What Happens When Your 3D Printer Manufacturer Drops Support?

The aging ZCorp ZBuilder Ultra 3D printer

The aging ZCorp ZBuilder Ultra 3D printer

In an increasing number of cases, support ceases for aging 3D printers. What should you do? 

Investing in a 3D printer is sometimes a huge prospect, particularly for an industrial-level machine. While desktop 3D printers can be had today for a mere few hundred US dollars, industrial machines can cost far more. 

Today you can purchase large-scale machines for multi-six figure amounts, and the same was true in the past. 

But consider the financial implications of such a purchase. While a small USD$500 machine is essentially a single occurrence cost absorbed in an annual budget, that’s often not true of major purchases. 

A six figure purchase by a company is really an investment that will be accounted for over a period of years, typically the useful life of the item. For example, a USD$200,000 purchase might be gradually written off over say, five years at USD$40,000 hitting the budget during those years. The company essentially commits to using the machine for that period of time because that’s how they’ve managed to be able to afford it: they can afford USD$40K per year for five years, not USD$200K in one year. 

But then disaster strikes: the company drops support for the machine you’ve bought only a year ago. What do you do? 

There are a couple of options. One is to give up, write off the outstanding purchase if you can afford to do so, and buy a new machine that is supported. You might even be able to sell the machine to a third party for some financial recovery, but likely not for very much. 

But you can keep the machine, because the serious effects of such a situation only occur once in a while.

One situation is if the machine breaks and you require either parts or support. If the machine is no longer supported, then you cannot ask the manufacturer for help. But it may be possible to procure replacement parts from a third party or scrap machine. It’s also possible (sometimes) to obtain repair services from third parties as well. 

The other situation is more challenging: a software incompatibility occurs. Suppose your elderly 3D printer requires direct connection to a PC for operation, and you are forced to upgrade the PC for other reasons. Suddenly you may find the old 3D printer’s software drivers no longer work on the new PC OS. 

What can you do in this situation? Not much, other than downgrading the PC and re-installing the drivers. 

If you have them. Old machines have a habit of losing their installation disks. 

This is in fact a situation I’ve recently heard about at a Chicago makerspace, Pumping Station: One, who apparently have a older ZCorp ZBuilder Ultra, for which they’re seeking drivers. This machine was introduced long ago in 2010. 

If you happen to have ZBuilder software drivers, you might want to give Pumping Station:One a shout.

The moral of the story here is that when purchasing a machine, you must consider how long you intend to use it vs the likely support lifetime from the manufacturer. In some cases, manufacturers actually specify how long they will support machines. But, of course, this doesn’t help you if the company goes out of business. 

Life is risky, and so is purchasing an expensive 3D printer.

General Fabb

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has been writing Fabbaloo posts since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!