Innovation in design and engineering
When talking about innovation in 3D printing we must recognise the individual and team inventions that Hideo Kodama, Charles W. Hull and S. Scott Crump brought to the world in the 80’s and the contributions of reprap communities who embraced FDM / FFF technology when the patent ended in 2009 and shared a lot of tools and new methods publicly.
Since then there have been thousands of printers released based on these methods and hardware designs. For FDM / FFF methods there have been a few variations on the basic motion frame design such as delta printers and certainly improvements in construction and software control. The designs today are very recognisable in the way they move to place and manipulate materials, surprisingly little innovation in 10+ years.
Innovation features a lot in Robox descriptions because we innovate. Our 3D printers now and our tools in the past have all had features and functions which competitors lack. Recent new releases of 3D printers across the market have shown almost zero hardware innovation. CEL-UK are different, we have approached every challenge and created an efficient solution.
Needle Valve material control
Synchronised with the motion frame, material control is key in producing accurate parts during printing. With needle valves, viscous materials will not leak out to create stringing and blobs, dual extrusion printing will not waste material and time doing purges, wipe towers or heating/cooling operations.
Needle valves are unique to Robox and allow far faster and more efficient printing of multiple materials on the same layer. This system is currently used in all our multi-nozzle heads.
Robox nozzles which are not in use lift out of the way, they don’t drag across the print or get stored away to dribble in the corner. Since we developed this method others have come up with varied solutions but none is as fast and efficient as the Robox system.
The next part of material control is the extruder which pushes material out of the nozzle. A stepper motor can provide accurate motion and detect skipped steps and a drive can provide high torque and grip against the plastic filament but Robox took this further. An index wheel measures the actual motion of the filament and compares it to the drive. Embedded Robox software detects and corrects to ensure the volume of material expected is delivered to the nozzle.
Pause and resume
Thanks to the control provided by needle valves. Robox introduced pause and resume functions several years before any other 3D printer showed this capability. The ability to stop the print make changes and continue is made possible by a combination of Robox material control and clever firmware.
Filament out detection
A simple idea which first appeared on Robox and now features on all the decent 3D printers. If the filament runs out during a print a pause is triggered and the user can simply load a new reel.
Auto Load & Auto Eject
Using extruder feedback, pause and filament out detection Robox is able to load material all the way to the nozzle automatically and also eject material when it detects the reel has run out. Frustrating usage in other 3D printers is resolved in Robox by these simple additions and has since been copied.
This is a big one which Robox pioneered back in 2013 using our SmartReel system. Incorrect material settings for temperatures and feed rates has been the cause of many failed prints and even damage to printers. Robox automated this system and in the process have made 3D printing accessible to anyone. Swapping materials is easy on Robox and our SmartReel system has been imitated by the biggest competitors.
Not only are our spools of material recognised by Robox printers they can also have a custom profile written to them and edited. Combined with our open material system this allows users freedom to use any material and tune the profile to their requirements. Valuable but low cost and still unique to Robox, just clip a reel on and the software will pick up the settings and make all the required adjustments.
Quick Change Print Head
Changing a nozzle for a specific extrusion size, dual extrusion job or specialist material results in recalibration, adjustment of hundreds of settings and potential hardware damage. Robox heads can be swapped without tools. Various heads are available with different nozzle sizes, independent material pathways or ruby tipped abrasion resistant nozzles.
Programmable Print Heads
Swapping print heads does not mean additional setup. All Robox heads contain rewritable memory which holds calibration data and when connected they are recognised automatically by the software and the appropriate profile is displayed and used by the software.
Titanium Heat Break /Heat Bridge
Titanium is an ideal material for a heat bridge it is strong, rigid and resists conducting thermal energy. A heat bridge separates the heated nozzle from the actively cooled material feed and is critical in maintaining control over the material as it flows or stops flowing through the hot end. A popular reprap supplier grabbed this idea and ran with it and is now the most popular heat break seller available.
Silicone Nozzle Shield
First seen on Robox QuickFill heads in 2015 these hot end covers insulate the heated areas while preventing filament and stray material from getting stuck to the hot surfaces. Now everyone uses them because they are such a good idea!
Dual Pinch Wheel Extruder
Robox extruders have more pushing force than any other extruder at a tested minimum of 5.5kg and typically over 6kg. This allows higher speed material feed without skipping or fluctuation in extrusion volume. To achieve this we used a worm drive to increase the gear ratio combined with an opposing drive wheel clamped over the filament using a simple spring arrangement.
3D printing is creating a volume of material yet most printers are still measuring their feed in millimetres. Robox introduced volumetric extrusion so all our calculations are made in a unit immediately relevant to the amount of material being placed. The result is far smoother extrusion across all variations and allows a reprint without re-slicing even if the material is changed.
Single click align to bed
A simple software tool which allows you to quickly choose which face of an object should be oriented toward the print surface. No rotating back and forth to try to get the model the right way, click, done. Another Robox first.
Removable, flexible, reusable PEI build plate
Painters tape, gluestick, hairspray, scrapers, release agent, cut fingers and breakages. None of this is required if you have a Robox ThermoSurface. PEI is a high temperature resin which does not expand or contract in the temperature range used for 3D printing. The bed heats this surface, the model is printed on it and then the bed cools. As the model cools it shrinks slightly while the ThermoSurface remains the same size. The model just slides off, no effort, no residue and no preparation. If needed the surface can be removed and flexed hundreds of times before it degrades. Ideal for almost any material.
We did not realise that our bed heater was fast. 4 mins to get to 150°C isn’t that exciting until you compare it to other printers. Easily 4 times faster and capable of higher temperatures. This means you can get printing faster every time and also watch that critical first layer to ensure it adheres well and is nice and tidy.
The first layer of a print is the most important. If it comes unstuck it is wasted time and material or at worst it gets jammed in the printer and damages something. Robox created the first and still the most advanced print surface mapping algorithm for 3D printers. The bed is probed in 9 places before every print, it takes a few seconds. The two independent Z motors can now drive the nozzle along this surface to ensure that the first layer thickness is constant across the whole build plate. Over the first few layers this effect is washed out until it is completely flat. This method ensures better surface adhesion and higher accuracy.
Automatic gantry levelling
One of the most annoying things we found with 3D printers we have tested is bed levelling. Manually twiddling knobs for an unpredictable amount of time just to find that it had to be done again and again was painful. If your printer suggests manual levelling stick it on ebay or offer it to a museum. Automated setup, first on Robox.
To achieve the surface topography mapping and bed levelling we needed a probe system. There are many ways to achieve this with varying cost and reliability, we made a completely new one. Our system is a very simple and very repeatable electrical circuit which is broken as soon as the nozzle touches the print surface (or anything in the way). Our SurePrint system tracks this and will alert the user of a discrepancy.
Locking door with automatic temperature and motion release
To keep users safe and maintain a stable build environment the door on Robox 3D printers is kept locked while the parts inside are in motion or surfaces are over a temperature threshold. This system prevents burns and trapped fingers as well as preventing a print from being interrupted. Advanced users can override this safety system from within the software.