BoXZY got its start in Pittsburgh, PA two years ago when brothers and co-founders Joel and Justin Johnson had the idea to create a machine that can create just about anything and raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to get the idea off the ground. While many desktop machines promising all-in-one capabilities have less than stellar performance when actually put to use, BoXZY wasn’t just designed to be robust; its robustness is still surprising its creators. The team behind the company have been dedicated to experimenting with and furthering their technology — more so than they have been focused on getting word out about its capabilities, as they have largely been letting the machine speak for itself.
I met Joel Johnson, the company’s CEO, this month at a makerspace meetup held to coincide with RAPID + TCT as the additive manufacturing industry flocked to Pittsburgh, and his enthusiasm for both his company and the community built around makers and high-tech manufacturing capabilities was immediately apparent. Joel was recently experimenting with an old BoXZY machine, and some of his findings have added an interesting new dimension to an already-promising piece of desktop equipment. As it’s high time for the company to speak up about what they’ve been up to, I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Joel to learn more about what it is that BoXZY has to offer.
“It’s my newest obsession,” he told me in what I’ve learned is his trademark straightforward manner. “I was experimenting with an old BoXZY that I wasn’t afraid to push too hard. I made a discovery about BoXZY’s carving feature. It’s not about the 3D printer attachment, specifically… but it definitely expands BoXZY’s potential as a hybrid device and reveals features of our 3D printing capacity.”
As with many superhero origin stories that don’t involve radioactive arachnids, it turns out that the potential for this big reveal has been within BoXZY all this time. While some machines are so pushed to reach their potential that they are quickly pushed beyond their limits in early testing, the team behind BoXZY hadn’t realized just how capable their creation was until recently, despite regular work with and exploration of its machining abilities — indeed, he told me, “We thought we were pushing BoXZY too hard but it turns out we were not pushing it hard enough.”
“BoXZY is a 3D printer that can CNC carve steel. It’s always been; I just didn’t know it, and, of course, I couldn’t announce it until now,” Joel explained. “It cuts through steel like butter. We were using Easel carving speeds for the X-Carve and Carvey to run BoXZY, and my max speed was around 450 mm/min in soft wood, but now I am CNC carving steel at 2286 mm/min. As it turns out, we can use the speeds and feeds directly from Fusion 360 for professional machines, like the Tormach, and high speed machining! I am getting press-fit tolerances in steel!
This ability is a HUGE market advantage for us. CNC carving steel makes us the most demonstrably powerful of the hybrid fabricators, by far.”
To push the machine further to reach its potential, an engineer working on another product pointed out to Joel that the BoXZY wasn’t engaging the material enough for the bit to work effectively; while they thought they were pushing the machine too hard, they weren’t pushing it enough. “I needed to push it faster, much faster,” Joel said of the realization.
The entire experience has proven a valuable, if costly, learning experience for the team behind BoXZY as they have worked to understand what the newly-discovered capabilities and speeds mean for the company — and for the market. Because BoXZY the company is still so young, resources are tight, magnifying any risk. Joel found that he had “treated each BoXZY as precious” due to the expense of producing each unit. He was very honest about what came of that mentality: “We didn’t didn’t take the right chances and failed to push BoXZY to its full potential. In hindsight, that was a foolish, shortsighted, and very expensive mistake to make.” This, he said, led to “a couple of painful months.”
Sometimes the most valuable lessons do come from difficult learning experiences, and it appears that with the discovery of the real strength of BoXZY the team is ready to rebound and not only go forward in work with the newly-understood capabilities, but work to communicate just what those capabilities mean in practice for real users.
“BoXZY is built like a tank, with fat and very accurate ball-screws, and we’re the first to launch a rapid-swap desktop fabricator for hobbyist. But, consumers don’t really have an imagination for what that means for them, and, besides that, multi anything is often conceived of as low quality in the consumer’s mind. The belief that multi-tools are cheap was at war with our brand because BoXZY is an extremely robust multi-tool. This conflict has plagued our company. So I’ve been seeking examples of BoXZY creations that overcome these psychological obstacles and justify the longer wait for a better product,” Joel explained. “BoXZY’s ability to carve steel does that.”
Overcoming obstacles of perception is difficult for even the most well-funded company, especially in an industry so sensitive to hype and overpromises as advanced manufacturing, especially at the desktop. Still, understanding that BoXZY had a truly unique positioning — that, above all, is demonstrable and repeatable — encouraged Joel to continue the forward momentum.
“When I figured this [ability] out, I was able to design and CNC carve a survival hatchet, that same night, from a 1/4 thick piece of steel! Being able to create things like this, creates the potential for so many different kinds of uses and user stories,” Joel told me. “Being able to shape ferrous and non-ferrous materials, alike, is a serous game changer for BoXZY. This puts us into a far different and far more expensive, professional class of machine. Currently our starting price is less than the price of a new Ultimaker, so this makes BoXZY really competitive. A consumer is paying for a machine that can carve steel quickly and accurately–and 3D prints and laser engraves very well. This will legitimately make us one of the big dogs if we can communicate these capabilities effectively.”
Backing up the enthusiastic claims, Joel shared a video of the CNC at work with that steel hatchet:
Now that BoXZY’s capabilities are internally understood, the real key for the company in unlocking their place in the market lies in showing that. Other, established companies have proven desktop hybrid fabrication systems out there — but bringing the ability to work, quickly and well, with steel at the BoXZY price point looks to be a major selling point, and Joel sees it as the missing piece to the market puzzle. Because BoXZY also possesses meritable 3D printing (up to 20 micron resolution) and laser engraving capabilities, the machine is well in place as more makers — professional and hobbyist alike — look to hybrid technologies as the future of manufacturing.
It also means that BoXZY has three times as many competitors as it offers three unique, if related, technologies. Working with steel may just be the company’s golden ticket to a unique positioning, especially as other capabilities remain in place. The team is well aware of the need to overcome “the belief that having a multi-machine means compromised quality and function,” showing an underlying understanding as well of market dynamics necessary for the business beyond the capabilities. The best way to overcome disbelief is with proof (well, at least theoretically, if the internet is any indicator of people’s ability to really go with seeing-is-believing mentality), and BoXZY is hard at work now to show — and tell.
“A single image of BoXZY shaping steel, like a knife or transmission gear, is enough to communicate the unique possibilities that BoXZY creates,” Joel said. “It allows me to get ahead of companies like Stepcraft, and ZMorph or single function products, like Ultimaker, Printrbot and Carvey.”
He continued with an enthusiasm impossible to deny: “I feel childlike bliss when I watch BoXZY working, now. I may be embarrassing myself with my constant joyful cursing on the back dock as I mill steel. ‘Fuck Yes!,’ that’s been my constant go-to. BoXZY is the only hybrid machine to quickly, accurately repeatably shape steel. I’m freaking out! Seriously, I was getting scared for a while, very worried. Chinese knock-offs are killing the market for 3D printers and thus killing a lot of our sales–really hurting us. Being able to make this claim to steel as a hybrid fabricator is more than a life raft, and it is that–it’s also a serious competitive advantage.”
Pre-orders are available at $2,999 for the all-in-one capabilities, and at lower price points for one or two of the functions; each level includes a one-year subscription to Fusion 360. BoXZY is definitely one to watch, and we’ll be keeping in touch with the young company as the machine’s full potential is understood and it finds its footing in a competitive marketplace. Discuss in the BoXZY forum at 3DPB.com.