You may not agree with the next statement, but, in my humble opinion, you would be wrong. The most important thing to happen in 3D printing in the last decade was the release of the Bambu Lab 3D printers, the P1P and Carbon, the significance of which I outline here. Essentially, it is a fully-loaded 3D printer with new features, such as software driven vibration reduction, a very high movement and print speed. The printer has better yield and reliability than many others and is available from $650 to $1300.
Replete with a software suite including a mobile app and its own slicing software, the Bambu Lab 3D printers blew away the competition. Parts made by these machines look good and the speeds really make a difference. We know little about the long-term reliability of the systems and I worry about component quality. There were a lot of teething issues, the company’s customer service was spotty but is improving, and many are not as enthusiastic about the printers now as they were upon launch. Still, the printers are good machines and will define the next period in 3D printing.
BB: Before Bambu
At the time of the Carbon’s launch on Kickstarter, the desktop 3D printer market consisted of a low-cost segment, dominated by Anet, Creality, and Prusa i3 clones around $150 to $300 that relied on Cura, Marlin and other common software. RAMPS, Smoothieboard, SKR and Duet were used by many people. Klipper was on the rise. E3D, Bondtech, Dyze Design and others made aftermarket nozzles to upgrade your 3D printers. Thingiverse was waning as it has for years, other competitors fizzled out but there were many solutions. 3D printer companies were pivoting away from Ultimaker towards their own branded or customized slicers.
There was also a mid-market segment of printers at around $1,000 dominated by the Prusa Research MK3, as well as more fully featured printers that were larger and cost around $2,500, and a premium enterprise desktop segment dominated by Ultimaker with printers from $5,000 to $10,000. Above that, around the $20,000 range, Stratasys had some locked down entry-level systems. Vat photpolymerization was a growing, but small segment. There were hundreds of filament vendors making lots of different engineering polymers available to 3D print. Ultimaker and Prusa Research were moving towards having their own complete software offering, or flavor of software anyway.
All in all, however we saw a lot of vendors who competed with each other in a riotous market that was innovative and dominated by value engineering. Millions of 3D printers were being sold and they all relied on lots of other designs and vendors. Marlin, Duet, Klipper, Ollson nozzles they were all fellow travelers. Open source was something that was under threat but 3D printers were hackable and you can pick your own software, add lots of stuff to it and change things. Hell, you could put your own firmware on your printer if you wanted and spend double the value of the printer on upgrades. It was 2022 and the future looked bright and diverse. The market seemed very competitive but in reality was stuck inside a paradigm of evolving value engineered Prusa clones for most of the millions of units sold.
AB: After Bambu
Now, we’re in a post-Bambu time and everyone’s strategy has shifted. Bambu’s 3D printers have many more features than the market as a whole. Their features have been ingeniously implemented, as well. An awful lot of money and engineering candle power has gone into the P1P and the X1 Carbon. It was as if everyone was working on a slightly better Model T and someone blew by in a Duesenberg Model J. The Bambu Labs 3D printers reimagined what a desktop 3D printer could be.
Now, a lot of companies may be working on slightly better Prusa i3 clones, but they’re also working on Bambu eaters—real pandas. And these 3D printers are Core XY in architecture. They optimize software, stepper performance, extrusion and travel. They are tightly integrated machines with enhanced printer specific performance specific slicing. Just as software is now a big part of your car and the experience of you in your car, 3D printers will now also be integrated with software. Companies will now have to integrate their firmware, 3D printer performance and slicing software better. They will have to find ways to optimize performance whether through optimized stepper control, optimized simulation or other smarter integration.
It is also not enough to simply copy an E3D nozzle or buy one. You have to engineer the best nozzle extrusion set up to wring performance from it. It is not enough to simply pop a Sunon fan next to your print head. No you need to look at laminar flow across the print bed and look at model cooling in depth to get better surfaces and lower warp. Its not just enough to test PLA, now you have to have optimized settings for many materials. You can’t just white label Cura or direct people to Thingiverse. Now you too must have an app and slicer and download site. You have to have a soup to nuts software experience that you’ve made.
Creality has just released the K1 3D printer. They will surely hope that they´ve done enough to make that a Bambu-eating super panda. No matter if they fail or succeed the market will forever be changed.
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