Brook Drumm of Printrbot

Printrbot has come to be synonymous with affordable, open source, laser-cut, wood chassis 3D printers. So when the company announced their intention to produce and release a Printrbot Simple constructed of metal instead of wood, my interest was piqued.

In truth, the new metal machine is more than just a metal build of the current wooden Simple. It has a 6" x 6" x 6" bed, as opposed to the wooden version's 4" x 4" x 4". It also employs beefier 12 mm rods on the z-axis, while the older model uses 8 mm. Additionally, the metal Simple will include Printrbot's new bed auto-leveling feature.

Pricing for the new printer has yet to be determined, but it will cost somewhere between the assembled wooden Simple at $449 and the Printrbot Jr. at $699. It is unclear whether the metal Simple will ever come in kit form – it will initially only be available fully assembled. However, the wooden kit will remain available for those who prefer to put their own machine together.

Metal Simple Specifications:

  • Build Volume: 6″ x 6″ x 6″ (150mm x 150mm x 150mm)
  • Print Resolution: 100 Microns
  • Filament: 1.75 PLA
  • Hot End: 1.75 Ubis Hot End with 0.4mm Nozzle
  • Construction: Steel and Aluminum Body
  • Finish: Powder Coated
  • Print Bed: Semi-Auto Leveling via Software
  • Belt: GT2
  • Pulley: Aluminum
  • Rods: 12mm
  • Product Weight: 8 lbs

Having recently met Printrbot's CEO Brook Drumm at the 3D Printer World Expo in Burbank, CA., I felt confident this decision had probably been well-reasoned. Printrbot has sold a lot of 3D printers and enjoys a very loyal following. After the company's short-lived foray away from unassembled kits in 2013, I very much doubt Drumm would make a change he isn't completely certain would be endorsed by his user base.

Still, I was curious to know if this was the beginning of a trend, so I sent the Printrbot founder an email asking the question, "what made you decide to go metal?"

I've done many email interviews and asked an awful lot of questions during my time here at 3D Printer World, but I've never seen an answer as complete as this one. What follows is a transcript of Brook Drumm's reply:

Why metal? Manufacturability. Period. We can't make them fast enough. And we can't build them fast enough. This printer is called the Simple, but until we made it in metal, it wasn't simple enough. Now there are a total of 5 major pieces to the printer and far less fasteners. NOW, it's truly simple.

Manufacturing in metal has other benefits, though:

- powder coating in multiple colors
- strength and rigidity
- larger final print bed (6x6x6)
- ultra clean lines for a friendly presentation
- flat printbed with print auto-level in software, "auto-leveling" for short
- with fewer parts and far better precision in manufacturing, customer support needs will lessen

We are now poised to open the floodgates to international distributors. There is no limit to how many we can make. There isn't an easier to build, more straight forward 3D printer in the world. We reveal enough to help people understand how it works, and hide the rest. It is a great balance of low cost, practicality and fun.

We will test the market to see if people are still interested in building their own 3D printer. At Printrbot, we think we can tool up to build these in half an hour, but our goal for home builders is 2-3 hours. Our build instructions are about to get dramatically easier to follow with far less steps involved.

The final model will have 12 mm Z axis rods for over-the-top stability, putting an end to any sag in the Z. We went back to belts for ease of maintenance and predictability. We will indeed incorporate the Marlin auto-leveling feature with a manual lever to engage the probe – again, keeping it simple.

We aren't stopping our heavy metal streak there, we are giving the Plus a metal make-over as well. I am a minimalist in my design approach and I hate over-engineering when not necessary – mostly due to my cost sensitivity. The Printrbot brand has always been about value and a unique approach to design. Several of my tricks to keep cost down have been widely adopted even though some engineers wince at the unconventional nature of the mechanics. I have embraced this and will continue to design printers that are quite different from the competition. No microwave lookalikes here. No big bulky boxes. The new (metal) Plus will drive this home with a very clean, but funky-retro look. Again, metal is making new things possible for Printrbot.

One final note on our design approach. We make in California, not China. Maybe someday, our volume will demand it, but for now, we design all our parts to be made locally. We machine parts out of aluminum and Delrin, allowing us to side-step the need for injection molded parts. It saves cost (molds are expensive) and allows minor changes to be made on the fly with no interruption in manufacturing. Our machinists and metal fabrication partners are down the street and always happy to tweak designs to make a better product. It not only keeps us very nimble, machined parts look awesome and perform extremely well!