There’s a new Kickstarter project out called Ulendo that says it can enable 3D printing at up to double-speed.
Ulendo is a startup company, having registered their domain only 16 months ago. This past week they launched their first product, which is a service to optimize 3D printer GCODE.
The problem they’re attacking is that of vibration. Of the many problems that make life difficult for 3D printer operators, vibration is certainly among the top, along with adhesion and other reliability aspects.
3D Printing Vibration
Vibration is usually not a factor that causes a print to fail, but rather can generate poor quality prints. The problem has to do with momentum.
During a FFF 3D print the toolhead moves around quite rapidly. Inevitably, it must change directions, and the stepper motors are instructed to rotate appropriately when directional changes occur.
However, the toolhead is a relatively hefty chunk of metal and plastic, and its momentum will want it to continue moving on its current trajectory. The conflict between the toolhead’s momentum and the stepper forces can generate vibration.
To make a baseball analogy, it’s like when you swing the bat and strike the ball. The ball abruptly changes direction, and you feel some vibration in the bat.
This problem is exacerbated when the toolhead moves faster, as there is more momentum to shed during the directional change. Of course, everyone wants their prints to complete faster, so the speeds are cranked as high as possible.
But cranking up speeds doesn’t really solve the speed problem properly. Although the print may technically complete faster, there are usually far more signs of vibration. This appears as patterns visible on the surface of the print, typically around corners where the vibration shakes the extrusion.
Some 3D printers attempt to compensate for this effect by using S-curves. This is essentially changing the instructions to the steppers from being sudden and abrupt electrical changes to more smooth curves where vibrations would be dampened out.
This approach sorta works, but it isn’t perfect.
Ulendo Vibration Dampening
Enter Ulendo, which takes on this problem using a different approach.
Instead of trying to smooth each change, they instead use a proprietary algorithm to “compensate” for the generated vibration. It’s not entirely clear how this works, as it is proprietary, but most likely they attempt to generate vibrations exactly opposite to the original vibrations, thus cancelling them out.
In practice, it seems Ulendo can increase the accelerations tremendously, while maintaining the same extrusion speeds. In other words, the 3D printer can change the toolhead direction far faster, but extrusions remain consistent. In some cases it is apparently possible to achieve up to 2X normal print speeds, but this is likely dependent on a number of factors including the geometry of each 3D model. Example speedups cited by Ulendo range from 40%-60% faster. Not always double, but certainly a lot faster, and when you’re looking at a 28-hour job that suddenly becomes 12 hours, that’s very good news.
This should be a better approach, and it seems to be based on the results posted by Ulendo. At top you can see a comparison of a Ulendo 3D print on the left, and a default 3D print on the right. There is definitely less vibration.
As you might imagine, the application of this algorithm requires adjusting the GCODE to perform slightly different movements to achieve that compensation. You’d think it would be best placed into slicing software, but that’s not how Ulendo has chosen to deploy the product.
Instead they offer a cloud-based service. The procedure is to upload your sliced GCODE to the cloud, where it will be analyzed and reformed the Ulendo way. Then the new GCODE is sent to your 3D printer for execution.
This is done via a Raspberry Pi set-top box that’s attached to the 3D printer’s USB port in the same manner you’d see OctoPrint, AstroPrint or others working.
Ulendo is sold by subscription, and their Kickstarter offers a confusing myriad of options, 22 in all. However, some have already expired as of this writing.
It’s a bit hard to understand, but it seems that you purchase licenses for a number of years and a number of 3D printers. For example, a package might offer 10-year licenses for five different 3D printers. Or you can just buy a license for a single year and single 3D printer.
I should point out that Ulendo is tightly integrated with specific 3D printers, which is likely due to the need to intimately understand the motion systems. At this stage Ulendo works only for the LulzBot TAZ 6 device, but the company says they will be working on integrating these other machines in 2021:
- LulzBot TAZ Workhorse
- Original Prusa i3
- Creality Ender 3 V2 and Pro
- Creality CR-6
If your 3D printer isn’t on this list, then there’s really no point in buying a Ulendo license.
Why offer this capability through a service that requires set-top boxes and subscriptions rather than simply making a deal with one or several 3D print slicers to embed it? Surely that approach would be far more convenient and immediately financially more successful for Ulendo. However, in their FAQs they say:
“We do not own the IP on some of the algorithms within Ulendo. We had to license them under strict legal restrictions in order to bring them to the community.”
The algorithms were discovered at the University of Michigan, and it would seem likely Ulendo is licensing them from the university within certain boundaries. This may be the reason why they are offering this capability through a service.
I should point out that this project is another one of those Kickstarters by startup companies. That is a scenario that has disappointed many in the past, as startups have failed to deliver their products. In other words, buyer beware. Please consider reading our Kickstarter fizzle checklist.
In this case, however, there are some reasons to think the project could succeed. It’s not a hardware project where startup staff are baffled by the enormous complexities of at-scale manufacturing. This is instead a service that they build once and use for all clients, so it’s a much more straightforward challenge.
As for the license terms, I am a bit skeptical of the ten-year license offers. Ten years is a VERY long time in the world of 3D printing, and who knows what might be happening that far down the road: will vibration even be a problem? Will some alternate 3D printing process arise and replace FFF? Maybe everyone will use resin 3D printers in eight years? How long would a Ulendo license really be viable? It’s hard to say.
Nevertheless, it seems for certain 3D printer operators (LulzBot TAZ 6), it might be possible to gain some print speed immediately with Ulendo.