When we heard the result from the Brexit vote we got a little worried and started to think how CEL-UK would survive in the UK when not in Europe. The devaluation of the pound instantly affected the company’s profitability as most of the products we purchased were from China who deal in USD, whilst all our development is done in the UK.
What to do??
We are a product development company, with a strong history of developing innovative products and getting them to market across the world. How would we play to this strength with the changing business topography? The market for domestic 3D printers continues to grow but not at the rate we were used to whilst the prosumer and industrial markets growth rate is increasing. We need a way to pay for R&D in these rapidly growing markets to help pay for the development of products, we couldn’t rely on our current portfolio of product to fund this needed change in direct. A high number of our customers and potential customer would make similar statements about Robox, “It’s an amazing little machine but we may want to print larger parts”.
So it’s now obvious where we need to spend our development time, a specification has was organically grown for a new machine;
- Larger build volume
- Network connectivity
- On machine UI
- HEPA filtration
- Native support of 2 materials
- Externally fed stock material
- Flexible magnetic print surface
Original Features to preserve
- Enclosed build chamber
- Valved heads
- Reel data reading
- PEI build surface
- Extruders with; Automated load, Filament out detection, slip detection
To cater for a Prosumer market we would need to look at the road map for software development, again we turned to our loyal customers and asked them what new feature would help them with 3D printing and together we came up with the following;
- Gcode Preview
- Improved support material generation
- Multiple perimeter layers to infill
- New infill and skin patterns
- Print via USB stick
(The above lists are not exhaustive, just a look into where we are headed.)
As I’m sure a lot of you know, software development is an expensive and lengthy venture and many of our competitors rely solely on open source application because of this. Although we use the Cura Engine for gcode generation our communication to robox, UI and firmware are all internally developed and maintained. This allows us to be ahead of the curve with our hardware and user experience as we are not constrained by the development of features from the open source community. Until now we’ve offered our software for free with the idea we could fund this by our hardware sales, but this is unsustainable as the software development cost is a much higher than the hardware. We’ve decided to continue maintaining and offering AutoMaker for free but also offer a paid for version, AutoMaker Pro, that will package our new software features for a 12 month licence fee of £59.90 inc. VAT. This will help to cover some of the development cost and the first iteration will be launched later this month.
Some of the new features we plan to implement cannot be supported by our current electronics platform. So we’ve also developed a new set of PCB’s which can be both retrofitted to existing products and support the launch of new systems.
Our new electronics hardware now supports;
- Huge reduction in noise for all motors, enabled by new, tuned motor drivers.
- Smoother, higher resolution motor movements.
- Skip detection for all motors, no more offset layers in a print from collisions or slipping.
- AC power loss detection – If the power goes out when it comes back on the machine can resume printing.
- Power and communicate with Raspberry-Pi via UART – Enabling Wi-Fi and Network connectivity, touch screen, print from USB and more.
- Power Saving and Silent printing mode.
- Switchless homing.
Although we’ve not finished upgrading the software and firmware to support all these new features yet, we have the hardware to pave the way for the future systems.
To help with sales we have employed a PR and marketing consultancy to help us build back the robox brand which has been a little overlooked for the part year, you may have seen that we are developing the robox and CEL-UK and robox website to help drive sales.
We still want more!
We started to look at UK R&D funding grants, at the same time we were approached by a Welsh product design company who were asking questions about how electronic tracks could be incorporated into 3D prints. We know that this is not a new topic but one that has not been truly addressed yet and we came up with some amazing ideas to push the 3D printing market forward. You may have seen some exciting videos our IMPACT development platform which is truly the next generation of FFF style 3D printers. This Blue-sky thinking project drives the market in new directions and offers the possibility of feature current systems can only dream about.
- Support free printing
- Huge increase in speed of manufacturing by efficiency gains
- Unconstrained lamination of different materials in required direction of strength
- Functionalised parts which are integral part of the electronic systems
- The progression of 3D printing for prototyping to Industrial process
All these new development, partly funded by Innovate UK grants, will filter down through all our machines insuring our future in the industry and making sure that even though we are set to leave Europe our offering to the world will continue to grow.