Open source 3D printer manufacturer Printrbot has announced the close of its business, citing poor sales as the reason for the decision. A simple statement on the Printrbot website from founder Brook Drumm reads:
“Printrbot is closed. Low sales led to hard decisions. We will be forever grateful to all the people we met and served over the years. Thank you all.”
For the time being, Drumm will reportedly be “unreachable” for comments, and plans to share his views and plans for this “final chapter” in due course.
The 3D Printing Community however has take to social media in mourning of the company, with figures including Joel Telling (YouTube’s 3D Printing Nerd), Thomas Sanladerer, and Dr. Adrian Bowyer himself weighing in on the close.
Printrbot was founded by Drumm in 2011 a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Marketed as “your first 3D printer,” backing for the original Printrbot 3D printer reached $830,827, reportedly breaking Kickstarter’s record for tech pledges at the time.
Though generating a deal of cult support in the year’s following, there have been difficulties within the growing 3D printer market and the open source movement itself that have proved challenging to navigate.
Open Source challenges
In our interview with Drumm for the 10th anniversary of the RepRap project, he outlined the impact made by changes in the wider industry:
“A key part of the puzzle in the rapid spread of 3D printers across the globe is the rise of open source hardware businesses, like us, that sell inexpensive 3D printer kits. We were able to scale up faster than organic, grassroots growth alone could achieve,”
“The downside was that our innovative designs were also being used by companies with even bigger distribution channels and much deeper pockets.”
In addition, Drumm addresses some of the flaws with the open source movement itself, saying, “I have found, from the beginning of Printrbot in 2011, that Open Source was synonymous with disorganization,”
“I was trying to herd cats while finding the needles in the haystacks of ideas to chart Printrbot’s course. The 2nd law of thermodynamics is called to mind… things seem to tend toward disorder. Not much has changed since then.”
Still, his belief in the necessity of Open Source remained strong, “There is still a need for OS projects, of course,” he states, “The educational benefits of 3D printing alone are enough of a reason for me to stay engaged.”
Effect on the maker community
Since the announcement on 18 July 2018, Printrbot fans have taken to Twitter expressing their condolences for the closure, with some setting their 3D printers to half-z in tribute.
Adrian Bowyer, father of the RepRap movement that bore Printrbot 3D printers and other open source machines of this kind, also expressed his sadness at the announcement:
3D Printing Industry has contacted the Printrbot team for further comment on the company’s closure.
3D Printhuset, a Danish 3D printing reseller, service provider and developer, has reportedly won the “first EU tender ever for a construction 3D printer” with Kamp C in Belgium.
The sustainability and innovation driver for construction in Antwerp Province, Kamp C has acquired Printhuset’s BOD2 3D printer and plans to use the machine in its development of a 3D printing infrastructure for the city of Flanders.
“We are extremely proud and pleased that Kamp C chose us in competition with the many other contenders that always appear in such EU tenders,” comments Henrik Lund-Nielsen, CEO of 3D Printhuset.
“The BOD2 is the only second generation printer on the market and is really unique in the sense that it has been cured [of all the problems of]a first generation printer. Kamp C appreciated this fact and evaluated that we by far not only had the best price but also had the best technical offer.”
The first 3D printed building
3D Printhuset began 3D printing its first ever public construction project, The BOD office-hotel, in September 2017. Now complete, the BOD stands on site in Nordhavn harbor, Copenhagen. Though technically a habitable shelter, the small BOD office has really served as a proofing ground for 3D Printhuset’s technology and lessons learned from the process have been used to develop its second generation 3D printer.
Initially limited to 3D printed sizes up to 8 x 8 x 6 meters (X x Y x Z), the original BOD has been upgraded to a modular design relying on the connection between mutiple 2.5 meter long units.
Michael Holm, Development Manager of 3D Printhuset comments, “Following our own BOD project we received many requests for the delivery of multiple sizes of printers,”
“We also knew how to improve this second version, as we learned great many things from doing The BOD with our first printer.”
Bigger, faster, construction 3D printing
The BOD2 construction 3D printer acquired by Kamp C is a version 444, which is capable of printing and area of 9.5 x 9.5 x 8.5 meters (X x Y x Z) meters in the length and width and 8,3 meters in the height.
In addition, the 3D Printhuset team asserts that the BOD2 is “10 x faster than the first generation” achieving print speeds of up up to 1000 mm/s, or 1 meter per second. The previous version reported top speeds of up to 2.5 m/m, with an average layer height between 50 and 70 mm.
3D printing in construction
Arguably one of the most popular and accessible applications of 3D printing, construction has gathered a lot of interest with companies launched for the purpose all over the world.
The European Parliament has issued a resolution on 3D printing that experts warn could stifle innovation and lead to increased regulation.
The resolution is titled on three-dimensional printing, a challenge in the fields of intellectual property rights and civil liability and was adopted by with 631 votes in favour, 27 against and 19 abstentions.
Association calls for light-touch
CECIMO, the European Association representing the common interests of the Machine Tool Industries, has responded to the resolution. “We urge the European Institutions, however, to firmly differentiate between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) uses of the technology, when approaching 3D printing from a regulatory perspective,” writes CECIMO
In the new resolution the benefits of 3D printing, it’s potential and advances on the horizon are outlined, however a key section notes that a (potentially) surprising factor is holding back further progress and the widespread adoption – a lack of sufficient regulations.
This may appear counter intuitive, especially when the language of innovation is liberally sprinkled throughout the report. FabLabs are explicitly called out as a “boon for inventors.”
Resolution calls for increased regulation
However it is the “the aerospace and medical/dental sectors, [where]regulating the use of 3D printers will help increase the use of technologies and offer opportunities for research and development”.
Healthcare and aerospace are, rightly so, sectors where regulation is necessary to protect the safety of the public. Additive manufacturing has made slow,but steady progress as an acceptable technology in the aerospace industry. The certification and qualification process for the LEAP series jet engine and the 3D printed fuel nozzle is a poster child for the industry partly because of the scarcity of other components. Yet this does not mean the industry should seek to rush through more critical components. As one additive manufacturing for aerospace expert told me at Farnborough Airshow this week, the failure of an AM aerospace component could “kill the industry for ten years.”
CECIMO also highlights that additive manufacturing processes are already subject to the regulations governing the particular industry they are deployed in.
A response to the resolution by the European Commission is expected within the coming months.
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Selected highlights from the resolution
“3D printing is viewed as one of the most prominent technologies, with regard to which Europe can play a leading role; whereas the Commission recognised the benefits of 3D printing by sponsoring 21 projects based on the technology by Horizon 2020 between 2014-2016;”
“the market for 3D printers constitutes a sector which is experiencing rapid growth and whereas this is expected to continue in the coming years;”
“3D printing has an enormous potential to transform supply chains in manufacturing which could help Europe increase output levels; whereas the application of this technology offers new opportunities for business development and innovation;”
“EU has made 3D printing one of the priority areas of technology; whereas the Commission referred to it, in its recent reflection paper on harnessing globalisation , as one of the main factors in bringing about industrial transformation;”
“it is to be expected that the limitations as regards materials that can be used, speed, and the consumption of raw materials and energy will be significantly reduced in a short period of time;”
“3D-printing might enable consumers to hit back at in-built obsolescence, as they will be able to make replacement parts for household appliances, whose lifespan is becoming increasingly shorter;”
“new technologies are able to scan objects or people and generate digital files which can subsequently be printed in 3D, and whereas this can affect image rights and the right to privacy;”
“may raise some specific legal and ethical concerns regarding all areas of intellectual property law, such as copyright, patents, designs, three-dimensional trademarks and even geographical indications, and civil liability, and whereas, moreover, those concerns fall within the remit of Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs;”
“in conclusion, legal experts are of the view that 3D printing has not fundamentally altered intellectual property rights, but files created may be considered a work and whereas, if that is the case, the work must be protected as such; whereas, in the short and medium term, and with a view to tackling counterfeiting, the main challenge will be to involve professional copyright intermediaries more closely;”
An additive manufacturing project at American global defense contractor Lockheed Martin has won the support of NextFlex, America’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) Manufacturing Institute.
This year the institute, which was formed by the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) and FlexTech Alliance, split a fund of $12 million between a total of seven projects, led by the likes of Boeing, Epicore, GE, Binghampton University, Georgia Tech and MicroConnex.
Each one was selected for its potential to bridge gaps in the manufacturing of flexible hybrid electronics.
Malcolm Thompson, executive director of NextFlex, comments,
“The seven projects we’ve selected not only make exciting developments in fields like healthcare, avionics or heavy industry, but they’re creating building blocks upon which future researchers can create new applications with FHE, accelerating the pace of true FHE innovation.”
A stretch of the imagination
The Project Call program was set up by NextFlex to seek the “big idea people” for the electronics industry. Teams awarded under the program can receive up to 50% of the development costs for a project, and the current focus in flexible, stretchable systems, particularly those that implement “additive processing.”
In this year’s Project Call 3.0, Lockheed Martin has been granted funding for two projects – one internal to the company alone, and one it is running in collaboration with Georgia Tech.
A database for additive manufactured, flexible antennas
In the first NextFlex project from Lockheed, funds have been granted to the compilation of a database of “additively printed antennas and microwave elements.”
In the second, a Lockheed/Georgia Tech team has been awarded funds for a project to develop “epidermal sensors for robotic exoskeleton knee control,” which will help in monitoring injuries, and soldier rehabilitation.
Boeing is another double recipient of the NextFlex Project Call 3.0. This year, the aerospace giant has been awarded funding for the development of a large, flexible sensor network that can be integrated into industrial systems, and for research into printed passive elements that evaluate “chemical behavior of printed materials.”
Other 2018 NextFlex beneficiaries include:
– Development led by Epicor of thin, flexible systems for disposable, “skin-like” health monitoring systems for healthcare and athletic performance.
– Development led by GE and Binghamton University of disposable, clinical-grade vital sign monitoring devices designed to increase patient safety and shorten hospital stays.
– Development led by MicroConnex of low cost flexible circuit fabrication processes using roll-to-roll printing for high volume production.
The HEEET project aims to develop a new Thermal Protection System that leverages weaving and 3D printing manufacturing methods for aircraft parts made of carbon composite materials. This will ultimately better enable in situ robotic science missions.
“The STMD community sincerely appreciates your hard work, leadership, and dedication to providing NASA and the Nation with revolutionary new technologies and capabilities,” said Stephen G. Jurczyk, STMD’s Associate Administrator.
Robust space materials
Heat shields are unique components that protect spacecraft structures and payloads from the intense heat of entry into a planet’s atmosphere.
The HEEET project, wanting to reduce the design time and cost of individual heat shields per mission, has created a range of materials that can be used on multiple spacecraft intended for multiple destinations. The first Thermal Protection System solution from HEEET includes a carbon phenolic material.
Bally Ribbon Mills and a team from the HEEET project worked on a process that weaves carbon fibers of different compositions and variable yarn densities to create numerous 3D panel structures. The panels are infused with resins and then cured to solidify the fibers into place.
Advanced modeling, design, and manufacturing tools were also used to optimize the material’s overall performance and properties, including a tolerance to atmospheric pressures and a high heat flux rate – the flow of energy controlling surrounding surface temperatures.
As a result of its improved properties, the thermal protection system will be used for future space probe and lander explorations.
“HEEET offers this robust performance and can be adapted to enable scientific probe missions to Venus, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and sample return missions from Mars, asteroids, comets, Europa and Enceladus,” said Ethiraj Venkatapathy, NASA Ames’ Principal Technologist for Entry Systems and Team Leader for Advanced Thermal Protection System development.
“The fabrics could eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet,” said Raul Polit-Casillas, a Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Prior to this, a team of researchers from the Russia space program Roscosmos, explored the uses of 3D printing and carbon fiber composite materials, which are commonly used in industry to make lightweight and durable parts.
The HEEET project now aims to reduce heat shield weight, cutting mass by up to 50%, with a corresponding reduction in G loads (gravity forces) on the spacecraft.