Prusa Research is one of the more transparent companies in the 3D printing universe, regularly posting progress – good or bad – on their machine development.
This is part of their strategy to win over the hearts of their customers and it works very well. I wish other 3D printing companies were similarly open. However, that’s another story.
Sometimes Prusa Research might say too much. They seem to have gotten into the habit of using the classic Apple “One More Thing” in their recent newsletters.
This occurred again with their most recent newsletter that discussed the state of their newly released “Original Prusa MINI” 3D printer. The MINI is a very curious device that I now think tells a great deal about what is underway at the Czech company.
Prusa MINI 3D Printer
At first glance you would see the MINI as a reaction to the inexpensive Asian 3D printers that now flood the low-end 3D printer market. That might be true, but I think there’s something else afoot here.
Prusa Research is well-known for using their own 3D printers to produce parts for their products. In fact, they recently leveraged over 1100 3D printers in an attempt to operate the largest group of 3D printers simultaneously.
This “Prusa Factory” is currently filled with something north of 500 3D printers, and these are all earlier Prusa models, likely MK2 and MK3. But those machines, while high quality, are about twice the price of the MINI. And as they’ve been operating for in some cases years, it’s likely that Prusa may be thinking of replacing them.
But why replace them with expensive MK3 (or even a future MK4) device? If only there was a less expensive device that could match the quality and throughput? Hm. What could that be?
Prusa MINI Farm Mode
I think Prusa Research intended all along to remake their factory with Original Prusa MINIs at a lower cost. One additional clue beyond the unit price is that the MINI is apparently receiving a firmware upgrade in the future to enable this to be done easily. They said:
“Don’t like waiting for a print job to finish? Run three or four printers at the same time and get your results much faster! To make this even more efficient, we plan to implement our print farm management software in a future update.”
“The new 32-bit board will also allow us to bring you our sophisticated print farm management software in the future. You often ask us, how do we manage 500 3D printers running 24/7 – smart management software is the answer. It’s something our community has been asking for a lot. We’re working on it – it will take some time to make it user-friendly, though.”
The MINI includes this powerful board and also a much fancier front panel interface than found on either their MK2 or MK3 devices. To me that seems a little strange that the best interface is found on the low-end model?
There’s something else, this time at the bottom of their latest MINI update: a remote control interface. They say:
“The good news is that we’re planning to introduce a firmware update in late January/early February with a little something that we call PrusaConnect. It’s essentially a web interface that gives you a great amount of control over the printer.”
From the looks of their screenshots, it seems that they’re building something akin to OctoPrint, except that it seems to be built in to the device right from the factory. This is very good news, as one would not have to add a set top box or Raspberry Pi to perform the functions, but again there’s that question.
Why are all these advanced features appearing on the lowest-cost model?
My suspicion is that Prusa Research is positioning the MINI as a large-scale factory option for manufacturers. There are definitely manufacturers that could make use of a low-cost, reliable, and intelligently-controlled 3D printer array, and that seems to be what the MINI is setting up for.
Such a move could bring in much larger revenues for Prusa Research, as it would allow huge volumes of machines to be sold through a much smaller number of sales transactions. Prusa Research has been talking about “Farm Mode” and “Farm Management Software”, but I think a future product is likely to be, literally, “A Farm”.
Finally, there’s something else: the MK3, Prusa Research’s flagship 3D printer, is now over two years old, and it’s likely due for an upgrade. Perhaps their next device will be the “MK4”?
The hypothetical MK4 would surely include all the good features on the MK3, which inherited the best features of the previous MK2. But I think we’ll also see some of the advanced features now appearing on the MINI to be incorporated into the MK4. Things like a better control panel, farm mode and the rest.
Via Prusa Research