There are two approaches you can take when designing a product that has to fit with various configurations of existing hardware:
It's pretty obvious that we took the modular approach, and here is some background on why we chose this.
A lot of 3D Printing hobbyists either have an expanding number of printers, often all different types, or they take apart old ones to build new ones.
Knowing this we wanted to make a product that could move between machines with as little friction as possible, the customer should not have to buy an entirely new device to move a Nimble from one machine to another.
While we were developing the Nimble, we had three main focal points:
Thinking about it now, if we didn't choose the first one correctly we likely wouldn't have been able to achieve the other two with the success that we have.
The modular approach can be seen in the use of the same parts like gears, but also in the idea that the Nimble can be used in two orientations.
The size can be seen, well, in the small size, but also in the weight, 27 grams including all the nuts and bolts needed.
The elegant design is a matter of taste, but we feel it fits the bill.
These three focal points made the Nimble as small and as versatile as it is. One of the allowances for this was the choice to use an adapter system to mount the Nimble.
The adapter system allowed us to achieve the optimal shape for the primary workings of the Nimble. The interface between the Nimble and the printer is formed by the adapter. In some cases it is as the tiny Groove mount adapter, in some cases, it is almost a complete replacement of the whole carriage, like the Prusa i3 adapter.
Because we did not need to worry about mounting, we could focus our design efforts on reducing the size and weight of the Nimble, to make it as adaptable and small as possible. One result is the fact that the Nimble can be used left handed or right handed which we term as being ambidextrous.
The drawback of this is, we need to develop an adapter or mount for every single type of printer out there. Sure there is overlap and some adapters can be used on different printers. Still, it is a lot of adapters or mounts to be designed and in some cases developed. This has put quite a workload on Lykle, also because we are committed to designing the adapters for free. Lykle says "I enjoy a good design challenge so it also was fun, in most cases."
All the adapters are uploaded to Thingiverse, including all the CAD files, so others can and do use them as a basis for their own designs. Also, to avoid the problem of needing a working 3D printer to fix your 3D printer, we make the adapters (if requested) available via Shapeways so the customer can order his adapter and complete his printer, even if it is not working.
We considered two alternatives to the adapter scenario. You can design a shape that allows the extruder to be mounted everywhere, on anything. Or you can make variants of the basic extruder to fit a specific printer.
Designing a shape that will fit everywhere is a hopeless task. Just imagine a single shape that will fit on a Mini Kossel and on a Hypercube. You would need a forest of bolt holes and mounting points. Quite often the needs are contrary to each other. It simply is not practical and because everybody can print their own adapters, it is not needed. That idea was quickly discarded.
Designing different variants to fit specific printers is a reasonable way of doing it, although it does restrict the extruder to the speed and flexibility of the designer. It takes longer to develop than a small adapter. It also restricts the re-use of the extruder on a different printer. You will need to get or print a complete new housing for your extruder. Sometimes there is no option, we just have to do it. For instance, when there simply is no space for an adapter or when the shape of the print head allows for a different solution. Our Ultimaker 2 adapter, for example, is not really an adapter. it is a replacement housing that fits inside the Ultimaker just above the hot end. Creating different variants of the product also results in a lot of possible confusion for customers deciding which model is right for their printer, not to mention too many SKU's and wastage for models that don't sell well.
Overall, we are convinced we made the right decision in choosing to use adapters. It allowed us to minimise the Nimble, respond quickly to a new adapter request (sometimes inside an hour) and it allows our customers to easily switch to a new printer, hot end or print head/effector.
It fulfills our three focal points, modular approach, size and elegant design.
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