The end goal of 3D printing is to be able to print anything, anytime, anywhere, no matter what. However, ask any current owner of a 3D printer and they’ll happily let you know how far away from that goal we are. Many printers still have to be constantly connected to an external computer in order to print anything, and most still don’t have features such as auto bed leveling and clog detection. Recently, printers have been advancing on that front, with some printers adding SD card readers and services like Astroprint and Octoprint, using Raspberry Pis to connect printers to a network. However, there’s a long road ahead before printers can truly be automated.
One of the main obstacles is a simple problem that seems to require a complex solution: what happens if a part is already on the print bed? So far, an actual living, breathing person has had to remove the part before another print can begin. No consumer printers to date have solved this problem, though some high-level makers in the RepRap community have built their own automatic print removers. Even these solutions are less than ideal; many of them employ splicing G-code or extra parts that reduce build area. Recently, a company has emerged that promises to solve the automated part removal quandary with their new printer: the NVPro 3D printer.
NVBots has been around for quite a while as part of NVLabs, with a goal to develop future 3D printing technologies such as higher print speeds and new materials. The NVPro is their first product aimed towards consumers. The printer is marketed as an “automated factory in a box” due to its unique print removal feature. In other respects, it appears to be a fairly standard printer with an 8in x 8in x 8in build volume, a 100-micron resolution, and a standard print speed. The aspect that truly makes this printer stand out is the part removal feature. For makers who print a lot of parts, or for maker spaces, and technology classrooms; this is a huge selling point. Many makers have to schedule their prints at times when they know they’ll be back to scrape off a print and start a new one, and being able to schedule a printer that can use an automatic part removal system would be a huge improvement. Another interesting feature included with the printer is a complete lack of driver software; instead, users can upload models via a web interface. This means that different designers on different computers can all upload projects to a unified queue for printing. The web page also gets rid of the nitty gritty details like infill and layering and opts for a set of sliders that control high-level setting like overall strength and size.
The web interface for the NVPro. Image courtesy of SolveLight
There are a few stumbling blocks I see in this printer, namely the size of the filament spool and the print quality. From the video, the spool appears to be housed inside the printer and its size leaves a lot to be desired. For anyone who wants to set up a long queue of prints, an external filament feeder would be imperative to ensure that the printer doesn’t run out of plastic in the middle of a print. Additionally, the printer must be more than just a gimmick. The actual printing part of this printer must have a build quality that matches the price tag, or else consumers will lose interest no matter how amazing the print removal system is. NVBots doesn’t list a price for their printer on their site, but various review sources have listed the price as upwards of five thousand dollars. This printer is going to run on the expensive side when compared to printers of a similar build quality.
The NVPro. Image courtesy of BusinessWire
While the NVPro is expensive, the automated removal feature is a point of interest for avid makers. And as the first printer with this feature on the market, it's certainly creating a path for other companies to follow. If this printer is even a marginal success, it can prove that automated removal features have a place in consumer printers. Some makers will certainly believe that the convenience is worth the cost, but this printer may come with too much sticker shock to cater to a wide audience.