Another ultra-low cost desktop 3D printer has been launched on Kickstarter: BuildOne.
I’ve been extraordinarily suspicious of the waves of ultra-low cost desktop 3D printers that have been announced in the past two years. Most of these ventures have failed miserably, mostly due to financial and technical mismanagement. Inexperience, in other words.
Now there’s a new entrant based in Washington and China: Robotic Industries’ BuildOne, with an introductory price of only USD$99.
Let’s look at the technology first.
This is obviously a bare-bones machine, although it does include a couple of useful features and several more useful optional ones.
The standard features are:
- 125 x 125 x 125mm build volume, not unreasonably large or small
- 1.75mm filament Bowden-style extruder
- Modified E3D V6 hot end (capable of ABS-level temperatures)
- On board WiFi networking (enabling remote control)
- Included automatic bed leveling
The last two are features one may typically find in more expensive machines, but to be honest they are increasingly finding their way into less expensive machines. The BuildOne, however, may be the only desktop 3D printer at this price to include the capability.
One other feature is a very simplified design. From the looks of the unit, it seems that they’ve been very spartan in what they’ve included and the result is a 3D printer that visually appears to include only functional components. There seems to be no excess material, structures or cabling of any kind.
This tells us something about the designers of this machine, and the company’s goals.
There are several optional features that can make the machine more capable:
- A PEI adhesive print surface, which should dramatically increase print reliability (USD$14)
- A heated print surface, which should permit attempts at 3D printing ABS and other warpy materials (USD$35)
- An OLED display (USD$15)
- An acrylic enclosure to capture heat and increase print reliability (USD$30)
These options are quite inexpensive and should be automatically selected as they would massively increase print reliability in total. I am wondering if they were made optional solely to enable the marketing of a USD$99 starting price.
Meanwhile, you can buy pre-selected combos that upgrade from the USD$99 base machine, with the “Ultimate” edition being priced at USD$174 that includes all options.
But the knock on this type of inexpensive venture is that there is a risk of failure, which happens all too often in this space. Typically inexperienced company CEO’s have little idea of what it actually takes to produce large quantities of reliable equipment, and the campaigns usually die out after the company runs out of cash before delivering the goods.
Would this be the case for the BuildOne? It’s a good question, and we cannot know the answer until much later. However, there are some clues that portend possible success:
They are targeting the production of 2,000 units per month. This is a very grand target, near Prusa’s incredible 3,000 units per month. While we don’t know if they can actually do this, it is important to note that they have actually SET a production target they can focus around. This is something many startups do not do.
Their “Core Team” includes an experienced designer, an actual project manager with quality control expertise and an Asian sourcing manager. This is quite different from the “three techies in a basement” scenario so often seen elsewhere. The implication is that they recognize - and have addressed with specific roles - quality control, planning and manufacturing. Again, not your typical 3D printer startup.
They have two key partners, one being a design firm, and the other being a contract manufacturing firm. Most startups do the design themselves and then discover they need a manufacturing partner much later, often when it’s too late.
The claim to have priced the product correctly, based on previous experience launching products. This is something not often done properly by many new startups. At least they’ve thought about this carefully, which is more than many others have done.
So it seems they have done several things that suggest they may be better positioned for success than other startups. However, that alone does not guarantee success, as there will certainly be challenges.
One key challenge is the ultra-low price. What this price means is that their profit margins will be razor thin. In order to fund their operations they MUST sell vast quantities of machines in short order. This is a project based on the “sell many at low price” business model, and the good news is that the reasons above suggest they understand this.
But there is one factor they cannot control, and that is the competition. While there are tons of alternative - and sometimes questionable - inexpensive 3D printer startups producing machines, there is one that may prove a roadblock.
And that option is Monoprice, who have recently announced a USD$149 delta machine that includes similar features. The question for buyers is simply this: bet on an unknown startup or a well-known distributor?
At these price levels, maybe it doesn’t matter.