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WhateverBots and the 3d printing vaporware

Now that I have a blog, I finally have a place to express some of what's bothering me since I entered this beautiful world of 3d printing a few years ago. Some of you won't agree with me, some of you won't care. But some of you are maybe thinking the same things I am, so at least now you will know you are not alone in this. :)

Wikipedia defines vaporware as "...a term in the computer industry that describes a product, typically computer hardware or software, that is announced to the general public but is never actually released nor officially cancelled. Vaporware is also a term sometimes used to describe events that are announced or predicted, never officially cancelled, but never intended to happen."

Because I like that term I would add to that definition the following:

"A product which promises to do things it is not realistically capable of doing, or a product which neglects to mention the additional requirements necessary for it to do what is advertised, as seen with most desktop 3d printers."

As for "events that are announced or predicted, never officially cancelled, but never intended to happen." - high quality printing is one of those events. It just never seems to happen.

I follow the 3d printing world closely. I read news about it every day. I take at least a minute or two to check every new model. And I'm always disappointed. For starters, there's a new printer on Kickstarter every day. And not a single one of those printers is a significant step forward from printers that are already there. Add to that tiny and severely compressed images of their "high quality prints", and the fact that it's mostly one and the same printer all over again with a different part here, and a modified part there. I started calling them WhateverBots. Each one is advertised as a game changer, and each one is cheaper than the next. Also each one prints worse than the next.

When I bought my Ultimaker it didn't print really well at first. But lo and behold, the description in the Ultimaker store clearly stated that it is a BETA product meant mostly for DIYers. I bought it expecting that. Nowadays that clause is removed (I think) because the old UM truly became a finished product after several revisions. So, I'm okay with somebody saying: "Look, this WhateverBot is not the best printer ever, but if you're a hobbyist and don't have lots of cash this might be for you!" It's honest, it doesn't produce unrealistic expectations. But, please don't tell me that your $499 printer is capable of amazing quality. It isn't. We are dealing with micron precision here, and cheap parts don't play well in that scenario. Some smart design can make a difference but there is a limit to that. (Not to say that expensive parts automatically make a good printer, you always have bad design to lessen that advantage.)

My favorite part of those ads and campaigns are surely the comparison boxes, where they put 3 printers like "Replicator 2 vs. Ultimaker vs. WhateverBot" and they invent categories based on some obscure part they have and the other two don't. There's an amazing amount of creativity in those "features". Look it up, it's fun!

The coolest thing to have, of course, is N color printing (which doesn't even work right) [But it will  be really awesome soon, we promise! ....Um.. Yeah, right.] with a printhead that weighs a ton, thus effectively reducing speed and precision. I'll take a single nozzle printer that works over that any day.

Another popular boasting category is print volume. What good is volume if the prints suck? Yay, now I can make BIGGER crappy parts. Amazing.

If you look at pure precision and speed, a 3 year old wooden Ultimaker still kicks the s#it out of all those printers. I've seen enough videos of printers printing at "150 mm/s" when in reality it's slower than my Ultimaker printing at 50 - somebody just forgot to setup the firmware right. Oops.

I'm also tired of revolutionary printers that can be hooked to a raspberryPi, tablet or whatever, or with a frame made from this or that.  It seems there are infinite variations of cases, interfaces, features, but with one thing in common - the prints still suck. And I may be mistaken but isn't the purpose of a printer to PRINT?
Why is there always an excuse when 3d printing is concerned? Imagine you paid $1000 for a cool WiFi enabled inkjet, only to realize that the prints you get from it are semi-useless due to their level of sucking? [But it's cool because it's wireless, you know!] You'd go nuts, that's what would happen. But somehow if it's a "3d" printer that doesn't work well, then it's all ok. 

For example, I recently saw a video of a guy explaining a few reasons why the Prusa Mendel sucks. And he really has some valid points, which are clearly explained and demonstrated in the video. And then the flaming began. It seems he is forbidden to have an opinion because the Prusa Mendel is sacred, all because Jo Prusa is such a good guy. (I'm not saying he isn't, mind you, it's the principle that irks me.) I mean, Mendels really aren't the best of printers anyway, so what's wrong with pointing that out?

Another thing that really annoys me is "proprietary" stuff, when advertised as something good. The whole DIY 3d printing revolution grew out of the absence of proprietary parts. Everything is compatible (or adaptable at least) and interchangeable. You choose which materials and parts to buy. That's a great thing. I can't fathom how people designing new printers still think "material cartridges" are a good idea, let alone an improvement. I don't want to be stuck with only one manufacturer, and I certainly don't want to respool my filaments all the time, just because your software recognizes which color I put in there. Big deal. Having to manually enter a few settings for a different material is a much lesser pain than having to pay more money for a much narrower choice of materials.

What this industry (if that is even the proper term) needs is less printers, but better ones. And a bit more honesty. Those of you out there who are into all this for a while now can surely spot the issues like I do, but what about all the folks getting ready to step into the 3d printing world for the first time? Not everybody is willing or capable to invent extra parts, drill some new holes, modify the firmware and all that jazz. And that's ok, the problem is nobody ever warns them they will have to! A lot of people ask me which printer to buy. I ask them in return what exactly do they want to do with it. After they tell me, I usually say: "Don't buy any of them." Because of all the hype, people think these machines work like replicators in Star Trek. And the truth is in a galaxy far far away from that.

Currently, the best option you have before you buy a 3d printer is carefully reading the various forums. There the dream of all the nice stuff you will print quickly evaporates when you learn that most of the people can't even get the damned thing to work.

My Facebook friends know I like a good rant. Usually on Sundays when I'm bored. As I usually write there, I will do the same here: This text is meant to be an expression of my personal opinions, with a pinch of sarcasm and other flavors, meant to share my woes and possibly entertain or even maybe inform some of you. I'm not saying how things are, I'm just saying  how I think they are. Please keep that in mind .

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