Monday, 26 November 2012

A Challenge to MakerBot: Platform not Product

I was going to buy a CupCake, but then I thought, "Shall I wait for the Thing-O-Matic?" Fearing obsolescence I never did around to that. And I was right ... along came Replicator. Looked nice, but what about those rumors of the Replicator 2? Finally, credit card in hand ... Replicator 2X hits the blogs. 

Regular obsolescence is OK at Kindle, Android and iPhone prices, but even some of those consumers are becoming vocal about the upgrade problem

3D printers are far more expensive than smart phones. No one is going to buy a new one each year. For this, and for engineering reasons, what's needed is a 3D printing platform. 

A platform is not the same as a kit. It is also more than the outer case. A platform is designed from the get-go to be both modular and expandable, in as many dimensions and attributes as humanly possible. 

This nirvana may be too early for the market, but I would like to know that my 3D printer supplier is thinking "platform" as I invest, with them, in the development of my evolving home factory. 

Can new 3D printers feel more like early home PCs? 

In the late 70s and early 80s, kits such as the NASCOM provided a true computing platform. They were given a sophisticated bus on the main board, and could be expanded via cables or rack - home made or otherwise. Hobbyists could add additional purchased or homegrown cards for memory, graphics, disk, other I/O, specialized peripherals, and software. 

Or think about how R/C car enthusiasts upgrade critical parts such as transports, motors, wheel bearings and shocks, replacing plastic with metal, in order to achieve greater performance. 

I think the 'maker' community is starting to think this way about 3D printing. MakerBot Industries may have abandoned the idea of supplying kits but that decision is not incompatible with the idea of providing a platform.

A German RepRap group has described a new 3D printer called the PTotos X400. I'm not saying that this is the perfect 'platform', but do you think it is heading in the right direction? 

Here's my wish list:
  • I need my supplier to think platform not product or kit
  • I don't need them to amaze me with a new product each year, this is more than likely to depress me
  • I don't want build volume to be limited from the get-go, with nowhere to go
  • I need them to explain how they are building in expansion and upgrades in everything they provide, even if those shopping options are not available today
  • I wish to start on a sound base, of industrial strength
  • I can imagine higher fidelity everything that impacts part quality, from chassis, to electronics, through motors, print heads, rods, drives, bearings, belts and shafts
  • I must be able to upgrade any critical part, such as to a ceramic platform
  • I need the confidence to know that I won't be cut out of process, geometry or material innovations coming down the line
  • I will eventually want to experiment with multiple print heads, of different types
  • Why couldn't my factory also support milling?
In short, I want to be able to upgrade my 3D factory over time, just like I do my sound system. What's your 3D platform wish list?  


  1. All true... but it will make the base printer more expensive. Is that a tradeoff you can really make, or will most people think that no matter how good the platform, with this technology so hot then maybe it will never be able to be upgraded to match a printer 3 years down the road? But they should have at least interchangeable print carriages to allow double extruders...

  2. Have a look at Cartesio, that will fulfill all of your needs