Robox desktop 3D printer and micro-manufacturing platform
The Rise of Robox
While often beginning with just an idea, paths trodden by tech start-ups can vary greatly from their genesis to eventual product fruition. The tale of the Robox 3D printer starts with an innovative concept, a highly skilled and motivated team of people willing to work hard to make that idea a reality, plus financial support gained by engaging potential customers and investors via a crowdfunding drive, in addition to promotional media appearances along the way.
The company CEL has been working on the Robox desktop 3D printer – a highly accessible, modular and easy-to-use additive-manufacturing system – since 2012. In November 2013, the company launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, and one month later had successfully raised £280,891 with 435 backers, nearly tripling its original target. This successful campaign allowed the completion of the first phase of the product’s development. Since that time, the amount of worldwide press coverage has significantly increased, including interest from the BBC among many others, which increased expectation about the capabilities of Robox, and so CEL took a little time to ensure that the mass production units could meet, or exceed, customer expectations.
Perception and Potential
The Robox is arguably an important device to change perceptions: many think perhaps that 3D printing is not ready for the consumer market because it is too expensive, too complicated and just too difficult to use. The CEL team set out to challenge these views by designing a 3D printer from the ground up, so they could design out all the perceived problems with domestic 3D printers. Similar machines are expensive, so 3D printing technology has been beyond the reach of important groups of innovators such as small tech start-ups, non-tech start-ups, artists, architects, hackers/makers and especially students or even children. To make the Robox more accessible, the printing process has been simplified to a few clicks, making the product safe and easy to use.
This technology has the potential to revolutionise traditional manufacturing processes and change the way products are bought and sold because it will bring manufacturing back to local control and allow makers, designers and tech start-ups to implement designs immediately, with no lag time and using an ever-increasing variety of raw materials.
The company believes there is also much potential for this type of technology in remote areas where it is difficult, dangerous and expensive to deliver much-needed technology, such as remote research centres, snowbound settlements and geographical areas following natural disasters. For example, the ability to make replacement parts to keep heaters going in winter or produce simple medical devices for emergency procedures is greatly needed; or for developing economies, where imports can be expensive and infrastructure is unreliable, to enable communities to immediately produce what they need using locally available resources, such as printing a water turbine from recycled plastic.
The Robox machine itself is a lovely piece of compact hardware with fully polished custom software and all the safety certifications required for international markets. A key element of the Robox is the company’s proprietary ‘HeadLock System™’, which allows the print-nozzle head to be quickly and easily removed to entirely change the machine’s function. The replaceable head transforms the Robox into a multifunctional micro-manufacturing platform with future-proofing adaptability.
Another aspect that makes the Robox somewhat special is its proprietary dual-nozzle system, which enables a single-material feed to be directed from one of two nozzles. This enables the Robox to produce highly detailed visible exterior surfaces with the smaller nozzle and quickly fill-in the object using the larger nozzle without affecting part strength or detail. This enables a higher resolution with a very-high-quality exterior finish and a much faster print time – improving print speeds by up to 300%.
The machine is compatible with a wide variety of materials including PLA, ABS, HIPS, Nylon, PETG and PVA. Automatic bed levelling ensures the print adheres to the plate every time without user intervention, and the Robox’s Automatic Material Recognition system uses material information and print profiles pre-loaded on each SmartReel to save time and effort. The machine is also compatible with Windows, Apple and Linux operating systems and is supplied with Robox AutoMaker™ software, which translates 3D designs into a printer-specific language and sends the information to the Robox ready for manufacture.
The company also has an extensive hardware and software upgrade roadmap that will bring new functions and features to the Robox. For example, one head in development is a drag knife or stylus cutter, which will enable the machine to cut paper, card and vinyl to any shape required. Users will also have the opportunity to upgrade their Robox to become a dual-material printer, milling head or 3D scanner.
Additionally, the company plans to continually improve the software support and offer ever more SmartReels to deliver better flexibility and quality through increasing variations of materials and colours.
This level of flexibility and adaptability should enable the Robox to become a complete micro-manufacturing and prototyping system for a wide variety of users in fields such as electronics, mechanical and product engineering, as well as educators and home users.