We managed to pose five questions to Robox’s CEO, Chris Elsworthy regarding their new personal 3D printer. And he answered.
Fabbaloo: The Robox showcases a unique dual-nozzle system featuring different nozzle sizes. We are expecting faster print speeds as unseen interior portions can be printed more quickly with the fatter nozzle. In your experience, has this proven true? If so, what speed improvements have you observed and what can the average user expect to experience over a conventional 3D printer?
Chris Elsworthy: Yes, the Robox features a proprietary dual-nozzle system which is capable of improving speeds by up to 300% in comparison to other 3D printers. A single material feed can be directed out of one of two nozzles – with a 0.3mm or 0.8mm extrusion diameter – with one able to print with detailed accuracy and the other for fast-filling of larger areas. This means Robox can produce highly detailed exterior surfaces and then quickly fill the object using the larger nozzle multiple layers at a time without affecting part strength or detail. Further, to avoid ‘ooze’ Robox also uses a needle valve system which completely closes the nozzle at the point of extrusion, removing all stringing and ‘blobs’ – this helps to ensure a high quality finish.
We want to expand the Robox line to be able to incorporate several different nozzles that can print using different materials – we would look into producing as many different nozzles as there is demand for. Essentially, the average user can expect to experience increased accuracy overall.
Fabbaloo: Can you tell us more about the AutoMaker™ software that drives Robox? Does it account for the differently-sized dual heads?
Chris Elsworthy: Rather than ship Robox with generic open-source software, we wanted our own, so we started from scratch. We have designed AutoMaker to be as simple and user-friendly as possible, tailored for our firmware and hardware. We have also almost completely rewritten the motion control firmware, resulting in much smoother acceleration/deceleration and therefore faster potential operating speeds. The necessary firmware functionality for our nozzle switching system is built in, allowing us to control this motion as a separate ‘axis’, providing a great deal of control for the needle valves. The AutoMaker software also accounts for the differently-sized dual heads – the software will automatically recognize what model of head is installed and set up AutoMaker appropriately.
AutoMaker guides users through the steps of preparing a model for printing in a logical order – choose your model, place it on the print bed (move, rotate, scale), and then choose a quality setting and click print. In essence, the software translates a 3D design into a language that Robox can understand. It does this by ‘slicing’ the 3D model into layers, and then sending this information to the printer ready for production. We’ve also included an advanced mode, so for you tinkerers out there, there’s still plenty you can tweak. The software also stores a history of models which have been sliced for printing previously, so if you need to print a model again, you won’t have to wait, you can begin printing straight away.
Fabbaloo: The beta test period for Robox is concluding -- what did you learn during the testing? What has been changed in the final production version?
Chris Elsworthy: In the 3D printing industry, it’s not a rush to the finish line. When designing Robox, our overriding aim was to produce a printer of outstanding quality and the process of taking any product from prototype to a fully functioning, mass production version can be a bumpy road. That being said, the beta versions of the printers are now nearly ready and we have taken time to deliver an excellent product to our Kickstarter backers, who should have their printers in hand by the end of this month. All the functions we promised in our Kickstarter campaign will be included in the final production version and we have had the opportunity to further improve on the software and testing process for the hardware.
Fabbaloo: The Robox Kickstarter campaign yielded over 300 unit sales, and we imagine you’ve sold quite a few more since then. How are you developing the production line to make all 300 units plus more? What challenges have you encountered and overcome?
Chris Elsworthy: As mentioned in our last response, we want to make sure that the final Robox product is perfect, so, we took the time to deliver on what we promised our supporters. We are now doing 100% checks on all the electronics before and after assembly to be confident we've got it perfect, and the machines are currently in production in China. To help us with the aforementioned reliability testing, we’ve actually developed a new software application for our factory that allows us to test all the functions of Robox on the final production line before shipping, ensuring that every Robox that leaves the factory is ready to print right out of the box.
Fabbaloo: As the Robox printer is designed to take on alternative print heads for 3D scanning, CNC milling and more, what experiments have taken place in this area? Can we expect any announcements soon?
Chris Elsworthy: Our engineers are working on additional heads to make the Robox printer extremely versatile. The plan is to release a couple new heads a year, with the first two coming towards the end of 2014 – the first on the schedule is a sort of “knife drag” head that would convert the printer into something of a CNC machine. With this, users will be able to enter design files into the printer, which would then cut shapes out of paper. The second would allow Robox’s dual nozzle heads to print in two different materials simultaneously. Also in the pipeline for later in 2015 is a printer head that can make cake decorations out of frosting. The possibilities are truly endless – with the all-metal print head construction, Robox can create parts from any type of thermoplastic printing material. This could also include printing composites with precious metals, and swapping the head for a stylus cutting, or 3D scanning in the future.