Ultimaker, the 3D printer manufacturer in Netherlands was set up by three Dutch makers two and half years ago. Erik De Bruijn and Martijn Elserman met Siert Wijnia in protospace.nl, the FabLab in Utrecht, Netherlands. Each of them had built open source RepRap 3D printers before their collaboration, and from there they improved the design and created their own version of RepRap - Ultimaker.
In one of the Ultimaker-Evenings, a six weekly event organized by Ultimaker and Protospace Fablab Utrecht (Netherlands) where Ultimaker lovers share ideas, spread knowledge and solve problems, we met the three young entrepreneurs and many Ultimaker enthusiasts. Alexander Bannink, a proud owner of Ultimaker 3D printer told his story:
"I am an industrial designer. We usually spent 3000~4000 Euro only for making prototypes. Then one day I discovered Ultimaker and I bought one immediately. It took me two weeks to get it assembled and make it to work in my spare time(I am not an engineer). The Ultimaker is definitely an awesome box. It gives us the ability to produce parts and concept models in very low cost. It saves us not only the 4000 euro but also a bunch of time. In the day I made the design and set the printer on in the evening, the next morning my prototype is ready. This technology is just amazing."
If you meet such a passionate user of Ultimaker, you just want to learn more about the company. Luckily I was invited to have a visit to the Ultimaker office.
The new office of Ultimaker is located in Geldermalsen in the south-western Netherlands. It was renovated from an old abandoned school building. In February 2012 the team moved into their new office.
In April 2011 Ultimaker started shipping its 3D printer. Since moving to the new headquarters they've scaled up production capabilities and up to now more than 1000 printers have been sold.
Ultimaker co-founder Erik De Bruijn and Martijn Elserman gave me a full tour of the office where they make and ship out the Ultimaker kits.
The building has two floors, ground floor is production and distribution facility and the first floor is for R&D, testing, administration and customer service. They have got around 20 people working there.
Upon arrival, some young employees was working on preparing Ultimaker kits to be packed. Erik gave a brief on how spare parts were tested when it arrives. They have been working on improving the inventory system and delivery system that allows customers to easily track where their package are.
In this room (photos below) all Ultimaker kits are packed here and waiting to be shipped to all places in the world.
A nice filament wall
One interesting room is an Ultimaker "museum" where the Repraps built by three Ultimaker founders as well as earlier versions of Ultimaker were exhibited.
"Once Martijn had to carry his RepRap in the city for a whole day - that was really heavy, then we decided to build a portable, light-weight 3D printer." explained Erik.
The plywood they chose as frame of 3D printer is a high quality, durable lumber substitute made from high density recycled plastic polymer. It is light, rigid and allows you to tighten the screws to a reasonable torque.
The design and engineering of Ultimaker 3D printer is thought out very nicely. The printhead power/fan wires are wrapped up with the bowden on the bottom of the printer. And you can see a cable duct on each inside corner to hide/secure the wires for the steppers and endstops.
Instead of having a moving build platform, the Ultimaker has a print head that moves and a fixed build platform. The motors are mounted on the printer's frame and this allows a much larger print area and ability to print at high speeds.
Old and new version of Ulti-controller (Read the story behind here):
Some nice prints:
"What kind of support do you provide to the customers?"
"The customer support is improving. We have now two employees sitting upstairs providing all kinds of support, and our front desk could also answer simple questions. We have a big community online, there people love to help each other." said Erik.
While visiting Ultimaker, our friend Florian Horsch was there testing 3D printers. Florian Horsch owns an Ultimaker 3D printer since last June.
Florian told me what he thought of Ultimaker:
"I've seen plenty of DIY printers working and built some of them myself. Ultimaker is the best DIY 3D printer. I try to give you some arguments on the single points:
It's a proper kit. Everybody who can build an IKEA cupboard, can build an Ultimaker. It's not rocket science. Also everything you need to get it running is included (with filament and even tools).
Here comes the really strong part of the Ultimaker. The X/Y gantry is an engineering master-piece. I don't know if you closely looked at it, but it's just amazing how the X axis slides through the Y axis and visa versa. This enables the Ultimaker to be the fastest DIY printer on the market. This advantage is reinforced by a light-weight print head construction, without the extruder mounted on top.
This is what's called "Bowden setup". You have the print head and extruder separated and connected by the Bowden tube to feed the filament. This had one downside: Due to the tube you had more stringing than with other printers. Since we improved the settings (by retraction), we have also managed to solve this problem. That was the topic of my short talk at UltiEvening. Find the slides here or Direct link.
The community is huge. Plenty of people are really active and contribute their work for the project. I'm one of them :) The mailing list has more than 500 active members and the forum is growing rapidly as well.
Service is improving a lot. There are now two full time employees working in support, so respond times are going down. There's also 24/7 somebody online worldwide who's able to help in the mailing list or forum.
In general I think Ultimaker is a company which came onto the market to stay. It's not yet another Kickstarter project which isn't able to scale properly. These guys are doing an amazing job just within a year. The growth is rapidly and they do their best to keep up with demand. Personally I'm often impressed how far they think into the future, but at the same time do their best to keep everything backwards-compatible for existing users.
- Thanks! Florian
(Founders of Ultimaker: from left: Siert Wijnia, Martijn Elserman and Erik De Bruijn)
"The printer is more or less sold through good reviews and word of mouth." If customers are impressed with the value a product offers, they'll enthusiastically spread the word. Is speed the only power of the machine? or a larger print area? lower power consumption? simpler electronics? Or detail-oriented design? truly good customer service? Tell us what your experiences with the Ultimaker people and their 3D printer in the comment form below.
Posted in 3D Printer Companies
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firstname.lastname@example.org Bill..... wrote at 4/12/2013 11:40:12 AM:
I invent auto repair items. Sure could use one. Will be looking into the price of one soon. Thank you so much for your ideas. Good luck with the future of your printers.