In 2018, the 3D printing industry lost one of its most beloved businesses. Printrbot was so popular in part because of its very low-cost, simple 3D printers, but also because its community was so supportive and enthusiastic. At the head of that business was Brook Drumm, who embodied that community with his own excitement about the technology and undying support of open-source hardware.
Though Printrbot was shut down, in part due to the emergence of low-cost Chinese 3D printers, we knew that Drumm couldn’t stay out of the industry forever. Now, he has returned as part of a new team led by Ian Wilding to launch a new low-cost 3D printer on Kickstarter, Plybot.
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At first glance, Plybot might look like another Printrbot Simple, with a matte-black finish. Upon closer inspection, you may realize that the arms of the machine are entirely unique—well, maybe not entirely. This design has been experimented with in the RepRap community, but we don’t believe it has ever made it into a final, commercialized design before. In addition to performing a mesmerizing motion while printing, the arms actually serve a purpose. According to the Plybot team, this design allows the system to print larger prints more quickly and more reliably.
“See the print bed? 60% of the printer is printable! Gone are the days of gigantic machines spluttering for hours to churn out one tiny paperweight,” reads the Kickstarter campaign.
The design was developed by Josh Mitchell, who won UK Young Engineer of the Year at the age of 18 with his first version of Plybot in 2018. The goal was to make a flat-packed, plywood 3D printer that could print quality parts at a low cost. Upon heading to Stanford University, Mitchell’s endeavor picked up Brook Drumm as the design was refined. Ian Wilding is noted as being “responsible for pulling it all together,” ultimately launching the Plybot Kickstarter campaign.
Features include electronics that manage to inhibit the volume of the machine. It’s Wi-Fi/USB/SD enabled and also controllable via iOS or Android app, though it can also be managed using other software. Build volume is 7″ x 6″ x 5″ and achievable layer thickness is 0.2 mm. Early birds can catch the Plybot for just $299, but the standard price isn’t that much more at $329. Both come with several rolls of filament, as well. The team claims that they don’t expect any issues with fulfilling orders as they manufacture the systems in Irvine, California.
The printer is actually an “asset” of Ian Wilding’s Hangar 75, a “venture factory” that is investing in several projects that also include a real estate platform for linking tenants and landlords, a 3D model marketplace, and a financial wellbeing application. While Hangar 75 was founded in 2018, the closely related Radical Company has been in operation since 2010, developing digital products and services with clients around the world.
The businesses have built “$1.5B in value through the creation of new products and services” and have worked with such powerful names as Barclays, Lloyds Bank, the London Stock Exchange, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. In other words, the team behind Hangar 75, Radical Company, and Plybot are experienced professionals.
So, not only should we expect the printers to be built and delivered on time, but also that this is likely only the beginning for the business. We may expect a 3D model repository to come out soon, as well. The question is how all of this will differ from previous consumer 3D printing projects.
There was a great deal of hype related to consumer 3D printers circa 2010-2014 that didn’t exactly pan out but did catalyze interest in industrial 3D printing. Now, industrial additive manufacturing is on the verge of realization. Is it time to revisit consumer 3D printing once more?
Among the factors that likely need to be addressed for desktop additive technology for entry-level users to become a thing are user-friendliness, practicality, cost, safety, speed and material diversity. Basically, ordinary consumers will need to be able to click “print” and see a functional object made in a relatively short period of time and without toxic fumes making them sick. With that in mind, the materials, practicality, and safety don’t seem quite there for this to happen, in my opinion.
If Hangar 75 can establish a library of very practical objects that can be 3D printed using basic materials, this may change a bit, but desktop printers can still only make plastic items while volatile organic compounds and ultrafine particles seep into the air. We’ll have to ask executive editor Joris Peels what more is missing before widespread consumer adoption of desktop 3D printers is possible.
That said, it is inspiring to see what looks like a new RepRap design emerge in the marketplace. I really miss the days when RepRappers were conceiving of every possible 3D printer architecture just for the sake of seeing what was possible. Whatever happened to fully 3D printable RepRaps or foldable RepRaps? Maybe Plybot is just what we need to kickstart a new RepRap revolution that will solve all of the aforementioned issues of consumer-orienting 3D printing.
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