- Are you ready for the high-speed desktop 3D printing revolution? Buckle up, because it's finally arriving!"
Last month, Creality, a leading player in the affordable DIY and desktop 3D printer market, unveiled their latest high-speed desktop FDM 3D printers – the K1 and K1 Max. At first glance, it may have seemed like just another product launch, but in reality, it signals a monumental shift in how 3D printers will be perceived, marketed and sold in the coming future. I’m convinced that we’re now entering the era intelligent and high-speed desktop 3D printing.
Up until a year ago, the consumer market was inundated with a plethora of affordable value 3D printers. These devices often boasted similar features, mostly repackaged with new names, colours, and other basic design changes. But now, finally, consumers are being presented with a refreshing array of smarter printers that come equipped with cutting-edge technology, a wide range of features, sleek designs, enhanced mobile app connectivity, and most importantly, significantly higher print speeds – all at a very competitive price.
I believe that we’re in for a wild ride over the next few years, with brands scrambling to develop high-speed desktop 3D printers at a price point that will be difficult to achieve without in-house innovations. This will undoubtedly lead to fierce competition that will separate successful brands from the struggling ones. Ultimately, it’s the end-users who will benefit the most from this competition.
Looking ahead, I’m confident that when we reflect on this period in half a decade or so, it’ll be clear that 2022-23 marked a significant turning point that ushered in a new chapter for 3D printing. So, let’s explore why this new era of high-speed desktop 3D printing has arrived.
As a side note, in case you are looking for a high-speed 3D printer, check out our list of the Best High-Speed 3D printers to buy in 2023.
Budget FDM 3D printers
If you’re a maker, you’re probably well aware that the current line-up of budget 3D printers is defined by slow to average speeds, average accelerations, decent print quality, minimal connectivity options, mostly uses Marlin firmware, and a never-ending need for upgrades to unlock their full potential. The budget market is saturated with innumerable global and local competitors (many have already bowed out), but there are still a few dominant players delivering reliable quality printers.
The budget 3D printer concept began with the RepRap movement in 2004 when the FDM technology patents expired, allowing for more affordable FDM 3D printers. Since then, there has been a consistent decline in desktop 3D printer prices. This era of democratized 3D printing enabled anyone to buy a 3D printer and create products from the comfort of their home. The hype cycle rose and fell, but the trend of plummeting prices persisted, even extending to resin 3D printers. (Resin printers can now be bought for as low as $249.)
As manufacturers aimed for lower price points, quality, long-term reliability, and innovation often took a back seat. This eventually led to the downfall of many sub-par companies, but a few companies such as Creality, Anycubic, Anet, Phrozen, etc., emerged as dominant players who found the perfect formula for profitability by combining in-house developments with third-party components, all while delivering quality and reliability.
However, the budget 3D printer market has only seen incremental improvements over the years, such as flexible print beds, silent motherboards, bed levelling upgrades, replaceable nozzles, alternative firmware options and the like. Fundamentally, the offerings have remained quite similar at their core. The market has been stable in terms of its offerings, with the value proposition primarily based on price rather than printing speeds. So, what does this new era hold?
Shaking (read: Waking) up the Industry
It was about time that the industry grew out of the “cheap or affordable” value printer mindset and concentrated more on solving the real consumer problems. Any person who knows even a tiny bit about 3D printers know that these machines are slow. They take hours to print even a small part. And this is a major hurdle in printers reaching common households.
The industry needed to be shaken to the core, not just stirred (mind the James Bond pun). And sometimes you need an outsider to do this and this is exactly what happened last year when BambuLab came out of its stealth mode.
BambuLab was founded by ex-DJI employees who had used 3D printers during their time at the organisation but were frustrated by some inherent issues with the printers on the market. They often found the existing 3D printers to be too slow, and not smart enough. They are typical end-users who just got fed up with what as being offered to them. These outsiders to the industry took it upon themselves to shake the industry out of its slumber. And so BambuLab was formed and right from its first product it concentrated on resolving this issue, a problem relatively ignored in traditional budget printers.
Last year they launched the X1 and P1P printers. These printers are significantly faster than every other printer on the market. The BambuLab X1 series prints at rapid speeds of 500 mm/s (10X higher speeds than competitors). The printer has even more to offer like a multi-colour printing, Lidar Resolution with first layer inspection, CoreXY 20 m/s² acceleration and Dual Auto Bed Levelling with bed level scans before printing, extrusion calibration. Moreover, the printer can be easily connected to your mobile via an application for remote control and printing.
The superior features can be seen but all these features are comparatively easier to copy but not the high-speeds. High-speed 3D printing raises a lot of technical issues and it was for good reason that companies have not been able to develop fast printer for a long time. And to solve these challenges it will require a company to build sensible in-house capabilities. Using third-party components (hardware and software) will just not make the cut anymore.
These fast 3D printers have marked a tectonic shift in the market and you too can observe the shift just by analysing how the incumbent brands reacted to this new development. Let’s see how.
The last year was truly eventful and we saw some serious new releases.
AnkerMake is another manufacturer of fast 3D printers. It launched its first M5 3D printer in April 2022 via Kickstarter and is the most-funded 3D printer on the platform. The printer boasts of high-speeds of 250 mm/s. Again a printer built by industry outsiders and focussed on improving printing speeds.
Prusa is one of the leading manufacturers of award-winning desktop 3D printers that are globally known for its quality and reliability. Prusa has been around in the industry for a long time, and while it stands out in the price market with a slightly premium offering, even they have been slow to come to the high-speed 3D printing party, and only recently launching a faster printer – the MK4.
Well, it has not clearly stated the print speed in absolute numbers but mentions a 70% decrease in print time. The only comparison is that in the previous generation it took 80 minutes to print a 3DBency, while the new printer takes only 20 minutes. (Note: Some experts opined that the video released to justify this claim uses an unreleased Alpha firmware with input shaping.)
So, even though it has not completely managed to get a super high-speed printer to market, the direction indicates the shift to build a faster 3D printer.
Late last year Snapmaker also announced its new J1 ultra-fast FDM 3D printer which can reach printing speeds of up to 350 mm/s and a massive acceleration of up to 10,000 mm/s². The printer deliveries have not yet fully started and consumers will start receiving their printers only by June 2023.
Creality is the latest entrant in the affordable high-speed 3D printer market. The K1 and K1 Max printers are a direct threat to all of the above printers. The print speed, the design language and the other additional features, all point towards a direct competition to the BambuLab X1 and P1P printers.
So, the trend is visible. Brands are moving away from the budget-focussed approach of building 3D printers towards a high-speed focus with slightly premium pricing.
You Can See the Trend
It’s like once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The trend is just hard to ignore. The series of new printer releases just in a span of one year that are closely similar to what BambuLab introduced is surprising to see. Even incumbent players like Creality and Prusa have taken notice and have announced their new smart high-speed 3D printers.
To be frank, all is not hunky-dory with the BambuLab printers and there have been whispers about its customer service, question marks on its long-term reliability (it’s only a year old) and some quality issues, but hey, it’s a new player and we know how many such issues we all have faced and ignored with all the incumbent brands. Innovation takes time to seep in and with competing brands trying to woo the customer, the issues will surely be addressed sooner than later.
Need for Speed, with Quality
The launch of the X1-seres and the P1P has at the very least woken up the consumer who now knows that fast 3D printers are possible and it’s not a pipe dream any more. As the consumers start demanding for faster 3D printers, it is evident that the brands have to come up with their high-speed 3D printer line-ups. Brands will have to make a decision of either trying to still play in the budget market or bring out the new printers. This will prompt a fierce competition leading to faster innovation and ultimately reducing the cycle time till we get printers that are more reliable and deliver better print quality. Maybe a Prusa level quality at rapid speeds in excess of 500mm/s.
So, we should excuse BambuLab for its issues, and thank it for its printers and the fire they have ignited in the 3D printing circles.
Although print speeds are the primary focus of this discussion, it’s important to highlight that these new high-speed 3D printers offer more than just fast printing as we already discussed above. They are equipped with cutting-edge features to drive the new revolution.
But companies also need to keep in mind that while speed is a desirable feature, customers ultimately prioritize high print quality. And till date, faster 3D printing in budget printers has meant poor print quality. No doubt high-speed 3D printing is harder than you think, but it will be interesting to see how companies manage to deliver faster printing speeds without compromising the print quality. Any company that isn’t able to achieve a balance of both these core factors will most likely fall behind in the competition in this new era of high-speed desktop 3D printing.
In a test conducted by Stefan from CNC Kitchen (thank you for this comparison test), to test print quality of objects printed at the fastest possible speeds on three 3D printer, he observed the following results. The test included 3D printing two models on MK3, MK4 and BambuLab X1:
|Prusa MK3||Prusa MK4||BambuLab X1|
|Printing Time (Buddy Model)||3h 10min||2h 45min||1h 21min|
|Printing Time (Rocket Engine)||15h 50min||14h 15min||7h 21min|
|Print Quality||Good||Better than MK3||Similar to MK4|
Based on the test results, it is evident that the BambuLab printer excels in speed and is capable of cutting printing time in half. What’s more impressive is that its print quality matches or even surpasses that of the Prusa, even at such high speeds. These results make the BambuLab printer an attractive option for both new buyers and experienced makers alike.
“But is this enough to sway buyers?”
Well this is a serious question and will require a deeper analysis and comments from actual users. We will get back to you on this in our next article.
The launch of the Creality K1 series of printers highlights two important things:
- Creality has taken notice of how consumers have reacted to these fast printers.
- With the launch of K1 series, Creality thinks there is a significant market for high-speed printers that come at a slightly premium cost. This is a market segment they have not yet ventured into but they may still try to compete at the lower-end of the price-point by building the fastest affordable 3D printer.
It is evident that the era of high-speed desktop 3D printing has arrived, and customers can expect to see the benefits of this new market competition. With the emergence of companies like BambuLab and the continued innovation from established players like Creality, Prusa, and others, we can look forward to faster printing speeds without compromising on print quality.
Like every new innovation, it will take time to find a perfect balance between high-speeds and print quality, but it will eventually happen and it seems pretty soon. No doubt developing high-speed 3D printing is harder than you think, but it will be interesting to see how companies manage to deliver faster printing speeds without compromising the print quality. As the market continues to evolve, we can expect to see even more competition and innovation, ultimately benefiting the end-user and driving the industry forward.
Under the Radar: Through this new “Under the Radar” series, we embark on a journey to uncover the often overlooked, underreported and less obvious trends, patterns, and signs within the additive manufacturing (AM) industry, to provide you with a fresh perspective, that can reshape the AM landscape. This commentary will present the views of the author and will be his/her own perspective and may not always represent the collective views of the industry.
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