We’ve all seen the writing on the wall: desktop 3D printing at the consumer level isn’t quite the dreamboat we’d been led to believe it might be in the pie-in-the-sky forecasting days seen earlier in the 3D printing revolution. There may now be a chicken in every pot, but it seems ever more unlikely that we’ll see a 3D printer in every home. MakerBot, one of the first companies to come to the consumer, has admitted it. New introductions of smaller-sized 3D printers aren’t often intended for consumer use, including offerings from Carbon and Mcor, focusing instead on small businesses or medical offices. Still, though, the dream isn’t dead — and it’s not just maker-focused enterprises like the RepRap Project keeping some vitality in the consumer desktop sector, either. Companies we’ve been following for some time now continue to follow the visions of their clear-headed leaders to bring affordable, reliable technology right to the consumer, at home, ready to print out of the box and offering ease of use in both hardware and software.
At TCT Show last week, I took advantage of the opportunity only a trade show offers to get some face time with the personalities we so often cover here at 3DPrint.com, and was able to finally meet in person the man behind Portishead, UK-based CEL Robox. CEO of CEL and creator of the Robox Chris Elsworthy, whom we’ve covered many times and whose thoughts we’ve helped to share, took the time to chat with me last week about some of the latest offerings from the Robox line. And I have to say, it was nice to step away from a consumer-level 3D printer feeling like maybe, just maybe, it actually has quite a lot to offer.
TCT Show 2016 was the first public appearance of the new Robox Root, which appeared alongside the Robox Tree — and the Robox Dual, introduced earlier this year, was on-site in the trees as well, showcasing multi-material 3D printing. Before we get any deeper in, here is a quick video I took of Chris Elsworthy describing the Dual nozzle, as well as a quick look at the Robox Tree:
Robox 3D printers have been renowned for their ease of use, earning high marks in 3D Hubs’ annual printer guide with a 9.0 out of 10 in the Plug ‘N Play category for 2016. After talking with Elsworthy, I could see that this user-friendliness is truly an important aspect to the company’s 3D printers and ecosystem. Set up as a ‘micro-manufacturing platform’, FFF 3D printers from Robox offer as much simplicity or customization as a user could want.
“Everyone from my five-year-old boy to an advanced engineer can use it,” Elsworthy told me of the design intent.
Elsworthy himself is a product design engineer who had realized there was a big gap in the market, where users needed machines that “do what they’re meant to do.” Specifically, he told me, he wanted to see a 3D printer “like a 2D printer, where you just hit ‘print’ and it prints.” That click-and-print ease drove a lot of the innovation behind Robox 3D printers, which Elsworthy ensured incorporate tech right inside the machine, rather than necessitating users to take some steps themselves when they could be automatic processes. Before each print begins, the printer will automatically — unless a higher-power user prefers to customize their machine to allow manual adjustment — level the bed, recognize material type, and monitor both filament levels and speed, among other in-print processes. The machine was also intentionally “made small enough to be noninvasive,” ensuring it can find a place on a literal desktop. Robox 3D printers use AutoMaker software, which reduces the printing process to three steps: add model, change settings, and print.
Especially unique to Robox is the needle in the dual nozzle; it’s like an airbrush, Elsworthy explained, closing the tip off right at the end, so everything about it is clean, with no need for ooze towers or other wipes between filament extrusion of different types, allowing for fine detail with no color/material leaks. While the printers are geared toward all levels of consumers, including home users, Elsworthy also noted that these machines have been gaining traction with dentists, schools, and libraries lately.
“Just press print and out it comes,” he said of the appealing ease of use possible.
With the Robox Tree, several printers can be stacked together vertically to allow for the creation of larger prints made in parts simultaneously. This approach can lessen the amount of possible mistakes in a print job (nothing is worse than discovering a big print job has failed catastrophically eight hours in, ruining that entire job). The Robox Root is, essentially, a Raspberry Pi in a 3D printed case that networks the printers. A user can thus easily access all printers networked, checking status and monitoring the job from near or far. By keeping the Tree in a vertical configuration, the physical footprint remains small, as space is very often at a premium even among office users.
Elsworthy also drove home the point that the company’s “focus is on building our customer base,” always seeking and incorporating feedback on what consumers want from their machines. This also explains why the printers can be as streamlined and simplistic or as customized and manual as a user might want. These qualities are of ever-increasing importance in today’s marketplace, where it is critical to ensure that users have a voice — and one that is heard.