold grows substantially, the cost will reflect that hands-on touch. 

Pardon the slightly off-topic post, but I just found out today of a 'Consumer model' 3D printer that retails for $1300. (Well, $1299, but let's be serious, that 'shave a dollar to make it look cheaper; tactic doesn't work against people who are used to working with numbers.)  It's called the Cubify, and from the design, including the filament 'cartridges,' it looks like it's drying for an 'Inkjet printer' motif, where you are locked into the supplies by the proprietary design of the system.  Add in the descriptions on their website about '25 free patterns with the printer, and you can buy more online,' and it is beginning to sound like the marketing style of the Crikut: you get a multi-material cutter, but you can only use 'officially sanctioned' shapes, you can't make your 'own' designs.

I guess it's a start, it's a 'home' 3D printer that you don't have to build from parts and findings, kind of a step between RepRap/makerbot and the 'Industrial' 3D printers, and I suspect that with a little judicious use of a hole saw, an 'empty' cartridge can be used to feed filament from a larger spool, assuming the system doesn't use an 'Epson' style supply counter chip built into the cartridge.

Oh yeah, if you want to see their web page, it's www.cubify.com

Yep, that's 3D Systems attempt to influence the "hobbyest, Maker" market.  Abe and company believe that the largest market share will come from home use of 3D printers.  Lots of artists and young people are highly enamored of 3D printing. They have never heard of its use for prototyping or even small quantity digital manufacturing.  

Maybe this will be a big market.  Maybe in won't.  It will be interesting to watch, though.  From all the news I've seen from 3D Systems, they are very focused on this market and seem to have left the average engineer behind.  

Well, I guess we will see what we will see. The design and marketing isn't really getting me excited, If I wanted to get a 3D printer for under 2 grand I could build one myself from online plans, and even make it dual material, so the supports can be more easily removable from the finished model, and I'd want one that was more open to me making my own designs, instead of buying prepacked 'thinglets.'

Then again, when it comes to rapid manufacturing, and design consistency, there's more than 3D printing.  For a lot of stuff, a hand-carved wooden master and a vacuformer can do just as well, or a "low-temperature" thermoplastic 'cloth'  (Becomes soft and pliable at around 190degres F) if vacuformers are out of the local budget.

"Makers" are a pretty versitile bunch, they don't limit themselves to one medium or design strategy, and they tend to have a strong 'Do It Yourself' mindset.  There's a lot there that will distance the Makers once they take a second look, such as the market plan of non-refillable thread spools.  It's one thing when you have to empty out a 'used powder tray' and dispose of the contents, it's like 'used toner,' It's not good for its original purpose any more; but throwing out and replacing a big enclosed spool like that? That's going to feel like a lot of waste to many of the Makers.

Leslie Langnau said:

Yep, that's 3D Systems attempt to influence the "hobbyest, Maker" market.  Abe and company believe that the largest market share will come from home use of 3D printers.  Lots of artists and young people are highly enamored of 3D printing. They have never heard of its use for prototyping or even small quantity digital manufacturing.  

Maybe this will be a big market.  Maybe in won't.  It will be interesting to watch, though.  From all the news I've seen from 3D Systems, they are very focused on this market and seem to have left the average engineer behind.  

Your comments are very similar to those I've heard from other engineers.  While the consumer media is all hyped up about a device that appears to act like a Star Trek replicator,(didn't know so many watched the show) they don't really understand the engineering need.  Then again, it's always good to have people look from outside of the box.  You never know what might develop.  But I do wonder about 3D Systems strategy; it's a big bet.  I hope they make it, it would be cool to have one of these devices (once they worked out more of the inconvenient bugs).  

 

At the risk of sounding condescending, Star Trek has been around for 45 years; people who grew up on Star Trek have raised their kids on Star Trek, and some of those kids have started raising THEIR kids on Star Trek.

(Quick link to some supporting data: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_influence_of_Star_Trek )

And I'm not surprised that the Engineers are looking at Cubify differently than the consumer media channels; Engineers in general see the world through 'different eyes,' paying attention to things the general public misses, and dismissing 'distractions' that the general public fawns over.  (Have you ever tried to describe 'Engineer Fashion?'  The best I can come up with is 'Sturdy clothes, generally in the style of 'work clothes' from when the Engineer was in his/her twenties.'  The only exception I've seen, aside from company uniforms, is 'conservative suit.') 

The maker community is populated with a number of Engineers and 'Engineer-wanabes,' (used in the sense of 'aspiring to be Engineers,' not as 'poseurs/pretenders') so they will generally look at things through 'Engineer's eyes' as well.  What 3D Systems should be doing is leaning towards the demographic of the Craft Show circles, and possibly the Girl Scouts.  If it can do 'custom' designs, as in "you 'sculpt' the item in software, and then it makes what YOU designed," they should push that harder in the commercials and demonstrations, renaming the 25 'free models' as 25 'example models.'


Leslie Langnau said:

Your comments are very similar to those I've heard from other engineers.  While the consumer media is all hyped up about a device that appears to act like a Star Trek replicator,(didn't know so many watched the show) they don't really understand the engineering need.  Then again, it's always good to have people look from outside of the box.  You never know what might develop.  But I do wonder about 3D Systems strategy; it's a big bet.  I hope they make it, it would be cool to have one of these devices (once they worked out more of the inconvenient bugs).  

 

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