M3D Pro: Feature-Packed 3D Printer for Improved Reliability
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The Pro is a competitive feature-rich 3D printer. What makes it different is that it has a lot of cutting edge features focused on reliability with a moderate price. The Pro is precision engineered, has an industrial design, and a strong focus on the full user experience. Ultimately this means more time for you in the creative process. Take a look at our feature overview below, and read on to learn more about why your support for the M3D Pro on Kickstarter is so impactful right now.
How We Got Here
M3D is an innovation company at its heart. Like you, we got into 3D printing, for two big reasons. First, because we saw the value it can provide today - it is a barrier breaking tool that can make some amazingly cool and useful things. After getting to know its capabilities and limits, today's 3D printers are able to help people pursue their creative dreams or reach productive goals; and at the very least, be a source of entertainment.
But more importantly, we all have that unshakable feeling that 3D printers will iteratively improve until they become an everyday convenience and necessity. We know this is a future that may not be realized for 10 years, but one that requires nurturing the technology through many rounds of improvement, which seems to mirror the coming of the computer age.
We took the first steps towards this future right here on Kickstarter two years ago. At the time our goal was to simply make this technology more accessible to everyone, which was a lofty ambition. 3D printers were easily in excess of $1000, often had to be assembled, and required the user to learn how to write code to control it. Like many inventors we saw this and thought we could do better. So we set out to build a printer that was more user-friendly, affordable, and suitable for in-house use than any before.
On the surface, we achieved that goal (thanks to our initial backers!!), and quickly became a volume leader in the field, and many of our features were also quickly adopted by the industry. However, we know 3D printers are still not perfect. They will achieve true consumer-friendliness when the full user experience is improved and the hardware is made so extremely reliable that it cannot fail. After that, the software needs to guide the user through the entire experience and take out all the guess work. Models need to be verified and/or curated carefully so that every print can succeed. Lastly, 3D printing in general needs to be faster, with advanced product features being more affordable.
With this in mind we took 2 years of direct feedback from our users to heart in order to advance 3D Printing technology. Today’s 3D printers operate on faith that they will run properly for many hours after hitting print. We realized that the 3D printer needs to be totally redeveloped. Every single aspect of the printer must be able to be measured so that it can be corrected in real-time. Our solution for this problem was to add full sensor feedback - on everything we could; temperature, voltage, current, position, speed, bed leveling - and more. Over two-dozen sensors in total. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the field and make previously common hardware challenges a thing of the past, allowing the user to focus more fully on their creative process.
First Dramatic Difference - The Pro Sensor Network
Every other 3D Printer company uses expensive, strong, standard motors, but has to slow them down so they can power through any issues and get mostly successful prints. The end result of this limitation is a practical printing speed limit of 60 mm/s to achieve quality on typical models, and prints can still fail. The Pro on the other hand uses lighter motors that are adequate for the job. However, because we are implementing full sensor feedback on all the motion axes, we do not have to use one cautious speed limit for all prints. Instead of slowing down cautiously, the Pro can push the limits of motor technology and be optimized for maximum speeds per-print and saving costs.
In addition, we’ve had 3 years to improve motors through firmware, electronic, hardware, and software optimizations, allowing them to move much faster. Non-printing speeds of 150 mm/s (shown below), and print speeds of 80 mm/s have already been achieved (in main video). The end result is a 3D printer that has the potential to be far more reliable, and uses a system with a lower cost basis than all other printers. Although it's a feature we could charge a lot for, we plan to extend these savings to the end user.
Technically, the basis of these systems are sensor fusion models and closed-loop feedback control. In general terms, these are the same systems that made cell phones able to provide navigation guidance, brought about quad-copters that are affordable and easy to fly, and compose the functional structure of many other innovative technologies we take for granted today.
Second Dramatic Difference - The Highest Efficiency Heated Bed
A heated bed is a feature that is still not standard on most affordable / entry-level models. That’s because it's not necessary to have one for small prints, but also because the power requirements are so huge that it increases the costs dramatically. For example, a typical heated bed would use approximately 5 watts of power per square inch! That means over a typical 7”x7” heated bed, would need 250 watts of power. That’s 6 laptops or 12 CFL light bulbs. So entry-level printers tend to avoid including one or sell it as an expensive add on.
One of the key innovations of the Pro is the most power efficient heated bed ever made for a 3D printer. Our new heated bed technology is engineered with high temperature polymers and glass, which provides strong thermal insulation and allows for a lower energy heated bed. Our system used only 0.6 watts per square inch - making it 833% more efficient! As a result, we reduced the power requirements and thus lowered the cost. We’re extending these cost savings to you by including this heated bed with the Pro, standard. Further, the bed is removable and replaceable which allows for ease of use and potential future mods or add ons. Here is FLIR (forward looking infrared) video showing the performance of a heated bed prototype in real time.
A heated bed is an important add on for a larger 3D printer. What makes ours nice is that it has a glass surface, made of the same type of tempered glass used in cell phone and tablet screens. This provides a beautiful print bottom finish, excellent clarity, and an easily cleaned, heavy-duty surface. This new platform can make flatter, broader prints through better adhesion while reducing warp. The heated bed can also support a wider range of 3D printing materials while easing and improving print removal. Even though this heated bed uses very little power, it can reach fully operational temperatures in under a minute.
Third Dramatic Difference - Comprehensive 2 Year Warranty!
We know your time and money are valuable, and that backing a project on Kickstarter carries some risk that you may be unsatisfied with the quality of the product. That’s why in exchange for your support, we will not only give you one of the first M3D Pro’s as a reward, but we will also give you an express warranty of 2 years. The best warranty we have ever seen and could support. Your warranty is transferable if you sell your printer. We will cover your printer if you use 3rd party filaments or software. We will replace your printer if there is anything wrong with it OR if you backed an early tier and just want the latest production version. The only things we won’t cover are shipping, consumable parts or parts that were obviously damaged by excessive or unusual force.
We are proud to offer this new and improved warranty and can now offer it for two main reasons. First and foremost, we have had two years to establish and evaluate warranties for our existing product. Over time, we have achieved a return/replacement rate far below that of the industry averages. Most importantly, we want to keep our users satisfied for a long time to come. Your approval has a much greater value than any repair costs. In order to minimize the amount of returns that could be fixed without a complete replacement, we respectfully ask the end user to pay for shipping, which we charge at cost. If you find an offer in the industry that comes close to ours, please let us know!
Fourth Dramatic Difference - Tutorial Mode
The number one feedback we got from backers of our original product was to have better guidance, instructions, and examples. That’s why we’ve developed a new easy-mode for the software we call tutorial mode. This version of the software allows the user to learn each feature of the system by adding only one feature in at a time. Also, in combination with all of the Pro’s sensors, the system will guide the user through every step of setting up the printer the first time, as it can detect if the printer is plugged in, powered, if the filament is installed, etc. For the first print, users can choose from a small set of curated models, with limited print settings. Over the tutorial course, users will learn features like support material and interactively learn how to print more complex models. These features are in development, according to our schedule below.
Fifth Dramatic Difference - M3D Software Features / Standard Gcode Support
Our software is always free and our products are always open to using 3rd party programs. The M3D software works on Windows, Linux, and Mac. And it is powered internally using a powerful and fast slicer known as Cura, but because we accept open/standard gcode on the Pro, we guarantee open systems like Simplify3D, Octoprint, and other standard 3rd party slicers will work on our printer with ease, which means adding after-market wireless support will be easy. We’ve added a number of core features too, many of which are proven and are going to be rolled out over the next few weeks. These can be seen on our development schedule and include important features like multi-model support, accurate time estimates, pause printing, multi-printer support (up to 10), zip-model model library support. In addition, we plan to roll out more significant improvements next year, including native-mac support, web feedback & support integration, suggested model orientation, network printer support, and model integrity verification.
Sixth Dramatic Difference - Pro Filament and 3rd Party Filament Support
For the Pro, we will put forth our flagship material as a Professional (Pro) Filament on a large thin designer spool of 500 feet (152.4 meters) of industry standard 1.75 mm diameter plastic filament. We sell by length so as to give you a more honest and exact depiction of the volume of print you can get out of each roll. This spool is approximately 1 Lb (.5 Kg). The Pro filament material is the same as our current ABS-R line. This is a tough and durable material that is superior to ABS and PLA in almost every way. Everyone who uses it has switched to it because it has low warp, zero odor, is biodegradable, can be drilled & tapped, and has many other benefits. That’s why we’ll include a small sample of ABS-R with your printer. However, because the printer is being sold at such a discount we are not offering a free roll with your rewards - you will need to add one.
With the Pro, we are open to using all filaments and we have one of the largest selections of material available. We believe in enabling your freedom to choose. For this reason, we do not chip any of our products, opening the door to third party options as well as our own filaments.The Pro's nozzle diameter is 0.4 mm, so small-chopped fibers and particular-based filaments like carbon, wood, or metal-fill should work. However, keep in mind that we can only guarantee the Pro's performance with our own filament. Lastly, we have one of the largest material selections of any 3D printer company. With over 60 combinations of materials and colors already available in our micro-spool form (250 feet), you can affordably try materials in small quantities right now. The key among these are our exciting Tough and ABS-R filaments, which we invite you to try for yourself. To learn more, check out http://printm3d.com/3d-printer-filaments
Why Back a Printer From M3D?
There is a divergence of companies, especially in the 3D Printing field. The first kind of company is clearly here to make a quick buck. They sell printers, move production overseas, push for super high volume by lowering prices, and copy or use standard features rather than innovating. On the other hand, there are a few companies who care about their customers, and offer a much more complete product ecosystem. They innovate new products, offer standby service and support, create jobs in their countries, and are curiously the most respected and profitable ones despite not outsourcing jobs and production.
M3D stands for innovation and pride in product development. We are advancing the field, moving into the full user experience. We have a 10 year goal, and have stuck to our promise to keep everything - design, assembly, fulfillment, sales, and support - in our USA headquarters in Fulton, MD.
Most importantly, we have been in business for three years now. We have gone through many of the growing pains of a startup, and learned very hard and important lessons since our first Kickstarter campaign. Among these lessons: the importance of excellent and responsive customer service as well as clear, guiding instructions with detailed examples. The importance of a 3D printer to be able to sense itself, catch issues on the fly, and provide remote diagnosis, all to make the user experience what we wanted it to be all along. We learned the need for a senior software architect with incredible planning skills. The need for a modelling repository where the models and print settings are vetted for success. The importance of using precision metal parts and gearing, and substituting subjective processes like filing/drilling/gluing things with engineering for precision assembly using press fitting and fastener assemblies that are predictable and reliable. Lastly, we have a track record. We have been able to bootstrap our entire operation, which should drastically decrease your risk as a backer and increase your confidence in our ability to deliver.
Why Support Us Now on Kickstarter? Why Are You Back?
Here at M3D, our mission is to make cutting-edge technologies easy to use and accessible to consumers. The same is true for Kickstarter and its community of backers. We aim to keep our design, assembly, fulfillment, sales, and support all in-house in our USA headquarters. To meet those ends, we haven’t paid ourselves a single cent of profit. We have reinvested all of our income into our engineering, software development, and customer support teams to expand our creative infrastructure. In line with our goals, we have also hired a highly experienced software architect and a top customer support manager to help us take our organization and service to the next level.
We know that the Kickstarter community values disruptive technology and this is why we are returning to this platform to launch our latest product. Returning to our roots on Kickstarter also allows us to gain the initial volume we need to launch a new product line at a globally competitive price. Thanks to the amazing support of our original backers, we were able to make it this far and establish our company to the point that we can now offer an even more disruptive product. Together, we are ready to push forward and transform the technology yet again. So, from the M3D team - and to our past and future backers - Thanks for your support!
So what does this all mean for you as a backer? In short, by backing us, you understand the value our innovation could provide. You also recognize that a crowd-funded project is a process and that we want you to participate in the development process . You realize that as one of the leaders in the niche of 3D printing, M3D has the power to encourage other printers to improve their technology and price points as it has done in the past. You take pride in being able to say you got one of the earliest units, that you helped make it happen, or even just to be able to tell your friends you were right. You appreciate the deep discount on the Pro and special warranty package as reward for your early support. The rewards are the same for each tier: The first generation M3D Pro 3D Printer, with USB cable, power supply, user manual, 2-year Kickstarter warranty, and a small sample of starter ABS-R filament.
Special considerations for backers
- Within each tier, Domestic shipments will get priority (about 1-2 weeks ahead of international)
- VAT is NOT included. International backers must recognize that their country will charge VAT, often but not always around ~18% + 3% duties.
- KS is not a store, and we will not offer refunds
- You will need to checkout on our web portal to verify your information, and to be able to add accessories. We will email you and even call you to make sure you know your rewards are available.
- Original 2014 backers pledging at or above the Pro pledge level will get 50% bonus pledge credit
- Local pickup will not be available - but those with delivery addresses in Maryland will NOT have to pay shipping or tax, its on us!
How can you afford these professional features at a competitive price?
We produced the Micro, which was the first affordable, fully assembled, consumer 3D printer. We achieved that cost reduction through major innovations in the physical design as well as cost-cutting measures in the business integration. Over 2.5 years we've gained a great deal more experience, on both the engineering and business operations fronts, as we've had time to study the cost to operate the business from "cradle to grave," We are investing heavily in building better quality products (more expensive tooling, more metal, high precision / toleranced parts, higher accuracy parts), and innovated the Pro sensor network, which pays for itself in greatly reduced assembly overhead, customer support, and shorter sourcing lead times. We are able to offer a lower price initially due to the bulk purchase, overall, and per tier, but the price is going up after this campaign. Finally, M3D prices its products for high volume over the long term, and operates on narrower margins than most, rather than maximizing profits today. We are here to improve the industry and nurture it because we know the payoff will come later in the future.
The current state of our development is shown in our video. We started making prototypes in May 2016, to first prove that we could print at the larger scale and with much faster speed on our new hardware, while using open source electronics and software. We then verified the validity of metal press fits (tolerances over 15 times better than plastic molding) and the validity of our low-power heated bed to reach temperatures of 100 degrees C. Then in July we started doing full prints on our 2nd prototype on the heated bed using a combination of pre-production and prototyped parts. Our 3rd prototype, also completed in July, is currently using completed production electronics, and is already printing as well. This is an important development as we are using our own firmware and electronics with the prototype hardware.
Moving forward, there are only a number of small engineering and production challenges as most of our parts have been sourced or sampled in small batches. In the next 3 months, we will complete the full scale up of part production. This was made easier by the use of CNC metalworking, which reduces lead times and guarantees tolerances in small batches. The risk for the hardware is low, especially since we’ve done this once before, but there is always the chance one part can slow us down a little. If that happens, you’ll be first to know, and we’ll definitely have some sleepless nights and work tirelessly to keep up.
In parallel, the firmware will continue to be developed over the next 3 months so that we have viable printers for beta testing in November and December. It should be expected that these printers will print well, as any professional printer does today. But it may still have key features under development, such as stand alone mode, or high-accuracy error compensation still in the works. Over the next 4-5 months, the quality, precision, and speed of those systems will be improved. Thus, backers in the Jan & Feb tiers should expect to see their rewards as early-adopter rewards, providing a capable printer with some minimal fixes being implemented in future software updates.
Also in parallel, the software development team will continue to develop new modes for the printer. The software can currently communicate with our production electronics and firmware, which is a huge amount of progress this early in a campaign. All essential features of the software will be available by Jan 2017. Thus, all backers after this point should have no concern for software success. We will have many advanced but non-essential features added over the next 6 months.
Risks and challenges
All of the major project steps are charted in detail above so that you can honestly see where our status is at today and hold us accountable. Of course, nothing can be guaranteed 100% but we can definitely say that with our experience we see a very low chance of any major delays in our plan moving forwards. Nevertheless, we’ll go into some of those possibilities and their effects on our timeline here.
Sometimes sensor integration seems really simple and has been tested on the small scale - but won’t scale up readily. Often a simple setting can be missed in a sea of 1000's of settings that can take some digging to find. These kinds of delays always happen and usually set us back a few days, which is often offset by other gains. However, if several small setbacks stack up, it could create a delay of a few weeks on a key feature (like chip to chip communication) and may even require a local redesign of the electronics (for example, to add filtering). Even redoing the electronics completely would add a maximum 45 day delay, but we aren’t expecting anything that extreme at this time.
Large Mold Production
Our mold for the box frame is a bit on the large side. It’s not an unusual mold, but it is made of several pieces, has some steep draft angles (or no draft) and is made of many sliders in the mold. Basically what this means is there is a small chance that some parts are slightly misaligned, or need post-molding rework; so we would be able to make a functional printer that looks fine from afar, but in person looks slightly off (sink marks, assembly seam misaligned, mild scratches). The same can be said for our screw assembly alignment. Lastly, we expect to polish these black frames, and they should be very durable and wear resistant. However, if the molds produce a weird finish, like swirls or discolorations, we would have to paint the black boxes and coat them in a ceramic hard-coat, which could add a significant delay of about 30 days. We’re currently working through this backup contingency now to minimize any impact it would have.
All of our parts are sourced at least once, but we are having challenges getting a round rod milled with precision rack teeth. We’ve been at this for some time and have many companies making samples, and we don’t consider it a success until more than one company can succeed at making it. Worst case scenario, we have to make the rack from separate parts, such as a molded or extruded rack which gets slotted or glued to a metal rod. This could set us back about 30 days.
Perfected USB communication can be a needle in a haystack issue. This one is not a delay, but a “long tail” issue of having potentially many users “in the wild.” A small number of users could have a USB issue that is hard to reproduce and takes weeks or months to solve. For example, with the micro 3D printer we confirmed USB working on over 30 test systems in house. However, with 99%+ of having a successful first time installation it is not easy to predict those systems that will fail to recognize the USB without software re-installation or to reproduce the issue easily in house especially as operating systems change over time. To remedy the issue we've redesigned the USB system to use a single signed driver rather than having two internal USB hosts, but this has not been tested in mass "in the wild" which is needed as we cannot simulate 100+ systems in house to prove the new solution works. However, our new approach is much more conventional and expected to work compared to what we did before, and already worked much faster the first time.
Our system uses an internal SD memory card which still needs software written. It's fairly standard and low risk, but it hasn't been tested yet. It’s a low priority as the first test printers can be connected over USB, and by 2017 we expect to have these systems vetted.
There is always a possibility of a batch issue with electronics, such as specifications not being met which could cause higher temperatures than expected. Such issues would require a repurchase or redesign that might take 30 days on average, or a max of 45 days delay to correct.
- (45 days)