Wednesday, August 31, 2016

M3D Pro: The Two Key Design Principles

I received an update from the M3D Kickstarter team yesterday and in the update they listed the two key design principles behind the new Pro design.
  • A self-aware printer
  • Precision metal engineering
While these sentences are short and simple, the goals are not.  In fact, the first goal is revolutionary and the second goal is extremely rare in the 3D printing industry.
A Self Aware 3D Printer
Remember when you were a child and played a game where you tried to find something hidden and the other players in the game, who knew where the item was, would tell you whether you were hot (near) or cold (far).  If they were really helpful they would yell, "Getting Hotter!" or "Oh,, Getting colder!" to  let you know you were or were not heading in the right direction.  That very much describes a closed-loop feedback system.  But, instead of people the M3D Pro uses an array of sensors to provide that kind of feedback and electronics to response to that feedback and make corrections.
By "Self Aware", the designers mean that "every possible aspect of the printer should be closed-loop, so that it is self-aware and can correct issues on the fly, hopefully eliminating all typical frustrations with 3D printing." 
This is a revolutionary breakthrough that ultimately means the M3D Pro printer will be WAY easier to use than any previous printer.  And, way more reliable in multiple ways.
At the most fundamental level this means eliminating the need for manual gapping and print table leveling.  In every 3D printer, there is an optimal gap between the tip of the extrusion head and the print table.  And, that distance must be exactly the same no matter where the print head is relative to the table.  In every consumer 3D printer that i have ever owned or used, that gap had to be set manually.  Even in the M3D Micro, while it has a mode that can set the gap there is sometimes the need to offset that value manually.  And, the leveling process is completely manual.
When either of these settings are off, the print head can become clogged or the object won't adhere correctly to the print plate.  An improper gap has been THE prinicple reason for failure in our classrooms.
The M3D Pro's closed loop of a full network of sensors, if I understand it correctly, will make both of those tasks completely hands free and automatic.  And, that, alone, is huge!
But, M3D's closed loop network of sensors goes well beyond those capabilities.  It will constantly be aware of a whole host of states, like location and temperatures to optimize every aspect of the printing process. Even more remarkably, it will know how to correct situations that would bring other 3D printers to a complete halt!
I don't have an M3D Pro, so I can't say exactly what these sensors do in real time.  But, I have been 3D printing long enough to know that the Pro is going to significantly improve our chances of delivering prints for our students without the downtime we now regularly experience.
More as I learn more...
Precision Metal Engineering
My first 3D printer was an $1,800 kit printer.  It suffered from something call "Z-Axis wobble" caused by the vertical screw leads not being perfectly straight.  With each rotation the print table would shift slightly giving object edges a wavy appearance.
That will not be true of the M3D Pro.  The Kickstarter update describes it this way...
"Second, that every aspect of the printer should be precision engineered so that it is extremely rigid and predictably assembled, leading to a more consistent and standardized user experience."
Having used a Micro for a while, I already am familiar with M3D's quality.  And, so are a lot of other Micro owners.  In fact, the bulk of the Kickstarter participants for the Pro are currently Micro owners.  That tells me a LOT.

But, the Pro is NOT the Micro when it comes to fundamental design.  It will be far superior in that the plastic parts of the Micro have been replaced with highly precisely machined metal parts in the Pro.  The update describes it this way:
The cost of precision engineering: 
The Pro cost of goods is over 3 times that of the Micro. This is because we've replaced almost all of the plastic with precision metal parts that have ~15 times better tolerances. In fact the only thing the Micro and Pro have in common is the look of the enclosure, injection molded framing, and the style of the leadscrew and H-gantry style. 
Now I hope you get a feel for why we jumped at the chance to participate in the M3D Pro Kickstarter in order to get one sooner rather than later.

I am confident that migrating to the M3D Pro will significantly improve our ability to turn over our cadet's designs in a more timely manner; which, in turn, will significantly improve their designs.  And, thus, significantly and positively impact the success of the entire program at every site.

Easier to use and more precise. What's not to like about that!

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