Notes from the CEO: Thoughts on the Crane

Posted by Michael Armani on

With M3D preparing to jump into the Bowden extruder market with the Crane, I thought I’d take some time to talk a little about where we put real value into this printer. It’s a question we hear over and over again: why buy a Crane over the more established models already for sale?

First, Crane printers are thoroughly vetted. Typical low-cost "value" printers use what I call a "customer does the QC, if there’s an issue → return to base" model.  Many will admit they only test about a third of their printers. So you'll get a good one eventually, but you are gambling your time. It’s not ideal, but I think most experienced consumers know and accept that upfront with value printers. The Crane will not have such issues coming from a lack of quality control.

The second difference is fleet performance. Any typical printer can be made to work phenomenally with enough TLC and knowledge (in other words: more free labor/trial and error at the customer's expense). But scaling up a fleet of printers and getting that kind of performance is obviously not practical. Value printers tend to break down rapidly and show their deficiencies and inconsistencies the most in scaled-up volumes. A properly calibrated and tested printer like the Crane will go a very long way to preventing these issues.

Another important aspect to consider is manufacturing and design experience. The hardware is good on all value printers and Cranes, but hardware requires knowledge to tune right. The value printers often have some glaring oversights - electrical ratings that are misleading, transistors that drive ground to power a bed and short on the frame, fire hazards, lots of firmware bugs, etc.

Fourth, the I3-style printer architecture scales only so well.  The larger you go, the more impractical it is to A) rely on a single sheet of metal to be flat, B) a thin Y rail not to cause wobble, C) a giant bed to force slower acceleration and thus slower printing, and D) the space needed becomes more and more impractical to fit on any typical table top surface or desk.  We find the ~10” print volume range to be where these practical limitations start to present real problems, so we’ve kept the size of the Crane realistic to avoid such fatal flaws. More printer does not mean better prints.

We also stand behind the reliability of the Crane’s Power supply (and reliability of all our power supplies). Many printers use cheap supplies that aren't tested well, and get fried early on in usage. It’s just one more hidden cost of the value printers that you don’t see when you hit the purchase button.

Keeping with that same theme, the Crane has its customer support, assembly, and shipping base operations in the US. We I think this counts for a lot, especially in a time when many operations are moving overseas where accountability and outreach are harder to guarantee.

Finally, the Duet Maestro is itself a huge point of pride for us, and one of the biggest reasons the Crane is such a good deal. We’ve talked before about how groundbreaking it really is, but stay tuned for more on that in the near future. It has a fantastic legacy and is more advanced than any board we know of.

I think at the end of the day, there are many fine machines out there. But it's my belief that some are highly rated because you get a lot of value for the money, not because it works perfectly out of the box. In fact, the most common thing I hear is people buying the machine with plans for X number of upgrades already, with more money and more labor required for each of them. Customers are already fixing problems with it before they even buy the printer! It’s telling. So we try to make our machines more future-proof, so users will keep seeing the value long after they unbox their printer.

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