Last week, the Blackbelt 3D printer launched on Kickstarter. What makes the Blackbelt 3D printer different than any other 3D printer on Kickstarter? This printer has an infinite build volume. It’s built for continuous production. As long as you have a large enough spool of filament, this printer will keep producing plastic parts with no downtime in between. The Blackbelt is a truly remarkable and innovative machine. Yes, it’s a bit expensive, but it’s designed for production and manufacturing, not some guy tinkering in his garage.
However, the Blackbelt 3D website includes two words that have sent the 3D printer community into an uproar. ‘Patent Pending’ is something no one in the community wants to see given the history of the industry and a few poor decisions from the first movers during the great 3D printer awakening of 2010. The idea of an infinite build volume printer that allows for continuous production is not new; we saw one last March at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The question, therefore, is what is covered by the upcoming Blackbelt patents, what is the prior art, and is it still possible to build an Open Source printer that uses these innovative techniques?
Lessons of the Automated Build Platform
Questions about the Blackbelt printer arose shortly after its soft launch last month. It was, simply, the second printer demonstrated in a few months that uses a tilted print plane and a conveyor to allow continuous production in an infinite build volume.
The first such public implementation of this design was at Rapid 2016 and at the Midwest RepRap Festival in March, a product of [Bill Steele]. [Steele] wasn’t releasing a product, this was just the culmination of an idea that began as a mechatronic middle finger to MakerBot and their Automated Build Platform (ABP).
The ABP was quite clever when it was released and was used in production by MakerBot in their salad days to manufacture parts for the Thing-O-Matic. Unfortunately, the APB was…
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