About this project
Helix is the best investment you will make in your business this year. With an attainable price, versatile materials, and unmatched quality, Helix takes the guess work out of integrating professional 3D printing into your business. Architects will benefit from quick, inexpensive scale models, captivating their clients' imaginations and converting more sales. Engineers and manufacturers will save thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours annually by printing in-house what they once had to outsource. Educators will finally have a 3D printer versatile, durable, and safe enough for use in all grades and subjects. Helix will upgrade your business! Read on to learn more and find technical specifications.
HELIX IS FOR ARCHITECTS:
Helix is a perfect tool for architects looking to win more contracts. Architects have noted over a 30% higher close-rate on projects which were proposed with a physical model in hand. Traditional models can take several weeks and thousands of dollars to produce. With Helix, physical models of 3D architectural designs can be made overnight for a few dollars in material.
Typical Auto-CAD drawings can be readied for printing in under an hour. Average 1:150 scale single-family residential models print in 6-10 hours and require minimal post-processing to be ready for clients to experience.
HELIX IS FOR ENGINEERS:
Helix allows mechanical engineers to save both money and time in the development process, often paying for itself in the first month of operation. Helix is easy to use and reliable, so it won’t waste your time just learning how to use it.
Outsourcing large-size, multi-material, or exotic-material prototypes is no longer necessary since Helix can accommodate with ease. And because Helix’s material options average TEN times less expensive than other manufacturers' proprietary cartridges, you will never worry whether your design is perfect before you press "Print."
HELIX IS FOR MANUFACTURERS:
Helix is more than just a rapid prototyper, it is an additive fabrication machine. Additive fabrication with Helix will outright replace molding for some of your short-run components. Why spend tens of thousands for a multi-part mold of a complex part when you can print it for a tiny fraction of that cost on Helix?
Having a machine like Helix around can also be a life saver for replacing small parts on proprietary manufacturing equipment. Don't waste time sourcing a part and waiting for it to ship when you can have your engineers design and print a new one to be back up and running in hours.
HELIX IS FOR EDUCATORS:
Businesses will be looking for workers with additive fabrication experience. Are your students ready? Helix is enclosed for user safety and built to withstand constant use. It’s versatile enough to print complex digital sculptures in art classes, precise mechanical and architectural models in drafting classes, and big dinosaur bone replicas for life sciences. Only Helix offers all this at a price that won't decimate your budget.
Helix also offers the ability for educators to make the intangible tangible. Print models of mathematic equations, print historic events, print the microscopic world at macro scale. The possibilities are endless.
Have questions about how Helix can upgrade your business?
Call us at (406) 317-1420. We'd love to talk to you.
HELIX IN THE NEWS:
The tech press has been saying nice things about Helix. Here are a few examples:
We will make professional-level 3D printing widely available to engineers, architects, k-12 schools and universities, maker spaces, machine shops, and anyone else that doesn't have $15,000+ up front and $8,000+ per year for service and materials. We will produce affordable machines that ship assembled, calibrated, ready to print, and won't require service every couple months because of a stretched belt or worn out plastic drive pulley. We've designed and built Alpha and Beta units in the last few months, and now, we'd like your help to finish our development and get to production.
WHAT WE'VE ALREADY ACHIEVED:
- 30 liter (more than a cubic foot) build volume with heated bed
- Our own dual Exact Retract Extruders - the absolute BEST extruder you can buy
- X/Y gantry with custom-made precision anti-backlash lead screws and machined billet aluminum carriers (NO BELTS!)
- Print head speeds up to twice as fast and locational precision three times more accurate than typical belt-driven 3D printers
- Beautiful enclosure with large windowed access door and lighted interior
- TIG welded steel build platform carrierAbility to print large ABS and nylon parts without warping
- Dual all-metal, actively cooled E3D hotends
- Multitude of material choices including ABS, Taulman nylon, PETT, PLA, PVA, HIPS, polycarbonate
- Autonomous micro-SD card printing with ViKI panel and Azteeg X3 control board
- Ships fully assembled and calibrated with two spools of filament and software ready to install
- 250+ hours of print time on the Beta unit
The Creation of Helix:
Our company, Acuity Design, was founded in Missoula, Montana in 2011 as a product design and development firm. We’ve been using RepRap and open source printers as part of our prototyping services since we started. While our RepRaps are capable of making some nice prints, and we love the open source culture that spawned them, none have the versatility or reliability that we need. They also required a lot of assembly, maintenance, and calibration time and frequently failed large ABS and nylon prints. We couldn't afford to use them as an integral part of our business.
Large volume, "professional" 3D printers are available today with great printing capabilities but cost $15,000+ and require expensive micro-chipped ABS spools. We couldn't afford to buy one of those machines, nor could we afford the materials or maintenance.
Fully assembled and calibrated dual head 3D printers can be purchased for less than $3,000. These printers can make some nice parts, but are directed at the consumer market. Their components were chosen largely because of cost, such as belts, plastic pulleys, and cheap extruders prone to slipping or stripping. Few have large build volumes, they're typically under ten liters. Even fewer can match Helix's build volume, but those that do are not enclosed, meaning they can't print ABS or nylon reliably. They're fun for consumers and hobbyists, but not meant to be run for thousands of hours per year, and not dependable enough for people, like us, using them daily as part of their businesses.
We decided we had to build the machine ourselves to meet all of our needs. It had to have a large print volume and be capable of reliably creating production-quality parts. We chose fused filament technology because of its combination of convenience, speed and versatility. It had to have dual print heads so support could be printed in a separate material.
When word got out about what we were working on, we realized that we weren’t alone. Businesses, schools, and power users all told us they wanted bigger, better machines but love the hack-ability of open source 3D printers and inexpensive materials that save users thousands of dollars over the life of the product. Helix is our answer to that demand. It’s a professional additive manufacturing machine inspired by the Open Source Initiative so it remains flexible and affordable.
We've been developing Helix for the last six months, but only as a central focus for the last three. We have invested over $70,000 of our own money into this project and have come a long way in a short amount of time. We must now ask for your help. Please consider funding this campaign if Helix is the machine you’ve been waiting for. If you believe additive fabrication is the future of rapid, custom manufacturing in the United States and want to see our team move this technology forward, please support us.
Money generated from this campaign will allow us to purchase manufacturing and assembly equipment, procure materials for the Helix builds and move into a larger and more efficient production space here in Missoula.
Helix is a no-compromises machine, and we don't compromise on its parts. Over the half the money generated from the Helix rewards will be used to manufacture and purchase only the highest quality components.
Our original Helix, the Alpha, came to life in early July 2013 as a true RepRap. For the uninitiated, a RepRap is a 3D printer with a substantial portion of components printed on another 3D printer. We designed a lead-screw driven Cartesian gantry with 3D printed carriages housed in an aluminum extrusion frame. While the rigidity and accuracy of the RepRap printed components was insufficient for the precision we desired, it proved our gantry concept worked. We ran it for more than 50 hours and retired it when the electronics failed. It was time for us to design and build the machine we envisioned at the outset.
In early August of this year, we concentrated all of our energy and resources on designing and building a second, better Helix. Our vision was to create a reliable, affordable machine capable of producing functional prototypes and short-run production parts. A 3D printer to make dependable additive manufacturing available to small businesses, schools, artists, and Maker Spaces.
We knew Helix needed precision machined aluminum gantry components. We needed better electronics, stronger linear motion guides, more precise lead screws, a lighter z-stage, and a bigger power supply. We needed to design our own extruders, and we needed to build it all virtually in 3D CAD before we started assembly. Our team put together a detailed development schedule and got to work. We planned to debut at the Montana Economic Development Summit, which meant we had just six weeks to redesign the printer and build our Beta unit.
We finished assembling and calibrating the Beta at 2:00 a.m. in a hotel room the night before the summit. Its first print was nearly perfect. We had proven our design and the capabilities of our team. Since then, we’ve been hard at work testing and tweaking the Beta and making pre-production improvements.
As this Kickstarter campaign is running, we are in the process of building eight more Beta units. Six of these units have been sold locally to small engineering firms and educational institutions that have agreed to work with us on further testing and product refinement. These units will be delivered in November. We will be keeping two of the units for further testing and calibration in house.
Building and testing the initial Helix Beta highlighted a few improvements that need to be made prior to delivering these six units, such as cleaner wire routing, better fit and finish of the door and enclosure and better software calibration, especially for dual material printing. This build will help us further refine our assembly process and supply chain to ensure delivery of production units as promised. We’ll also be working closely with our Beta users to get critical feedback necessary to making the production units as flawless as possible. We’ll keep our backers informed about any improvements we make between the end of the campaign and product delivery.
OUR GOALS FOR 2014:
- Over-deliver on our Kickstarter promises
- Make our professional, large build volume, plug & play 3D printing widely accessible for engineers, architects, small manufacturers, students, machine shops, maker spaces, etc.
- Take the frustration out of affordable 3D printing for people that depend on it as part of their living or want to incorporate it into their businesses or classrooms
- Fully calibrate software and firmware for printing with difficult build material/support material combinations such as nylon/PVA
- Purchase additional manufacturing equipment so we can more cheaply produce many of the precision-machined parts we're currently sourcing elsewhere and reduce the cost of Helix for the user
- Set up a larger and more efficient assembly space to further reduce the cost of Helix for the user
Helix Design Details
If you're familiar with fused filament 3D printing, you may be wondering what really makes Helix different than what's already out there. Our goal with the X/Y gantry was to make it as precise as possible. We took cues from precision CNC machine design and created a lead screw driven gantry with anti-backlash nuts for additive manufacturing. Our Exact Retract extruder was designed to push and pull filament without slipping or stripping. We call it all PAFT (Precision Additive Fabrication Technology). The combination allows the print head to move up to twice as fast and with three times more precision than typical belt-driven 3D printers with extruders that drive filament at a single point.
HIGH-PRECISION ALUMINUM GANTRY
Accuracy, long life and reliability are paramount when creating a manufacturing tool for the professional user. Helix is made with only the highest quality components to endure the harshest conditions. We use machined 6061-T6 billet aluminum components, ABEC bearings, rigid extruded aluminum and water-jet cut frame members, a TIG welded steel build platform, and Thomson Linear motion components to meet our tolerance requirements. The result is a machine capable of movements as small as 4 microns (.004 mm) and speeds up to 350 mm per second. This precision allows Helix to print reliably at speeds of 200 mm/s with layers 100 microns (0.1 mm) thick.
Helix is compatible with nearly all grades and types of 1.75 mm diameter filaments including ABS, Taulman nylon, Taulman T-Glase (PETT), HIPS, PVA, Polycarbonate, and PLA. One of the biggest drawbacks to operating other high-priced, “professional” fused filament 3D printers is the high cost of materials. Most require the use of proprietary micro-chipped filament cartridges that are nearly ten times more expensive than similar, high quality materials that are readily available from the open source community. New open source filament formulas seem to appear on the market every week, so the list of inexpensive materials compatible with Helix will only get longer.
EXACT RETRACT EXTRUDERS
Initially, we didn't plan to design our own extruders. When we were unable to find an extruder that addressed the biggest causes of print failure, slipping and stripping filament, we innovated. Our Exact Retract Extruders addressed and virtually eliminates these issues by spreading pressure on the filament over a greater area on custom-cut filament drive gears. There's no better extruder out there.
DUAL PRINT HEAD DESIGN
Very few open source 3D printers are available to create parts with two materials. Helix will ship with software and firmware calibrated for multi-material prints. We picked the best all-metal hot ends on the market, E3D, for reliable prints no matter what filament you choose. All this means you can reliably print multi-material parts.
LARGE BUILD AREA AND ENCLOSURE
Outsourcing large prints can be very expensive and gluing or bonding multiple pieces wastes time and reduces part functionality. Helix boasts a 30 liter (1,850 cubic inch) printable volume because you never want equipment to limit your creativity. The enclosure reduces failures from cold air drafts, further increasing reliability, and, safely keeps hands away from moving and heated parts.
HEATED BUILD PLATFORM
Helix's heated glass build platform makes it capable of printing a multitude of materials without warping or lifting. The 24-volt kapton bed heater warms up fast and provides consistent temperatures throughout long builds.
Helix boasts a 24V 600-watt power supply with plenty of capacity. We've incorporated a power panel on the back of the machine with ports for removable AC power cord, USB cable and a lighted power switch.
THE BEST ELECTRONICS
Helix is currently controlled by the Azteeg X3 control board, preloaded and configured with Repetier firmware. Stepper drivers are Panucatt SureStepr SD8825.
STAND-ALONE PRINTING CAPABILITY
Since it’s expensive and inconvenient to have an extra computer just to keep a 3D printer running, Helix had to have the ability to operate untethered. The ViKI control panel has a built in micro-SD Card reader with backlit LCD readout and rotary click encoder that lets users load and initiate prints with the touch of a button.
OPEN SOURCE DESIGN
As part of the Open Source Initiative we will release all designs to the public domain after we reach production readiness and have ensured we protect the I.P. as Open Source.
Helix Product Specifications
Physical Dimensions: 560 mm W x 520 mm D x 750 mm H
Mass: 28.5 kg
Operating Temperature Ranges:
Ambient Operating Temperature: 12˚ to 35˚C
Storage Temperature: 0˚to 35˚C
AC Input: 100-240V, 15-20A, 50-60 Hz
Power Supply (Built-In): 24V, 17A Switching PSU
Connectivity: USB 2.0, Micro SD Card
X/Y Actuation: Thomson Precision Lead Screws and Advanced Anti-Backlash SuperNuts on Precision-Machined 6061 Billet Aluminum Carriers
X/Y linear actuation speed: 200 mm/s optimal, 350 mm/s maximum
X/Y linear actuation resolution: 4 microns
Z Linear Actuation: Thomson Precision Lead Screw and Flange-Mount SuperNut
Z linear actuation speed: 60 mm/s
Z linear actuation resolution: <1 micron
Stepper Motors: 1.8 Degree Step Angle with 1/32 Micro-Stepping
Frame: Anodized 6063-T5 Aluminum Extrusion
Build Platform: High-Temperature Borosilicate Glass with Heated Aluminum Bed on Powder-Coated Steel Chassis
Print Bed Leveling: Tri-Point System (TPS)
Enclosure: Powder-Coated/Brushed 5052 Aluminum with Polycarbonate Window
Maximum Bed Temperature: 110˚C
Maximum Hot End Temperature: 400˚C
Print Technology: PAFT (Precision Additive Fabrication Technology)
Print Layer Height: High-Resolution Setting: 100 micron Standard-Resolution Setting: 200 micron
Extruders: All-Metal Hot Ends with Cooling Fans and Built-in Heat Sinks
Build Volume: 30 L (320 mm W x 300 mm L x 310 mm H)
Filament Diameter: 1.75 mm
Filament Material Options: ABS, PLA, Taulman 618/645 Nylon, Taulman T-Glase (PETT), PVA, Polycarbonate, HIPS
User Interface and Software:
Control Board: Azteeg X3 with Repetier firmware
Display: ViKI LCD with Rotary Click Encoder and Micro-SD Slot for Autonomous Operation
Software Compatibility: Repetier (recommended) or PronterFace with Slic3r (Cura, KISSlicer, Skeinforge also compatible)
Recommended Supported File Type: .stl, .gcode
Supported OS: Windows (XP/7), MAC OSX (10.6+)
Product Life Cycle:
30 Day Money-Back Guarantee
1 Year Hardware Warranty
Hopefully, the standard Helix rewards speak for themselves. Here's a bit more detail on our other rewards:
Acuity's Ben Malouf (AKA Benito Sanduchi) was a ceramic artist and 3D animator before delving into 3D printing. From his first extrusions on a Thing-o-Matic in the fall of 2011, he naturally gravitated toward designing for the 3D printer as an art-making tool. He started experimenting with vessel forms in the summer of 2012 and shared a few of the successful designs on Thinigverse. The next thing he knew, several of his designs took off, being downloaded thousands of times around the world and popping up as example prints on blogs, at Makerfaires, and in advertising for printers and materials.
Sure, you could print your own Twisted Gear Vase, but this campaign is your only chance to get one printed and signed by the designer himself!
EXACT RETRACT EXTRUDER
As discussed above, you won't find a better extruder for Bowden cable application. This reward level includes the housing, motor, drive gear, idler assembly, and all hardware to hold it all together. You’ll have to come up with a mounting system for your particular printer since there are just too many possibilities for a universal adapter to work. We’ll also include a fitting that connects directly to E3D's Bowden compression fittings. If you're using another kind of Bowden system, you'll have to figure out how to make it work.
We can only sell these individually as KickStarter prohibits offering sets of things that are also available singly. If you have a dual head printer and want two of these, you'll have to come up with a clever way to get them both, such as backing us with two separate accounts.
You asked for it, you got it. We are fortunate and thankful to be able to announce some stretch goals for our Helix campaign!
For the uninitiated, stretch goals are additional rewards for previous and new backers if we hit certain funding numbers. So here's what we came up with:
Stretch Goal #1: $125,000
If we hit $125,000 in pledges we will throw in a 1-pound spool of taulman 645 nylon copolymer and another 1Kg spool of ABS (choose black, blue, red, or white) with every Helix printer.
Stretch Goal #2: $150,000
If we hit $150,000 in pledges we will include everything in stretch goal #1, plus a one-pound spool of dissolvable HIPS filament (perfect for support material when paired with ABS and PETT) and a HIPS Support Removal Kit with every Helix printer. The HIPS Support Removal Kit will include 32oz of Limonene solution, a Limonene-safe tub for submerging your prints, and a How-to Guide.
Stretch Goal #3: $200,000
If we hit $200,000 in pledges we will replace Helix's ViKI control panel with a 3.2" full color TFT touch screen display. Awesome! All Helix orders will also include everything in Stretch Goals #1 & #2.
Hopefully these goals offers a bit of motivation to you our current backers to share this with your social networks one last time. We're super excited about where we've gotten so far, but a little bit more funding will go a long way!
We owe debts of gratitude to many people for helping us get here. Here's a woefully incomplete list in no particular order:
- Our amazing families for putting up with our late nights, preoccupation, and financial stress.
- The RepRap and open-source 3D printing community for being the backbone and conscience of the "3D printing revolution."
- Mike's Dad for believing in us.
- Glenn Kreisel for the support, inspiration, and advice.
- Jakki Mohr for introducing Mike and Ben.
- Cooper Burchenal for being Acuity's first and most loyal design client.
- Sara Kauk for putting up with our insane timelines for website launches and marketing materials.
- Black Hills Manufacturing for quickly turning around the machined and water jet parts for our Beta build.
- Nathan and Jonas for giving us a reason to watch 80's pop culture videos on YouTube.
- Nathan, again, for making us realize we needed more robust electronics and for live demonstrations of the dangers of hot swapping.
- Bode (Bo-dee) and Bodhi (Bo-dee) for all the entertainment during build week.
- Jeff Wyatt for buying our first Helix, and waiting more patiently than anyone should have to.
- Brian Hoover for turning out interns like Nathan and Jonas.
- Debbie Sloan and Joe Crepeau, sitting in their Ivory Trailer, for being the best bosses ever and letting James out of his adjunct faculty contract to join Acuity.
- James for trusting in Mike and his BS to leave the comfort of the Ivory trailers of the University of Montana Math Department.
- The rest of our beta unit buyers for their trust in us.
- Tom Martzall (AKA taulman) for elevating the materials market for FFF 3D printers.
- The UM School of Media Arts for buying a Thing-o-Matic and letting Ben build it.
- David Nelson for being wise.
- Lynn-Wood Fields and Jeff McClain of Scenic Route Films for shooting and editing the best damn Kickstarter video ever and believing in us.
Risks and challenges
Obviously, starting a 3D printer manufacturing business is challenging. In the coming months we must secure a more efficient manufacturing facility, obtain some more robust manufacturing equipment, complete production refinements to the Helix in CAD and in upcoming beta units, refine the software/hardware relationship to make printing as easy as possible, create operation manuals, and hire some qualified help, among countless other small tasks. But we're excited and up to the challenge.
The four principle members of the Helix Team have a collective 27 years of product design, development, and manufacturing experience with companies such as Polaris Industries, Kohler, Mercury Marine, Harley Davidson, Ramvac, and Spectrum Aquatics. We are extremely confident in the reliability and precision of the Helix. We are also confident that we will be able to produce it in the quantities and schedule offered here on Kickstarter. We have quantity purchase pricing confirmed with vendors and a production process well-defined. All but a few of our components have dual sources identified. We also have several options for production space we’re considering and the results of the Kickstarter will help determine which one we settle on.
All of that said, things can go wrong. Here are the most probable risks to you as a funder:
1. We will be reliant on our suppliers to deliver on time in order to maintain our schedule. If components or raw material are delayed in arriving, our production schedule will be delayed correspondingly. As stated previously, we have dual sources identified for nearly all of our components at this time to mitigate the likelihood of supplier delay. However, this is still a possibility and we will do our best to keep backers informed in the event of any delays.
2. Our final product is only as good as the raw materials and components that go into it. Since we will calibrate and test all printers prior to shipping, we should be able to weed out any problems, but again, problems could cause delays.
3. We're human. We will make mistakes. If any of those mistakes affect our schedule we will let you know.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Well, it's complicated, but here are some parameters for making the decision:
- First off, the ERE utilizes a geared Nema 17 motor and is tuned for efficiency (it barely gets warm during operation). Your electronics should not have any trouble driving it.
- We recommend the ERE for bowden cable printing only. We didn't design it to be compact, or light, we designed it to push filament better than typical extruders. You can install it on a direct-drive printer but you may lose some build volume and movement speed.
- We will ship the EREs with an exit fitting that E3D bowden lines thread right into. If you have a bowden E3D hotend, all you'll need to do is wire in the new motor, adjust your firmware, and mount the extruder to your printer.
- If you don't have an E3D bowden line already, your fittings probably have a different thread size. You can either buy an E3D hotend with bowden line (availabe at E3d-online.com) and figure out how to mount the new hot end, buy an E3D bowden line only and figure out how to adapt that to your hotend, or design a fitting that adapts your bowden line to the ERE.
- If this all sounds like Greek to you, you may not want to buy an ERE yet. We wanted to make these extruders available for other printers, but we designed them for Helix. As they find adoption in the community, we're certain adapters and instructions on using them will begin showing up on file charing sites like youmagine and thingiverse.
- Feel free to call us or contact us to ask more questions about the ERE!
Like most fused filament fabrication (FFF) printers, prints on Helix are built from the bottom up. Thus, severe overhangs or floating components can only be printed with the use of support material, a lattice of additional print material built up below the overhang to "catch" it.
On single-head printers, this support lattice is printed in the same material as the object being printed. It usually breaks loose on less complicated parts, but leaves artifacts where it touched the object. On more complicated parts it can be impossible to remove.
Helix has two print heads and two extruders. This allows support material to be printed in a different material than the object being printed. If the support material dissolves in a solution that the object is resistant to, it makes the support very easy to remove cleanly, even from a very complex part.
Over course, two print heads also means you can print in two colors, or with two materials with different physical properties.
Over the coming weeks, we will be testing out different material combinations so that we can ship Helix with instructions on using them. So far, we've been printing ABS with HIPS support and had great success.
Is the printer in the video a production unit? Is that what I'll receive if I pledge at a Helix reward level?
No! That's our beta printer. The beta is a terrific machine that works really well, but we're implementing big improvements for our next round of betas. What we learn from building and testing those will then be worked into the production printers.
The beta printer has only existed since September 15. It's not perfect yet. If it was, we wouldn't need Kickstarter. :) But how far Helix has come in such a short time speaks to our team's ability and passion for the project.
All of our backers at the Helix 3D printer reward level will be supported with a one year hardware replacement warranty. Our Kickstarter backers will also get phone and email support for as long as they own the Helix, as well as access to the Helix support forum which will be up and running on our website before we ship out our first production units. We're committed to designing, building and supporting professional-level 3D printers and giving Helix users the best 3D printing experience possible.
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