"We are an independent company, we don't have outside investors," explained Erik de Bruijn, Ultimaker co-founder, at the Ultimaker 2's public unveiling. "I think if we can all start to see the world not as a fixed thing, but as an environment that we can actually shape together [...], building on top of each other's work, then it would be a very big irony if the devices that we used to do that [...] would be a closed environment. So that's why I'm very pleased to announce that the Ultimaker 2 will be completely open source."
The statement underlines one of the key differences between Ultimaker and Makerbot, which drifted away from the open source model with its Replicator 2 printer, and was acquired by 3D printing giant Stratasys in a $403 million dollar deal earlier this year. It was a move that disappointed some in the maker community, but only time will tell what kind of impact it will have.
The Ultimaker 2
"A lot of things have changed. I can count the number of parts that have stayed the same on one hand. Almost everything has been redesigned and improved, and a lot of attention has been paid to the details," Erik says. Besides new parts, the second generation Ultimaker was designed with user-friendliness in mind. The printer's user interface allows you to find and print files directly from the built-in SD card reader (a wireless module is also in the works). And, unlike the Ultimaker Original, the Ultimaker 2 comes fully assembled rather than as a DIY kit.
When it comes to speed and accuracy, the Ultimaker 2 appears to be in a class of its own among the fused-filament fabrication printers. Make magazine called the Ultimaker Original the "most accurate and fastest 3D printer" in November 2012, and the Ultimaker 2 is capable of the same performance with a slightly larger build volume. It can print from 30-300 mm/s at a layer resolution of just 20 microns (0.02 mm) within a 225 x 225 x 205 mm build volume. By comparison, the Makerbot Replicator 2 has a minimum layer resolution of 100 microns (0.1 mm).
Ultimaker's Cura open source software prepares models for printing. It plans, coordinates and auto-slices models, but doesn't appear to generate support structures. It was designed for everyone, allowing novices to print a file with a click of their mouse, but has more in-depth options for more advanced users. And because Cura is open source, it can be modified and enhanced by users as well.
The print head moves using Cartesian coordinates, melting 2.85-mm-diameter PLA or ABS plastic onto a heated build platform. When cool, printed objects easily separate from the printer. "You can almost blow it off gently," de Bruijn explained with a smile. Spools of 0.75 kg PLA cost €31,50 ($42.83), and come in eight colors. You can also purchase spools that are translucent or flexible for €34 ($46). That's about the same as you'd pay for filament on the Makerbot Replicator 2. In the future, Ultimaker plans to release an upgrade that will add a second print head, which will make it a dual material machine.
Sharing your work with the community
In line with its open source philosophy, Ultimaker announced a "spin-along" it calls Ultilabs, which is centered around the hacker and maker community. Details were kept under wraps, but complimenting Ultilabs is a site called Youmagine where users will be able to share files and modifications to Ultimaker's software APIs, which could lead to new tools for the community. Youmagine will analyze file uploads so that it can list useful information, such as how much it will cost in grams to print it.
If Youmagine seems a lot like Ultimaker's version of Thingiverse, Makerbot's repository of 3D files, that's no coincidence. It may be late to the party, but Youmagine provides an alternative to Thingiverse, where people can share their work without it falling under the banner of a big corporation if they prefer. Unfortunately the site isn't set up in such a way that users can monetize their files. Like Thingiverse, Youmagine is not designed just for Ultimaker users but for the wider 3D printing community. With Ultimaker's commitment to remaining open source, it could become the preferred home of the thriving maker community.
Ultimaker 2 retails for €1,895 (about US$2750), which is a few hundred dollars more than the Makerbot Replicator 2.
You can watch a short advert showcasing the new printer below.