Raise 3D

How many 3D printers could a 3D printer 3D print if a 3D printer could 3D print 3D printers? It’s less catchy than the more familiar woodchuck-based tongue twister, but the LulzBot team were having fun with this phraseology at CES 2018 last week (or at least humoring me while I had fun with it). Colorado-based Aleph Objects brought nine LulzBot 3D printers and four techs to Las Vegas, crafting new LulzBot Mini components and assembling new 3D printers in a show floor factory setup — to the company’s knowledge, a first-of-its-kind showing at the massive annual consumer electronics show. We’d been anticipating a good look at the announced setup, and on the first day of this year’s CES, I had the opportunity to meet with the team at the impossible-to-ignore booth in the 3D Printing Marketplace of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC).

Walking around the extensive setup, LulzBot Director of Marketing Ben Malouf told me, “The idea is to bring our factory here.”

“We have a cluster of nine printers printing printer parts, with four techs. We’re giving away 16 of the printers made here — they’re a special edition,” he explained.

“We had talked about how to get the most out of CES, as a 3D printer company, since the consumer bubble burst. We differentiate ourselves in a few ways, and one is that we’re open source and really show how we do it, how we use our printers to print our printers. Showing that makes it easy for people to connect the dots. So we thought we would bring the process here.”

The Made It In Vegas LulzBot Mini 3D printers created during the show were each stamped as such, and subject to the same rigorous quality control as any factory-made units. As Malouf and I spoke, the techs worked away in their fishbowl-like stations, checking fresh-from-the-print-bed parts, assembling components, and ensuring performance at every step. The hallmark green of LulzBot was visible throughout the booth, from the walls to the parts being printed, to the techs’ lab coats — which Malouf had custom dyed himself.

The units made during CES — 20 total, and all earmarked for giveaways, 16 through the company and others via affiliates including Joel Telling, the 3D Printing Nerd — contained some recently-released features. Toward the end of 2017, LulzBot announced a slew of new software and hardware releases, and the new LCD controller and Aerostruder are set to appeal to users. Included on the Made It In Vegas units, the LCD controller precludes the necessity of connecting to a computer, which Malouf noted as a much-requested feature to allow for greater flexibility of use. The Aerostruder, just released last week, is designed for both the TAZ and the Mini, bringing together the popular Titan Aero Extruder and Hot End from E3D with LulzBot 3D printing, allowing for the 3D printing of both solid and flexible materials. The third new feature seen on these units, the Print Bed Heater, brings heated bed capabilities to the Mini.

Another notable milestone, LulzBot also hit its two millionth production part on its in-house Cluster of 155 LulzBot 3D printers earlier this month — just a year and a half after hitting the one-million mark. The two millionth part, a Z-axis carriage idler, was, the company noted, “printed unceremoniously.” Malouf pointed to the successful creation of two million production parts as evidence of desktop 3D printing as a viable technology for real-world use as machines continue making machines.

As the small Cluster continued to print around us, we turned also to the last year for LulzBot and the year ahead.

I had the good timing to run into CEO Michael Cao and CMO Kimberly Gibson of IC3D upon my arrival to the booth. The Ohio-based company had worked with Aleph Objects in 2017 to develop and make available the first-ever open source filament. In addition to the furthering of the open source / libre innovation ethos, the development highlighted the trademark community feeling from LulzBot, which often works with other tech companies to develop viable solutions for today’s market.

For tomorrow’s market, we can expect a busy year ahead for LulzBot. While no timelines are concrete yet, Malouf pointed to a few developments we can expect to see in the next 12 months — including a goal of three new 3D printer introductions. With 2017 devoted largely to rolling out updates and accessories across the product line, and the company solidifying business plans and strategies, much of this served to lay a firmer foundation for 2018. For some companies, introducing several new models of 3D printer is par for the course; for companies like LulzBot that target professional production and create workhorse machines that last reliably for years of use, releases can often be fewer and farther between.

The prospect of three new machines from LulzBot is surely an exciting one that will have many take notice as the 3D printers emerge throughout the year. As ever, catching up in person with the team from LulzBot, at their booth as well as running into them for more casual conversation throughout the CES experience, proved interesting and enlightening — and left me looking forward to the next steps for the enthusiastic young team.

Discuss LulzBot, CES 2018, and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke / Video: LulzBot]

 

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