Monday, June 27, 2016

M3D Pro 3D Printer Announced

Anyone that has followed any of my blogs knows that I don't ever cut & paste news releases.  But, I will use the information in news releases as a basis for trying to analyze trends and the true value of announced products.  There are several reasons why I take this cautious approach.  But, one reason stands out.  Early product announcements scare me.

Many years ago, I was happily collecting royalty payments from Mindset Computer Company.   It had been introduced as a game computer using the unique Intel 80186 chip; but, had struggled and, as you can read on the linked page, had refocused to serving the video and graphics industries using the Video Titler software I'd designed and sold to them.  The original computer was floppy drive only.  They announced a hard drive version.  Unfortunately, people stopped buying the original, waiting for the Mindset II.  But, it was delayed by technical problems and the company subsequently folded. 

By the way, you can see a an example of using the Mindset to overlay computer animation over live video footage in this 1985 video made for the U.S. Army.  Yes, It's crude by today's standards; but, hopefully, you will find it fun from a historical point of view.



Side Note:  The demise of the Mindset led to the formation of Pinnacle Video Systems by Ajay Chopra, one of the former Mindset management team members and I was asked to design the software used in their initial video product... so, it wasn't a total disaster.  :)
All that is to say, that I do not relish the idea of sales of great existing products to be adversely affected by announcements of future products.

I Love the M3D Micro

I'll repeat that.  I LOVE the Micro.  The designers at M3D have accomplished a brilliant product.

I am loath to do anything that might influence anyone to not buy the M3D Micro if that is the perfect 3D printer for their real needs.  But, because I do understand that the Micro might be less suitable for some than the new M3D Pro, I will encourage potential 3D printer buyers to carefully consider both.  In fact, I don't see it as an EITHER/OR proposition.  They are uniquely suited to a BOTH consideration.  We certainly will be approaching it that way.  So, let's take a look at the announced M3D Pro.

Why Consider the M3D Pro?

New M3D Pro

Once again, the designers at M3D have appeared to come up with a brilliantly designed 3D printer.

Here are just some of the prospective specs and benefits:
  • Heated Print Bed
There are many 3D printers with heated print beds.  But, what struck me abut the M3D Pro version is that the glass heater apparently can automatically adjust temperature. 
Why is this important?  
Different materials have different heating requirements to reduce warping.  Being able to automatically adjust the bed temperature by filament type should allow us to run things like ABS without warping and PLA without heating the bed.  This is an important safety consideration around small children.  NOT having to heat the bed is as important as having a highly heated bed for some applications.
There is also the implication that the heating circuitry is able to ramp the heat up or down,as needed, as the print progresses, much like that of higher quality ceramic kilns.  This may result in a print bed being at the perfect temperature at the end of print run for safe removal of parts.  This is a question I want to pursue further.
  •  Large Build Volume 
The build volume of the Pro is 7.8”H x 7.2”D x 7.2W.  This is larger that the 3rd Gen Cube in a printer that has a significantly smaller footprint.  Frankly, I don't believe that we have printed anything of that size on our Cube Pro printers with the capacity to print objects 11.2(w) x 9.06(h) x 10.6(d) inches. 
So,  the build volume of the M3D Pro can certainly be described as large taking into account the actual needs of most 3D printer users.
  •  Embedded Recovery 
Ok.  This a HUGE one.  Being able to recover from power outages, pauses, and filament shortage or jams is an enormously positive reason for wanting an M3D Pro.  Note the "pauses" reference.  Is anyone thinking, "Color Change" or "Material Change" when combined with the ability to use 3rd party slicers?  Hmmm.... this is intriguing.
  • Stand Alone Mode 
Stand alone operation is an important addition to the M3D line of 3D printers.  However, in the following description, we are not told if the transfer is via a USB cable or WiFi.
"M3D’s software will automatically start printing and transfer print jobs to an internal memory chip, allowing the print to continue without being tethered to a computer"
  • Advanced Sensor Network 
I will try to gather more information about the ARM sensor network functionality.  For now, I'm assuming things like more consistent print head temperature control and automated gap and print table leveling.  But, it may go well beyond this.
  • Accuracy
25-350 micron layer heights means that the Pro can print layers twice as fine as the Micro... which is already beautiful,
  • Print speed
It's apparent that the Pro will print considerably faster than the Micro.  But, will it be as quiet?  There is no way to know until we see a production version in action.  But, the build techniques look similar just from the available images.  So, I am guessing it's also going to be a very quiet printer.
I'm Opting for BOTH

There is no question about the fact that the M3D Pro is a step up in size, capabilities and automation over the original Micro.  But, to me, the Micro still holds a very special place in our ability to democratize 3D printing well beyond the typical hobbyist and maker communities. Its low cost, small footprint and quiet operation make it uniquely suited for small homes, apartments and the special needs of security conscious educators.

On the other hand, I see the need for at least one or two higher speed, higher volume printers capable of delivering parts in a variety of materials in a more timely fashion.

Even combining the cost of a Micro and a Pro, you are still way under the cost of the popular competitors!  So, BOTH is certainly a viable option and offers so many benefits that it is certainly worth considering. 







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