Years ago the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic had a peculiar optional feature, the Automated Build Platform, which could automatically remove prints from the bed when complete. We need something like that today.
But what was this amazing option? It was essentially a conveyor belt laid around the heated build platform. When the print was complete, it was possible to instruct the machine (via one line of GCODE) to engage the belt. When the belt rotated, the print would be carried to the edge of the platform, and as the belt curled underneath for a new circuit, the print would neatly peel off the belt and drop onto the floor.
While MakerBot didn’t really leverage this feature much, it was very possible to set up an automated factory with the ABP. We did this in our lab by stringing together dozens of GCODE sequences, each separated by an “eject” command. The result was astonishing: our little Thing-O-Matic simply spit out completed models, one after the other endlessly. We had to install a bucket in front of the machine to catch the prints. And the bucket filled up with hundreds of pieces.
Everyone with a 3D printer should have the power to build many things, completely unattended.
Why did the ABP disappear? While it worked reasonably well for a while, it quickly became unreliable as the belt wrapping the platform would eventually warp, particularly where prints had been stuck. The warp would present an unlevel surface for 3D printing, which we all know can be catastrophic for individual prints. The belt would also stretch, making the build surface “tippy”. Finally, the belt would actually break in mid-print.
Thus the option was more or less discontinued.
Today we really don’t have a good option for this functionality on any 3D printer we know of. The ABP turned out to be impractical, but perhaps there are new concepts that work better. We’re hoping someone will invent a reliable way to automatically remove 3D prints and enable home factories once again.
We miss you, ABP.