PrintrBot To Reboot?
A short video from PrintrBot chief Brook Drumm suggests he’s ready to relaunch PrintrBot.
PrintrBot was one of the darlings of the desktop 3D printing community for many years, having produced several popular model kits. The 3D printers were noted for their functionality, simplicity to operate and, most importantly, their low price.
PrintrBot was one of the surviving members of the initial group of desktop 3D printer manufacturers, mainly due to the savvy of founder Drumm. PrintrBot’s machines were carefully designed to ensure they were able to be manufactured at a low price, which was carried forward to the customers. The combination of low price and good product was irresistible for many. To this day I still see some people operating PrintrBots.
But PrintrBot was challenged by the rise of low-cost overseas manufacturers, who were able to eventually beat Drumm’s sophisticated low-cost business model. While competing machines eventually dropped below costs that PrintrBot could sustain for their own products, the company struggled along, powered by the enthusiasm of the community. However, about a year ago Drumm finally gave up and closed PrintrBot. We had some thoughts at that time about the meaning of this closure.
And that was that — at least until this week, when a surprise video was posted by Drumm. In the video Drumm explains that he’s not only “still alive”, but also relaunching PrintrBot!
When I first heard of this development, I wondered what Drumm was up to, as the economic situation with overseas manufacturers has not substantially changed, and could in fact be even more challenging for 3D printer startups. The only way one could compete at this point would be to produce a machine that is significantly different from the ocean of basic 3D printers now available at ridiculously low costs.
And that seems to be what PrintrBot 2.0 is all about. They intend to produce a belt-driven 3D printer, a kind of update to the ill-fated PrintrBelt product that PrintrBot had been working on before they closed in 2018.
Belt 3D Printing
Belt-driven 3D printing is quite interesting because it allows for a theoretically “infinite” Z-axis length, because the print is produced sideways. Or at least at an angle. Imagine a loaf of sliced bread; now tip all the slices at a 45 degree angle. That’s the slicing pattern on a belt-driven 3D printer. The belt is a conveyor system that slowly moves to allow space for the new Z layer, and if you’re able to catch the long print coming off the end of the belt, you can 3D print very long things.
Another very significant advantage to belt printing is that the prints are automatically removed from the printer when done, as they simply peel off the belt as it rotates to turn around. You’ll need a basket to catch the continuous stream of prints coming off the device. It more-or-less changes the 3D printer into a serial manufacturing device.
Since PrintrBot 1.0 had been working on this concept, one wonders “Why now?” Drumm explained that he’s found a new “partner” in William Steele of Polar3D. Polar3D is another small 3D printer manufacturer that produces a device with a very different motion system. Instead of the usual cartesian XYZ approach, Polar3D’s systems use a rotating platform, as seen in our video here:
One of the biggest problems PrintrBot 1.0 had was money, and it appears that Polar3D may be somehow helping in that regard. We do know that the company received a substantial investment in 2016, and some of that money might be still around to use in this venture.
I’m not even sure of the nature of this arrangement. Is Polar3D buying part of PrintrBot? Is this a partnership with Steele alone? Who’s providing the funding? None of this is clear yet.
Will this venture succeed? It’s quite possible that it could, as the belt-driven concept is indeed very different from the machines currently being produced by overseas manufacturers. That’s a niche that has yet to be exploited, and there are now several entrants, including:
And now, again, PrintrBot.
If Steele brings the cash and Drumm brings his manufacturing savvy, then this venture could succeed. However, at this point they seem to have only a prototype of the belt system and have a way to go to reach product stage.
[UPDATE] We received the following clarification from Steele:
“Just to be clear. Polar3D is not involved in the revived Printrbot.com. I personally am. I founded Polar3D and a couple years ago, we exited the hardware business to focus on the Polar Cloud platform (http://cloud.polar3d.com) for Education. I developed the Conveyor Belt style printer as a hobby project and released he initial code that set off this chain of events and line of cool printers that followed. With Brook, and through Printrbot.com, I plan on continuing that line of development and eventually will be releasing some really ground breaking designs.”