The journey to PLUTO
First steps - October of 2015
Yes, it may look strange, but this prototype became PLUTO in a long-long development...
Actually, if you look closely you can see that the main design points of PLUTO are already present - all of the vertical mechanics are the part of the resin vat, attached to the stepper with a bevel gear assembly, and the image of the projector is projected onto the surface of the resin.
This prototype was the testbed for a lot of experiments regarding the leadscrew, linear guides and all around printing parameters as well.
The print quality and overall dimensions vs utilized print area was much-much worse than PLUTO’s, but it enabled us to develop the basics of it's operating principles.
As you can see we were nowhere near to an integrated electronics solution, the upper part of the machine is composed only of off-the-shelf boards whose only purpose was to drive the projection engine. Every other electronic board was scattered around our desk hanging from different power supplies and a dedicated laptop which couldn't be touched, or we risked the print to fail.
We have come a long way since this machine but it will always have it's special place in our hearts.
Trying something different - December of 2015
We went to a bit of a dead-end with this prototype, we almost threw away the whole linear drive concept and experimented with a whole different concept. The first results were really promising, but after trying to fine tune the parameters we ran into serious repeatability and reliability problems, we had to make the decision to abandon the idea.
Not everything was wasted though, as you can see it looks much more like a desktop device than the previous prototype. This was the first concept that contained the openable lid and the two opposed mirrors which made the proportions of the machine much more likeable.
We made a small step towards to a more integrated electronical solution, the projector driving boards were housed behind the rear panel. Everything else was still placed randomly on the desk together with the image producing and controlling computer.
It was really hard to abandon a concept we have put our faith in, but since we couldn't bring up reliability to the necessary level we had to let it go.
Taking it slow - April of 2016
After the failure of our previous concept, we decided to take smaller steps and test ideas on a smaller scale.
This machine doesn't feature an openable lid, instead we mounted the mirrors statically to the aluminum frame. It was a fully-functioning printer and made us able to do further refinement on the mechanical and electronical side of the machine.
Not only the mirrors were mounted to the frame, but we designed and manufactured the first versions of PLUTO's PCBs. They can be plugged directly into each other, so we could reduce the number of custom made cables (keeping in mind the manufacturing costs later). It was our first fully integrated system and for the first time - our desk was free to do actual work on it, not only sit around and watch the scattered boards.
The software and firmware development all started to take off in this stage.
It was a huge leap towards to the finished product, we were able to run prints autonomously!
Getting closer - August of 2016
For the next step we wanted to create a prototype which resembles a completed machine, but could still be manufactured in-house, since smaller changes were unavoidable at this stage.
The frame was a hybrid of machined aluminum sheets and acrylic blocks and was pieced together with a bunch of screws, different glues, and a lot of hard work. Naturally it wasn't a series production ready machine but took us closer to the finished machine.
You can see that PLUTO started to take shape and it was a comfortably usable machine. We ran a lot of prints through it, testing every component possible. We took further steps on the electronical design, developing the software and trying to make everything as ergonomical as possible.
Here comes the steel - January of 2017
At this point we were pretty sure how we wanted PLUTO to look like and operate, so we have committed to a run in sheetmetal manufacturing. For the design we kept in mind that we wanted to create an easy-to-assemble machine, so we produced it from 2mm thick stainless and powdercoated carbon steel bent sheets.
The electronics and mechanics fit like a glove into it and we spent much less time assembling and making it work.
It was the first test to see if we would be able to get a good-looking and well-functioning machine made entirely out of laser cut and CNC bent sheetmetal, and we can say that we succeeded!
PLUTO - May of 2017
Yes we made it, the ,,finished'' prototype! Stainless steel housing, steel frame, integrated electronics, reliable and ergonomically usable mechanical system!
Actually we didn't manufacture only one, but 10 fully functioning printers to be able to test our parts procurement and assembly processes. There were a lot of lessons learned, but we can proudly say that we didn't need to change any major part of the machine during the preproduction phase.
After months of in-house testing we sent most of the units to beta testers to get feedback. Using their experiences we could continue to make our software more user friendly and easier to use.