Robox : Desktop 3D Printer and Micro-Manufacturing Platform
Welcome to the future of micro-manufacturing!
- Works Out of the Box – Plug in the power and USB cord and start printing.. automated bed levelling, intuitive software and advanced hardware all come together to make Robox reliable and easy to use.
- High Resolution – Robox has one of the highest print resolutions of any FFF printer in the market - 20µm (0.02mm) layers.
- Dual Nozzle System for Speed - Robox includes a dual-nozzle system which closes the flow of material and lifts the unused nozzle. Up to 300% faster than our competitors.
- Automatic Material Recognition, No Vendor Lock-in - Robox requires no programming for different materials – just load the SmartReel and go! Each reel contains a chip which is programed with all the necessary parameters. You can load and programme these reels yourself or buy them loaded with filament ready to go.
- Quick-Change Head – The removable head system allows you to change the function of Robox quickly and easily. Upgrade your Robox to become a dual material printer, stylus cutter, milling head or 3D scanner, the possibilities are endless!
- Replaceable, 'Tape-less' and Removable PEI Bed – Sticky when hot, free when cool – no hassle. The print surface is easily removable - allowing for easy replacement for other functions.
- Future Proof - Robox is ready for a second extruder, and we've kept in mind all possible later upgrades.
- Compact Frame and Case Design -The frame and motion systems are extremely rigid and accurately positioned. BIG parts can be cut into multiple sections keeping the printer desktop but your projects endless.
What are we doing?
From the outset of this project, the intention has always been to demystify 3D printing and make it usable by everyone. We wanted to produce the most reliable, stylish and easiest-to-use 3D printing solution available. What we’ve done is more than that; with the HeadLock™ system, Robox can operate with different heads, which means different tools that can perform a whole range of new functions from stylus cutting to paste deposition, and coming soon, 3D scanning. The possibilities are endless.
We have future-proofed the platform so that it is ready to take immediate advantage of new additive and subtractive manufacturing processes as we develop them, making the Robox platform not only the most accessible 3D printer but a complete micro-manufacturing system. We’ve designed the whole product from the ground up; the frame, electronics, software and firmware are all tuned to ensure that all the innovation we've added works seamlessly to give you the best possible user experience.
What makes Robox better?
When we began to design Robox, we set a target R.R.P. of <£1000 with an emphasis on very high specifications and product quality from the outset. By utilising mass manufacturing techniques and in-depth part sourcing we’ve driven the price of professional 3D printing right down. We think you’ll agree – that’s a whole lot of functionality for an amazing price!
Want something that you can just plug and print? - Well that’s just what we’ve done – install the AutoMaker™ software, connect the power and USB, load a reel and click print – it’s as easy as that. All printers have been assembled and thoroughly tested before leaving the production line, so it's ready to use straight away.
Do you dream of being able to produce models better than those of a professional prototyping service and without the cost? - With the highest resolution X, Y and Z axis available on the market and a layer thickness down to just 20 microns, you can produce parts which are ready to use straight off the printer – no finishing required. Because the printer uses industry standard plastics you can begin to create real parts immediately.
Fed up with high priced consumables? - Robox print materials will be available pre-loaded onto our custom reel, ready for fitting straight into your printer. Robox will be able to print with most high quality filaments that are available, discovering which one gives you the best results takes days of testing. We’ve done all this for you - with a wide selection of ‘professional grade’ materials - just choose from our range of plastics, colours and finishes and get printing! CEL have a history of keeping the cost of consumables at the price they should be, our many power tool users will attest to this.
Are you worried about the set-up and ‘tweaking’ required to get printing? - Robox has been designed to do all its set-up and material loading automatically. To load a reel, simply click it into the side and feed the filament into the entrance path and the printer will do the rest. Not only that – Robox will recognise instantly what material you have installed, and set all of its printing parameters appropriately – no entering values and experimenting. To remove a reel, simply press the eject button, the printer will unload the filament allowing you to remove the reel. There is also no bed-levelling to worry about either; the head is calibrated at the start of every job for hassle-free printing.
Why We Need You!
Here at CEL, we’ve been developing Robox for the last 18 months and we’re finally ready to show it to the world. So far, funding for the project has come from our highly regarded power tool business, enabling us to design and make fully functioning prototypes - so you can be rest assured our product does what we say it will.
We need your help to get Robox into the hands of the people who matter; you, to help us gather user experiences and feed this back into the development cycle. Our dream is to eventually see a Robox® in every school/college, designer/architects' office, into the home of every inventor, tinkerer, hacker and parent . We need you to help us finish our development - particularly the software and firmware, making everyone's 3D printing experience polished and effortless. We have lots of work still to do – we need a community of pioneers to help us capture user experiences and show us new ways of using our innovative hardware, enabling us to complete a fully polished UX for the AutoMaker™ software. To gather your experiences and response to the project we will have a discussion forum and dedicated team members to guide and collate the research and feedback.
Your support will ensure that we reach our goals and your use of Robox will give us the feedback to ensure our developments are relevant and useful.
We plan to get a wide spread of safety accreditation, including CE and FCC, enabling us to sell in all international markets to all consumer groups.
Of course, we’ll be hard at work too; delivering updates on the project and new functionality on a regular basis to add more performance and capabilities.
Why Our Project Matters
There are many people that believe 3D printing is not ready for the mass-consumer market and that it is just too difficult to use. We’ve set out to solve this problem by designing out all of the current problems with domestic 3D printers from the ground up. Due to the high price of similar machines, we believe the technology has not yet reached the hands of those that matter – the small start-ups, artists, architects, hackers/makers and especially children. We’ve attempted to make Robox accessible for all children over 5, by streamlining the process of printing and making the product safe to use.
This technology has the potential to disrupt traditional manufacturing processes and even the way in which products are bought and sold. It will enable people to bring manufacturing back to their local economies and reduce reliance on imports – shipping only raw materials, not finished products.
Governments around the world have prioritised coding and 3D printing in proposed reforms to education curricula. Technology-related skills and in particular engineering will be among the priorities for primary and secondary school children, with the latter getting new design and technology lessons which include learning to use 3D printers. Design and technology syllabi have been overhauled to teach children from the age of five how to design, plan, build (and evaluate) a product from having an idea all the way through to creating a finished item.
There is also the potential of the technology in developing economies, where communities will be enabled to produce appropriate technology for their environment using locally available resources – think printing a water turbine from recycled plastic. We want Robox to be part of this revolution – bringing micro-manufacturing to everyone.
Introducing Robox® - Technical Specification
Frame and Case Design - The quality of printing is predominantly dependent on the resolution and accuracy of the motion axes. The printer must be capable of composing accurate layers of plastic material layer after layer to produce a usable part. We have designed Robox from scratch, ensuring the frame and motion systems are extremely rigid and accurately positioned. All motors and axes are attached to a single stainless steel frame which is a reference surface for all motion; this is rigidly attached to injection moulded parts which form the body of the printer to create a super-stable platform.
We wanted all our cutting-edge innovation to have a suitably high quality sleek exterior finish. We’ve used high quality materials including anodised aluminium and clear polycarbonate to give the printer a clean stylish look that would be at home on any desk. Our industrial design aim was to hide all the technology required for movement and printing but still exhibit the magical process of 3D printing to the user. We think Robox® is beautiful, with clear views of what’s being manufactured from over half the surfaces. The filament reel and power supply have been integrated into the product, so we have no messy external parts to clutter your desk and take up more space.
Speed - Dual Nozzle System - Robox includes a proprietary dual-nozzle system which can improve print speeds by up to 300% when set against our competitors. A single material feed can be directed out of one of two nozzles – with a 0.3mm or 0.8mm extrusion diameter. This means Robox can produce highly detailed exterior surfaces for the surfaces you can see, and then quickly fill the object using the larger nozzle multiple layers at a time without affecting part strength or detail. This combined with a needle-valve system stops ‘ooze’ and ‘stringing’ from the nozzles - a problem commonly found in other printers. So now you can finally have the best of both worlds – a perfect high quality exterior finish with much faster print times!
Automatic Material Recognition - Robox requires no programming for different materials – just load the reel and go! Each reel contains a chip which stores all the necessary parameters for the material which have been thoroughly tested, so as soon as you install the reel, the printer is automatically programmed and ready to print.
Quick-Change Print-head - Our HeadLock™ System allows you to change the function of Robox quickly and easily. From the outset of this project we've made the product easily upgradeable, so the head contains a universal interface that will work with all future upgrades to the Robox platform, including a 2 material head, stylus cutter, milling head and 3D scanner, the possibilities are endless!
Replaceable, 'Tape-less' and Removable PEI Bed - Once your print has finished you are free to remove your model from the printer. The print surface itself is also easily removable - allowing for easy replacement or dismounting of models away from the printer, or for switching to alternative beds e.g. a stylus cutting mat, milling fixture system or turntable for the 3D scanning head. To ensure that your bed is always perfectly flat for 3D printing when Robox is configured as an FFF system, the print surface is constructed from PEI laminate material, which requires no tape, glues or special preparation. Prints stick fast while printing, and then release themselves once complete.
Enclosed Build Chamber - Robox has the option of a fully-enclosed build envelope for stabilising the printing environment, improving results and making it safer. When a printed part cools (particularly when made from ABS) unevenly or too rapidly, it shrinks unevenly, causing warp cracks and de-lamination. Our enclosure serves several purposes; prevents outside thermal influences affecting your print by blocking draughts and keeping the internal temperature stable, and shields users from surfaces that are too hot to touch.
Expandable for 2 Extruders - Robox is ready for a second extruder; so coupled with a dual material head (currently in development), you will be able to print two different materials at the same time – whether this is just two colours of the same material, or a build material and separate support material.
AutoMaker™ Proprietary Software - Rather than bundle Robox with the usual selection of Open Source software, we’ve decided to develop our own so we can take advantage of the many innovative hardware features already designed into our Robox platform. This further enhances the simplicity and usability of the printer for both experts and novices alike. This has been designed from scratch so the consumer can become the manufacturer from day one, we want everyone to be able to create their world.
Simplicity with Depth - Ease-of-use is at the heart of the design of Robox, but for those of you more experimentally inclined – don’t fear! We have divided the software into simple and advanced modes, so for those of you who don’t want to ‘tweak’, just place your parts and print. Advanced mode will allow more experienced users to alter all parameters of the printer manually. Once you are happy with a print profile you can save it for future use - repeatable high quality printing, another goal of the Robox project.
What will I get?
Why Robox Is Better
Construction Methodology - All of the motion axes are coupled to a single sheet metal part, reducing the need for factory calibration and ensuring that your Robox is perfect for printing straight off the production line. The use of injection moulded parts combined with sheet metal components produces a very rigid structure, while allowing for a stylish consumer product.
Minimal Inertia - By using a 'Bowden tube' extruder, we are able to keep the weight of the printing head to a minimum, allowing for much faster extrusion and travel speeds without affecting print quality.
Large High Torque Stepper Motors with High Resolution Axes - We have over-specified the stepper motors for all the motion axes, meaning Robox should be able to cope with all future head developments without a hitch. We have used 2mm pitch belt drives for X and Y axes and our own custom machined 0.5mm pitch Z axis screw. All of the motors are custom designed for the printer. This gives us the highest theoretical accuracy on the market, and allows us to achieve super-fine layer height.
Separate Build Chamber and Electronics Enclosure - Due to the heated build platform, we can maintain approximately 50°C ambient temperature in the build chamber. This stable environment helps to maintain part accuracy and print quality by preventing uneven cooling. The problem with this feature is that this ambient temperature can be too hot for the motors and electronics which control the printer. These are all therefore outside the build chamber and actively cooled by outside airflow to keep everything running smoothly.
Automatic Build Platform Levelling - One of the major problems with almost all available 3D printers is that the bed must be manually levelled to ensure the first layer adheres correctly. This is a fiddly process which has to be regularly repeated – a great source of frustration for other 3D printer owners! We’ve solved that problem in Robox using a proprietary bed probing mechanism which can measure the location of the bed before every print. Both Z motors are driven independently and are automatically adjusted to ensure the X axis is always parallel to the print bed.
Extruder Construction and Feedback Loop - The Robox extruder contains a pioneering dual-pinch-wheel extrusion system. This allows for very consistent and reliable extruder operation with excellent resolution and control. The filament is fed to the head by two indexed contra-rotating feed wheels which are powered by a worm & wheel gearbox. This arrangement virtually eliminates the possibility of slippage or ‘stripping’ of your filament, causing a loss of extrusion and fluctuations in print quality.
The filament extruder incorporates a closed-loop feedback system which monitors the motion of filament as it enters the extruder, giving it the ability to instantly recognise extrusion issues. The software can pause the print if any error is found, allowing the user or firmware to rectify the problem without ruining the entire print. A long awaited feature on 3D printers is ‘resume’ - the user can restart the print and it will continue from where it left off. Another first for Robox!
Nozzle Valve System - Another problem that we have solved is ‘ooze’ -the stringing and over extrusion at the end of a section of printing. This happens due to the low viscosity of molten plastic. In most printers, this is solved by what is known as a ‘retract’, where the filament is rapidly reversed in conjunction with a very small melt chamber, however this is not effective or accurate control of the liquid material. Robox overcomes this problem through the use of a needle-valve system which completely closes each nozzle at the point of extrusion, removing all stringing and ‘blobs’ from the part – resulting in an amazing surface finish.
Integrated Cooling - The Robox print head incorporates an enclosure with a fan which performs two discrete functions – firstly the fan keeps the bridge between the hot and cold parts cool, and it also actively cools printed parts as they are being printed by directing cool air over the surface. This means parts solidify more rapidly, improving layer adhesion and the ability to print overhangs and small layers quickly.
HeadLock™ Head Replacement System - This allows you to change the head of the printer with minimum fuss. Just rotate the locking wheel on the back of the carriage until it’s loose and push the head down and away from the carriage. To install a new head, just clip it up into place and tighten the locking screw – as easy as that! The software will automatically recognise what model of head is installed and set up AutoMaker™ appropriately.
Where We Are Now
Fully-Functioning Fabricated Prototype - We already have a fully functional prototype which has been built by hand using samples of final parts and SLS printed parts. This is the model which has produced many of the 3D prints you see here.
First Off-Tool Parts Arrived for First Engineering Build - We have also recently received the first-off tool parts from our injection mould tooling, so we have our first look at what the finished product will look like. We have many components still to finalise including the 2nd revision of the PCB and other electronics. We have begun testing the new assembly and finalising the design for mass-production.
Extra heads and functionality - We have plans for a whole range of add-on manufacturing heads for Robox, and we plan to release at least two new functions every year after launch, which may include; 3D Scanner, Soluble Support Materials, Stylus/Die Cutter to name but a few. Once you have Robox in your home, the applications for a robotic automated 3-axis control system are endless. We have a history of listening to our customers and bringing them the additions to our systems that they request.
Why Robox Is Better
For Robox we have designed our own electronics and embedded software from scratch, allowing us a great deal of control over functionality and layout. We are using an Atmel® ARM processor with completely custom firmware. This can be software upgraded via on-line updates, ensuring your Robox is always using the latest features and improvements. This allows us to upgrade the machine for new functionality as it is developed, making your machine future-proof from the outset.
The board also uses a high speed USB 2.0 interface, and has a micro SD card for storage of models. We have an integrated DC power supply, removing the need for that separate laptop-style brick hanging around on your desk! You only need to connect the mains power lead and USB to get manufacturing. We have also future-proofed the boards by including a whole range of auxiliary connections, which should allow us to connect new hardware as it is developed.
Where We Are Now
We currently have prototypes for version 1 of the PCB and these are being thoroughly tested with the hardware to ensure all functionality. We are currently in the process of redesigning the layout for PCB v2 which will tidy up the layout and add a small amount of new functionality before heading to mass production.
'Black Box' - In order to use Robox, it must currently be connected to a PC via USB; the product itself does not have a screen or any controls, the only button is for ejecting the reel when it is not connected to a PC. The design intent was for the printer to be as simple and low cost as possible from the offset.
As a future expansion we intend to develop a small touch-screen device which will allow you to control several printers without the need for a PC and also to connect to the printer remotely over the internet. This will also allow us to connect webcams and other ancillaries via an integrated USB hub to increase the functionality of the product e.g. mass storage, remote monitoring etc. This idea of splitting the printer into two separate devices was core to our thinking - simplicity, reliability and low cost.
Why is AutoMaker™ better?
Rather than ship Robox with generic open-source software, we wanted our own, so we started from scratch. We have designed AutoMaker™ to be as simple as possible to use every day and it is tailored for our firmware and hardware. We have also almost completely rewritten the motion control firmware, resulting in much smoother acceleration/deceleration and therefore faster potential operating speeds. The necessary firmware functionality for our nozzle switching system is built in, allowing us to control this motion as a separate ‘axis’, providing a great deal of control for the needle valves.
AutoMaker™ guides you through the steps of preparing a model for printing in a logical order – choose your model, place it on the print bed(move, rotate, scale), and then choose a quality setting and click print. We’ve also included an advanced mode, so for you tinkerers out there, there’s still plenty you can tweak …
We’ve tried to match the design of the interface to the cues and styling of the actual product, with a clean, uncluttered appearance. All of the things you need on screen are there, and everything you don’t has been moved to the advanced mode to allow you to get on with the job in hand.
The software stores a history of models which have been sliced for printing previously, so if you need to print a model again, you won’t have to wait, you can begin printing straight away.
Where We Are Now
We currently have a working version of AutoMaker™ that includes most of the functionality, but there is plenty still to do!
Early tests with the current build of the software, firmware and hardware have proved that our innovations in each of these systems are significantly improving speed, dimensional accuracy and detail. We intend to make all aspects of the print process controllable and are implementing more and more of these controls into the advanced section of AutoMaker™. More control means more tuning so we still have a lot of work to do to ensure our first release has the ability to create a perfect print right out of the box - one of the key goals of the Robox project.
A lot of testing is required to create our printing profiles for each material, and we are only at the beginning of this process.
Cloud Slicing / Remote Access - We would like to add functionality to AutoMaker™ which will allow you to view and control your Robox from anywhere in the world. With the added ‘black box’ and webcam, it should be possible to monitor Robox as it prints, and also set it up to print new items. As part of this we would also like to add cloud slicing, freeing up resources on your PC and allowing you to get printing faster.
Why is Ours Better ?
Automatic Material Recognition - Robox includes automatic material recognition as standard. In every reel of official Robox material there is an EEPROM which stores all the necessary configuration information about the reel – including manufacture date and batch no, material properties (melting point, composition, diameter etc.) and also how much material is still on the reel. This allows Robox to automatically calibrate itself each time a new material is installed – no more entering values and measuring filament, all the guesswork is taken away. For each material we will be developing a unique ‘print profile’ which will guarantee great prints every time, with no user input required much like adding a new ink cartridge to an inkjet printer. As Robox can also detect how much filament remains, it can warn the user that there may not be enough to complete a job, and also pause partway through a print, allowing a user to change the reel and resume the job.
You do not have to use our materials however, any high quality 1.75mm filament can be used... but... users wouldn’t get the full plug and print experience that Robox offers. Some of the cool features like pausing a print and changing colours rely on the printer knowing what’s been loaded and that’s where our SmartReel™ can smooth out the process and enhance the experience. The best printing results will be achieved using Robox official materials, as they come supplied with a print profile which has been extensively tested for a perfect print every time. Why would you not want to use Robox official filament? It’s extremely cost competitive and the quality is second to none, but we don’t want to tie you in. Not all filaments are good quality, and some might not only give you poor print results but damage Robox - we can’t take responsibility for poor quality filament causing damage.
Robox Official Print Materials - Our materials are being produced by our own supplier and will be produced to a very tight diametric tolerance of ±0.05mm. They will be loaded onto our custom reel design with integrated chip ready for use straight from the box. They will also be packaged in sealed bags with a desiccant to ensure the material is dry. Initially we will be offering ABS and PLA in a wide range of colours, but we plan to expand our range rapidly following release. Once again we will respond to customer demand for interesting or specialised materials in a very positive way.
Where We Are Now
We are currently testing filament from two different manufacturers and we will be finalising the process for mass production and loading onto our reels shortly. The chip must also be programmed on the production line once the material is loaded to include all the production data and material parameters.
Following release we will be expanding our range of materials, the components of Robox have all been designed and selected to allow use of the following material options:
- Flexible PLA - a flexible form of the bio-degradable plastic, allowing for ‘bendy’ components.
- Nylon – One of the toughest 3D printing materials, nylon has a whole range of possible applications, especially for mechanically demanding parts.
- PC – Polycarbonate is known for its high impact strength and toughness (it’s used to make bulletproof glass!)
- HIPS – High Impact Polystyrene is a possible option for a dissolvable support material as it can be dissolved in Limonene after printing.
- HDPE – High Density Polyethylene
- PVA – A water soluble polymer suitable for dissolvable support material, allowing us to produce complex parts with large overhangs and thin wall sections, and also fully functional mechanical assemblies with no assembly required.
- Conductive Polymers – a new area of research which would allow us to print circuits and integrate electronics into plastic parts during the production process.
Risks and challenges
Most of the mechanical engineering and design is now complete, and we are confident that we can deliver this product to its stated specification. As a company we already have a proven history of being able to deliver high quality innovative products, and we hope this will encourage you to put your trust in us to come up with the goods!
The product itself will be fully tested to all international safety standards, including CE, allowing us to sell Robox in all markets. We have already begun this consultancy process and hope to achieve certification before launch.
We already have a manufacturer in China which will be producing the printer, and they have already begun to tool the parts for injection moulding. They are an established firm with many large existing clients, and they have been working closely with us since the design stage to optimise the design for manufacture.
We also have 2 separate manufacturers for the Robox print materials – affording us some redundancy should there be any material supply issues. They are working to a very tight specification and using international standard resins with full safety certification.
Supply Chain and Logistics
Wherever possible, all components for the printer have been sourced from two independent suppliers, which should help us to smooth out any delays caused by problems with supply. The full BOM and supply chain is being managed by our manufacturer in China who has a great deal of experience in producing large volume consumer products.
We take the satisfaction of our backers and customers very seriously, so we will ensure that you are all kept up to date on any possible delays or manufacturing problems that may affect the delivery of your Robox.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)