At the beginning of the year we estimated that we would be shipping the Dual Material Head at the end of Quarter 2, 2015, and many of you have pre-ordered your heads so you can take full advantage of all the extra functions Robox brings to 3D printing; for this we wholeheartedly thank you.
We are truly sorry for the delays so far, but development of new technology is an unpredictable business and we really want to make sure that we give you the best product possible when it is finally released.
What has been done so far?
We are over 90% on our way to seeing the Dual Material Head enter mass production, but as most of you will know the last 10% is the trickiest part of the whole process.
We have been working very hard to ensure that when the new technology is released it is as near to perfect as possible, to ensure our customers enjoy a smooth and faultless experience, so we are not about to rush the last 10% when we are so close to achieving something very special.
Even before we had released the first version of Robox we had already started on the dual material system ensuring as much of the work was included in the original unit as possible. We had to ensure the Robox had the potential to be a multi-functional platform from the very beginning. So we included the location features for the second extruder, a path for the filament to reach the head and all the electronics to drive the system.
Robox then exploded onto the market and we have spent the last 8 months making sure we could provide the necessary support to our customers, getting all appropriate systems in place and ironing out the few teething troubles which should be expected with the launch of any new piece of technology. To say the last few months have been somewhat of a whirlwind, while very exciting, is an understatement.
We are now at the point where we think Robox is the best machine on the market, and feedback from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
During this time, work on the Dual Material Head has continued, and we are almost at the point where we can give the nod to the production lines to get started – almost, but not quite.
There are 4 distinct areas that need finishing before the Dual Material Head can be released; the head itself, Cable and Bowden tube management to the x-carriage, the second SmartReel reader and holder, and the firmware and software to handle all this.
- The head; we’ve designed, manufactured and tested 2 new ways of sealing the needle valves into the head; we’ve temporarily abandoned one of these designs as although it showed great promise it requires a much longer development time; the second is a more subtle change to the existing system which is now being life-tested to ensure smooth continued operation.
- Cable and Bowden tube management; this has been designed to ensure it is backward compatible. Stage 1 samples have been made and tested and we are now waiting for the production parts to be built and tested.
- The second reel holder; on the surface this seems the easiest of tasks but has been the cause of some delay. The mechanics are simple enough but some of the electronic parts required have a very long lead time and even samples of them are taking a long time to procure. The factory is now making prototypes and we should see them at the end of the month.
- Firmware and Software; the firmware only needed subtle tweaks and is all but complete. The software is more than 50% of the entire task, not only do we need an intuitive way of allowing the users to select and assign extruders to objects or tasks, but the structure to enable these to be processed into the final Robox commands. Our two senior software engineers Tony and Ian have been diligently integrating all the features required to support 2 materials into the interface, working closely to ensure that the gcode generator and post-processors have all the variables required to create the correct Robox commands. This has been completed to testing level and we now have a development version of AutoMaker with material assignment, Dual Material Head support. Ian has taken this opportunity to scratch-build the post-processor to improve its output and to handle multiple extruder support. This is the final part of the software development required to start multiple material printing.
What’s not finished yet?
Testing, testing, testing. As you can see from the above, in essence the Dual Material Head is virtually complete and we are at the point where we could press the button on the launch of the head. But we want to be at the point where we are very confident about performance and life, and as such we are spending the next 8 or so weeks undergoing a rigorous testing process. This includes driving the heads with the software as a user would, testing the production samples of the cable management system, and testing the latest version of the dual reel holding designs.
In addition we will conduct final testing of the software to ensure we’ve covered all possible scenarios, and while the gcode creation is well into its development we need to make sure it has all the functions and stability essential for final release.
So what is the new ETA on the Dual Material Head?
So the good news is that while we’ve not met our early estimated date, we are confident the new head will be released to the public in November 2015. But please note this is an estimate, what we don’t want to do is promise an exact date and then find we’re a few weeks out. As well as the immense amount of testing we have to allocate time for tooling and production.
Why is it worth the wait?
At this point you need to remember why you invested in the Robox in the first place – this all comes back to the reason why Robox fills a gap in the current 3D printing market. Robox will be the ONLY 3D printer out there capable of additional functions such as dual material printing, paste extrusion, drag knife cutting, laser cutting and more. The Dual Material Head is the first of many heads we intend to release.
You’ve already bought a 3D printer which arguably produces better prints than anything else on the market in a similar price bracket, or even at a higher price point. And soon you’ll be able to produce prints in different colours and with different materials which expands the range of what can be printed enormously.
Printing in different colours means you can print coloured logos, patterns, light pipes and more, the list is endless!
Creating parts with multiple materials which have different properties allows you to print items that have a hard core and a soft over-mould; for example, a bottle cap with a rubber seal or axles with bearing surfaces.
The Dual Material Head greatly expands the range of replacement objects you can print, such as buttons, phone cases, handles, chair pads, screws, plugs, watch straps, hinges, hearing aids, over-moulds etc.
And perhaps most importantly, users will no longer have to consider whether the design they have found is suitable for 3D printing – you’ll be able to download any model from repositories online and be confident of the final print.
Printing with two different materials – such as ABS and HIPS at the same time – means you could have support material which is more easily removed as it is different to the material used for the actual design.
Robox hardware doesn’t have the same caveats that others do; we don’t need to retract, cool or wipe the nozzles, we don’t have to build time-consuming, wasteful towers or shields to reduce cross contamination of materials.
The needle valve system ensures that only the material being printed is coming out of the nozzles. The needle valve system is good on single material prints as it allows multiple nozzle sizes but truly shows its potential during multiple material prints.
The user will not have to consider every aspect of a multi-material print, the interface we’ve designed is intuitive and the workflow simple to use; even handling situations where the material attached to the hardware doesn’t match the project. A simple change to the extruder which will be released very soon will introduce the ability to print a more diverse selection of materials, and as such, prints.
In conclusion, the Robox will be able to produce the best multi-material prints of any FFF printer in the market, development is well under way.
This all said, some of you have already placed your pre-orders for the Dual Material Head and are getting impatient. We totally understand, and hope that this explanation on our part helps to put your mind at rest and retains your confidence in what we are trying to achieve. We’re extremely excited about what the Dual Material Head brings to the Robox – the wait will definitely be worth it.