Today Lulzbot released a Mini Graphical LCD Controller for the Mini printer. With Lulzbot being a true open source company they have been posting the development of this product including all of the source files for a while now. We could end the story there and you could say “cool” and move on with your life. But we're not going to.
So why open source and how does it benefit the end user and other businesses? As an end user, you have access to their files. This benefits you in several ways. The first way is that if your printer breaks or something goes wrong then you have a way to make your own parts for repair. It gives end users options when it comes to fixing your printers and you are not limited to “authorized service centers” or “black boxes”. This truly gives you the freedom to repair products that you own. If you think this is no big deal then check out this video about hacking tractors. It isn’t a 3D printer but the same concepts apply to 3D printers and all consumer products. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8JCh0owT4w
The second way open source is good for end users is that manufacturing a product for public release is really limiting for a lot of companies. If you want to make a printer that has a feature that only a few people will use or even would interest them then a company can’t allocate people to develop it, build it, support it, package it. If a printer had every single feature that everyone wanted then it would be too expensive for anyone to afford. So open source to the rescue. When a company creates a product that is completely open source then when you want to modify your printer in a very specific way then you can go right ahead and the printer company has all the files posted to get you started. Lulzbot does this to an almost fanatical level, publishing everything. http://devel.lulzbot.com/ will give you access to their source files for everything. Want to see how they assemble everything? https://ohai.lulzbot.com/ Want to see how they fold the box and pack up a Taz6 printer for shipping? (not kidding) https://ohai.lulzbot.com/project/taz-6-packaging-production/taz-6/
The third way it helps the end user is EOL (End Of Life) for a product. A company can’t keep updating and supporting older products forever. Every older product they support and maintain takes employees to do it. These employees have to work on older products instead of developing newer products. So open source is once again the hero. The files are out there. The company works on the next new thing. People can still repair their older printers and perform upgrades as they want and the company can still move forward without being held down by the past. Want to see the full assembly of a printer from years ago made by Lulzbot? Here is the Taz3. https://ohai.lulzbot.com/group/taz_3/ Need to go further back? Here is the AO-101 printer files from 2012. http://download.lulzbot.com/AO-101/ You will be hard pressed to find documentation for any 3D printer from that far back.
The fourth way it helps end users is the worst case scenario. We have all seen it before. A new promising printer company comes on the market and it looks beautiful and looks like it’s going to be the next best thing? Then a year later we are surprised that they went out of business. What happen? What are you going to do with a printer that has no way to maintain it or upgrade or repair it in any way? The most current example is Type A machines. They have closed their doors. While it is sad to see them go they at least had open source in mind with their printers. So people can still get access to all of their source files, do repairs and keep the machines running till the next shinny printer comes along. So even though Type A is gone you can still browse their source. https://www.typeamachines.com/downloads/
Why is Printed Solid so interested in Open Source?
The first reason is we wouldn’t have a business without it. 3D printing truly owes everything to open source. Most printers out there run on Marlin Firmware and a microcontroller based on Arduino. A lot of the software we all use is open source. Most of the features on printers that we take for granted all were born as open source. 3D printing is really serving as the pilot program for other industries to see the true value in open source development.
A great example of this is our relationship with Lulzbot. We manufacture enclosures for the Lulzbot Taz6 / Taz5 / Mini printers and they are all fully open source designs. It allows us the opportunity to enable others to make upgrades, changes as they want. Another great benefit is that with two companies like Lulzbot and Printed Solid working together we can collaborate without having to sit down at a board room table or signing NDA’s and getting lawyers involved at every change. Recently Lulzbot released a new Graphical LCD Controller for the Mini printer and their design has it located on the front right corner of the printer. This is perfectly fine for Lulzbot but it could cause a problem for people with the Mini enclosure by Printed Solid. It gets in the way. Once again, open source to the rescue. Since we have been able to browse their development files since day one, we saw the problem before the release and we can release a fix for it. A new bracket that the end user can just print and replace and now, it’s as good as new. But in addition to that we could make an improvement that some users might enjoy as much as we do. We thought that the new LCD would look better over the control box instead of over the front of the frame. Some people may love it as much as we do and some people may not. As you would expect, it is open source and available HERE.
The point is freedom for everyone. You can choose how you want it to look and work. You as an end user actually have control on how a product looks and functions thanks to open source hardware and software. For us at Printed Solid open source means that a company can make a product for the masses and people can customize it and build on it and make it better for everyone and even focus features for a smaller group of people often over looked by closed source hardware and software.