January Mega Update
The much anticipated update is finally here! We apologize for the delay in getting this out to you, and we hope 2015 has been treating you guys well so far. Now, let’s dive into some news!
Backer Account Management
Surveys and backer accounts have now been turned over completely to our website management system. All November and December tier backers should have access to the user account portal. If you are in the November or December tier and have NOT signed into the portal yet, please follow these instructions:
1) Go to http://printm3d.com/portal/.
2) Click on "Forgot My Password."
3) This will allow you to select your password. Your account is already active with your information; please do NOT select "Register.”
If you have any trouble with this process, please email email@example.com.
It is very important for everyone to follow the provided instructions to assist us in tracking your Amazon Transaction ID. This is vital information because, often, the names of the payer vs. the Kickstarter backer do not match. This causes a very time-consuming, and sometimes impossible, task of confirming that a backer’s payment information is up to date.
To find your Amazon Transaction ID, please follow one of the steps below:
1) Search your inbox for an e-mail with the subject line, "Your payment to Michael Armani has succeeded,”
2) Go to https://payments.amazon.com, log in using your Amazon ID and password, and look at your historical transactions.
As a reminder, the payment feature in this portal has still not been enabled; however, the extra amount that you pledged should show up automatically and can be used to add on extra filaments to be shipped with your printer with no additional shipping fee (exceptions may apply).
In the situation that you bought extra filaments separately on our pre-order page, we will do our best to consolidate the order into a discounted or consolidated shipping rate, but please make sure to contact us and let us know to include you on our exception list, so that we know not to ship the orders separately.
We apologize for the payment feature taking some time to get ready, but it brings great news for those international backers who expressed their concerns about our decision to use DHL for shipping. Between that and other factors, we have decided to use the services of UPS for our international backers at this time.
We are happy to announce that M3D now has a user forum. We would like to encourage all backers and Micro users to participate in this forum as a way to assist and educate each other. We are seeing repetitive questions being asked via email, and it is our hope that by posting these questions on a forum, users will be able to find the answers to their questions quicker and easier, especially for troubleshooting. This will also help cultivate the community that we envision growing around The Micro and its users. We hope to reach the point where we can pick out the backers who are extremely helpful in this forum and make them moderators. Please keep in mind, we expect that it will take a few weeks for the number of members in the forum to grow to a lively amount.
To access the forum:
If you currently HAVE access to the backer portal - Please visit http://printm3d.com/portal/ and login using the same information as your backer account. You will see a link to the forum.
If you DO NOT HAVE access to the backer portal - Please visit http://printm3d.com/portal/ and click on “Register” to create a new account. You will then see a link to the forum on the main page.
Thanks to ongoing production consistency and software improvements, the printer quality has now begun to surpass our original Kickstarter video. We are finally starting to see the consistency and quality we expected in the production version.
Specifically, we have implemented much better raft control, more sturdy Z-level positioning, and more robust bed leveling, with a targeted accuracy of 25 microns. We will leave the raft as a permanent feature while we debug The Micro and will allow expert users to disable it as an option in the future.
We found several critical bugs that we fixed in the last month. One of them was a memory programming error that caused printers to be unresponsive. We sent a few units out that had this bug and had those sent back to the factory for reprogramming. The bug, which caused firmware to become permanently corrupted less than 1% of the time, was due to unexpected interruption of a memory writing process.
We’ve solved that bug and have not seen it in over several thousand tests. Another bug was showing up on specific printers, with specific prints, so it was harder to catch. We found and corrected the error, which was in the auto leveling code and miscalculated the position of a print by shifting it over several millimeters.
Our goal right now is to get The Micro working perfectly on Windows first, then Mac and Linux, and then much more development will be needed to make the system completely open G-code compatible. For example, pre-processing is currently used by the M3D software to offload processing from The Micro electronics itself, such as with bed leveling compensation.
We are currently working on the next version of the software release, which will have two major improvements:
The first improvement involves reducing the permanent raft feature from an oversized square to just a small brim around the bottom of the print, which will save significant material and time. We've also improved print times, increasing movement speed by about double and putting it much closer to the maximum print speed we can achieve. Finally, we are working on a better software library, filament loading control, and a possible version of the software that can control several printers from a single USB hub.
First Time Printing
PLA has really proven itself as the workhorse for The Micro, and we very strongly recommend this material for first time users. Not only does PLA have a subtle, pleasant, molasses smell, but it is really proving to be capable of printing large objects extremely well. In the past, we would have recommended ABS for difficult prints where support removal or fine features were needed. However, we have really optimized the quality of PLA compared to previous generations, mainly through actual PLA material improvements. For example, our first batch of PLA that we scaled up was made from a different supplier; like most PLA that we tried, it would absorb moisture from the air in large amounts. This in turn reduced control during printing by causing stringing, unsmooth layers, prevention of raft removal, and even print temperature consistency was an issue.
We’ve switched to using an entirely different formulation and advanced methods to solve all of the above issues. That is why we believe PLA has really caught up in terms of having better support removal and retraction to prevent ooze, whereas ABS was better for this in the past. We are seeing that PLA could provide infinite use of the printbed, extreme strength, and most importantly, really neat translucent colors.
The only disadvantage of PLA is that it is tricky to get working with the internal port, and it requires longer print time on very small objects to allow cooling. Comparatively, ABS is better for very small prints that need faster cooling, more flexibility, and require solvent-soothing (for desired painting). In the future, we plan on releasing improvements on our current formulation of ABS that are still durable, yet slightly more flexible materials that print easily for first time users.
Based on initial surveys, we found that the quantity of colors that we had originally planned for ABS and PLA were just too many. Colors such as brown or fluorescent yellow vs. light yellow had too few people to allow us to meet the minimum order quantity for a production run. In addition to the above switch in formulation of PLA, we are now offering a set of 12 new colors in ABS and PLA. Most of these are in stock, with a few gaps in the PLA colors.
Previously, the ABS and PLA colors were nearly identical. We have decided to change this, which would give us more options for a variety of colors. The eight main PLA colors that you will see in our survey are actually translucents. When tested in-house and shown to backers at our trade shows, everyone agreed these were the best colors, providing a luminous, elegant, and high quality sheen that can’t be found in the previous solid colors and are hardly available in the existing market. For instance, the PLA white is a slightly off-white pearlescent and gives a really great appearance while hiding layers. In place of ABS white, we offer HIPS-white, which is a translucent ghostly-white color that also gives great appearances and performance.
The neutrals (black, clear, silver) are still pretty similar between ABS and PLA, but in total, we now have 20 unique colors. Once Kickstarter is fulfilled, we will focus on working on additional materials and colors.
Our suppliers for cube boxes and our supplier for filaments (both in the USA) have successfully scaled up to over a thousand units this month. With that said, there is no longer a delay in production due to parts. The only delays that remain are due to training, quality control, and the increasingly small chance that established suppliers don’t continue to deliver on time.
The unforeseen issue that caused the biggest backlog in production this month was an extruder problem that caused well-working printers to suddenly have periodic, inconsistent flow. When we scaled up the production of our extruder gears, we found some of these gears were installed in such a way that they could become loose and wobble under the force of crushing filament. We have since fixed the issue using a new gluing method and ordering gears that have a tighter fit.
Check out this video showing all of our production progress over the past few weeks:
Our timelines are provided here to provide you our best guesstimates; that is to say, until we have a stable production process, we can’t guarantee the delivery dates and are doing our best to meet them as shown. While almost 1,000 units will have been built by the end of this month, percentages of rework (repair issues, etc) were high, so we intend to scale up to the range of about 350 units shipped by the end of this month to October backers and most of the November backers that offered to get their printers early. After we deliver all those units, most of the bugs will be eliminated, and we will deliver all remaining printers to everyone in order of their tier (unless there are unexpected problems/delays). Due to redesign of the production flow this week, we are expecting a massive drop in rework percentages and are looking to catch-up towards the end of February with close to 2,000 units being produced a week. Since our last update, we have also improved the time it takes to build a printer from 6 hours to about 1.5 hours, and we will keep working to reduce this time.
October Tier Backers
Nearly all October tier printers are built now (225), including an additional 275 printers ready for final print testing (still a barrier, with rework amounts going down each day). As we mentioned in our last update, there had been a delay in box tops from our supplier due to mold issues, but they have caught up. Boxes have arrived and printers are moving fast; the only delay is still with silver and blue.
We currently have 900 box tops in stock, so we are giving blue October backers the option to get a very unique printer faster. We have all of the engraved bases, so by taking your colored, engraved base and print bed holder (also called the "mid" or "fluff", see image in update 24) with a black, green, or orange top, you would be able to receive your printer almost immediately.
For silver October backers, we are still delayed in both the box tops and engraved bases. Our box making supplier is up to speed, but the issue is that their painting supplier is not. They are actually demanding double the original quote, and we cannot work with somebody who goes back on their word. We apologize for the delay, and we hope that you guys can understand. We would like to give you guys the option to choose either a black, green, or orange printer and we will get it engraved for you as soon as possible.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can update your information for both of the above options.
With the above mentioned delay of silver and blue box tops, we would also like to extend the offer to you guys to switch your printer color for faster delivery. If you have chosen to receive a silver printer, we recommend that you switch to either black, green, or orange. If your selection was blue, you can switch to black, green, or orange if you would like your printer the soonest. If you don’t mind waiting longer, you can leave your selection as blue.
To document this change, please update your color preference on your backer portal account (November and December backers). If you are a January or February backer, please make your selection once you receive access to that portal.
We've had some challenges shipping products safely, especially internationally, so we have been forced to slow down on international orders while we re-evaluate and test some different packaging methods. International shipping is particularly harmful for us because it costs over $50 for return shipping (more than exporting), and we may have to pay customs fees in order to take our own product back!
It turns out that parts of the printer can become undone during air and ground express shipping because it is considered an “industrial environment.” The main parts affected included the fan, gantry sliders, printbed, and internal electronics. While these are all things that can usually be fixed by the user, it’s still a bit unsightly and concerning. We have since consulted a packing and shipping company and verified new shipping methods.
As always, thank you guys for your patience and understanding as we are finally in the home stretch. We would also like to give a special thanks to everyone who stopped by to say hello to Michael and David at FETC last week.
The M3D Team