Ultimaker issued a bit of a tease this week, hinting at an important announcement to come.
The Dutch company has been making inexpensive 3D printers since the genesis of the desktop technology over a decade ago. While they began operations with a simple wooden DIY kit, their business today is utterly different, with industrial-capable machines being used in businesses worldwide.
Historically they announced new 3D printers with progressively better features at periodic intervals. Their first big upgrade was the Ultimaker 2, first announced in 2013. This machine was styled in a way very different from the other equipment than available, and in a way set the tone for Ultimaker styling to come.
Then, in 2015 they announced the Ultimaker 2 Plus and Extended, versions of the device but with a rather large Z-axis to accommodate larger prints. We did an extensive review of the Ultimaker 2+ Extended that year.
In 2016 they released the Ultimaker 3, the company’s first dual-extrusion device. It also included network connectivity and was very well received by the public.
Finally, in 2018, Ultimaker announced what we expected to be the “Ultimaker 4”, but it turned out to be the “Ultimaker S5”. The change in naming convention was “ultimately” suitable, as the S5 was primarily focused on the company’s growing market, industry. This far larger machine incorporated a number of features that made life far easier for operators in business.
Those changes were extremely well-received and the success of the S5 propelled Ultimaker to among the top providers to industry in the world of 3D printing.
But that was almost two years ago. What’s next?
Ultimaker New Printer?
Then we saw this teaser from the company posted prominently on their website. In fact, it’s the entire front page:
“We have big news… Continuous, hassle-free 3D printing, like never before.”
It sounds like they will be announcing a new device, so having no inside knowledge of the newly-minted equipment, it’s time to do some speculation.
Ultimaker Image Enhancement
Let’s first look at the hidden image they’ve placed on their site. At the website, you see the image at top.
I encourage you to sign up with them to find out about the new machine “for real”, when it is officially announced. But meanwhile, let’s take a look at this image more closely. Here’s the raw image:
And this is the image enhanced:
What can we see here? Some random observations:
There seems to be two units, a top and bottom, as there is a crack of light between. This might indicate some form of material storage underneath the machine? Given their statement of “continuous”, perhaps a large material storage bay is required?
The middle section seems to be about the same aspect ratio as their Ultimaker 3 machine, suggesting that this as-yet unnamed new machine could have a similar build volume of around 197 x 215 x 300 mm. There is also a shine on the front of that section, perhaps indicating the presence of a clear observation window or door.
Ultimaker Heat Capture?
The top of the image is most interesting. It seems to be a clear “lid” with some apparatus inside. I suspect this lid is to be used to capture heat, as one of the raps against Ultimaker machines is that they have open tops, allowing heat to escape.
As we all know, consistent heating is a critical factor to obtain the highest quality prints. Variances in heat generate warping, particularly in certain materials. And specifically for many engineering materials now in high demand.
This lid could capture the heat within the build chamber and provide a more guaranteed and even heat level during printing.
Inside the top section is a rather large structure with two tubes of different diameters entering. My guess is that the thinner one is providing input filament material to a large extrusion unit, and the thicker tube is electrical.
What to make of all this?
Heated Ultimaker 3D Printer?
My guess is that this new “Ultimaker 6” (?) could provide a fully heated build chamber. This would ensure zero warping occurs on most materials and thus allow for reliable production of dimensionally accurate parts: parts cool down uniformly when complete, not during printing. This is an approach taken by MakerBot with their new machine, the Method, and Ultimaker could be competing with them in this regard.
The large structure might be a special extruder designed for higher-heat materials. I would not expect this machine to print PEEK or ULTEM, however. Instead, it likely prints nylon, ABS, PC and similar materials at very high levels of precision.
Ultimaker Continuous 3D Printing?
There’s something else. Ultimaker uses the word “Continuous”. To me, that implies the machine has a means of unloading completed prints and able to start the next print on its own. That’s a magic feature offered on only a few devices today, and I can tell you it is incredibly powerful.
There are different techniques for doing so, and I’m afraid I cannot see which approach they might go for here. Perhaps they have a special mechanism or movement that pushes prints off into a bin? Could that be the reason for the larger storage box underneath? Hard to say.
On the other hand, I could be completely wrong here. Maybe it’s an automated build plate cleaning system? Or a resin machine. Or something else entirely.
We’ll find out a lot more when Ultimaker chooses to announce the — whatever it is called — to the public. Pricing, name and specifications are all pure speculation at this point. As for when we will know more, it’s likely very soon since they’ve launched this public campaign.
We do know it’s shiny.