All3DP visits Prague to talk with Josef Prusa about the expansion of Prusa Research, the success of the Prusa i3 MK2 3D printer, and more.
If you’ve ever paid a visit to the city of Prague, you’ve likely seen the towering Prague Castle, historic architecture that has withstood the throes of time, as well as a rich culture that makes it one of the world’s premier tourist destinations. But just outside of the city center, within a withered seven-story factory, there’s a technological revolution brewing.
This building is the new home of Prusa Research, the place where the famed Original Prusa i3 MK2 3D printer is being manufactured, tested, packaged, and shipped. With a skyrocketing demand for this open source desktop 3D printer, founder Josef Prusa and his team moved into this large factory space earlier this summer to help handle increasing production demands.
During our visit to the new Prusa Research facility, we were granted an inside look at the production process for the Prusa i3 MK2. Inside of the factory is a vast number of employees who were assembling, checking, and testing each component before packaging them for eager consumers. There’s also a massive print farm with well over 200 printers pumping out parts for new Prusa i3 MK2 kits, taking up half of an entire floor. Additionally, the facility includes a dedicated customer service area, a printer testing room, and a massive warehouse.
After taking a full-fledged tour of Prusa Research’s new home, All3DP talked to the 3D printing kingpin Josef Prusa about the growing success of his company, their new facility, the future of FDM 3D printing, and more.
Check out our video interview, and read the entire transcript in text below!
Josef Prusa: So, I originally got into 3D printing because I was into music, and I started to build my own MIDI controllers. I needed all sorts of little knobs and faders. So that’s how I found 3D printing. I started to build one myself, but it took so much time and so many parts that I eventually started to make it simpler. I started to improve it and give back, and so that’s how the Prusa Simplified Mendel came to the world.
After that, people just started to call it Prusa because it was shorter, and so we stuck with that. So that was Prusa. But then there was I2, which had the aluminum bearings. And a couple years after that there was i3, which is the design you know. Actually, the i3 has been evolving for quite some time.
So basically with the MK2 and MK2S, we did that because we have a giant farm of printers here. So, we get to know much sooner than actual users which parts can break, or which are the weak spots of the printer. Because, you know, after one month of use here, you get so much time on the printer and in such harsh conditions that we can get the failures that normal users probably will never get.
You know, after a year of producing the MK2, we thought that it would be nice to give those longevity upgrades to the printers, because they don’t cost us much in the production, and it just makes the product better. With the multi material, I played with the idea of using the Y splitter a couple years ago. And we just revived that because everybody wanted us to make dual head i3, and I’m not a big fan of using two nozzles because it is very hard to calibrate.
We also have a large collection of printers from other manufacturers, and we know how hard it is to calibrate to get good results. So we decided to take this approach and actually succeed it. Even though it was a long way to get to the functioning product, we succeeded. And we now share almost 1,000 printer into the world every month, and people are quite happy it seems.
As we made the MK2 very simple, it picked up a crowd that is not primarily open source. Before that it used to be that the open source crowd, the Linux guys, and guys from hackerspace, people which were always in to open source culture. Right now we get bought more by, the majority of our customers is the normal Joe. So they don’t care much, but it’s still very important for us. And from time to time, the old crowd is still there, and they provide us with some improvements, they fiddle with the code, and they help us to make it better.
It’s more simple for them because they have the original sources available, from the printed parts, for the thin wire, for the electronics, so everybody can easily modify. So we are not planning to go away from open source. Well, I have an open hardware tattooed on my forearm anyway.
Well, I’ve actually seen a guy who made a PSX router, which was just super smart, because he didn’t change the hat. He just made a mount, which mounts on the original motor. So the printer gets to keep all the auto bed leveling features. And it can print immediately with normal materials, but with this snap on PSX router, he was printing some ceramics, so that was pretty cool. But a lot of people use different frames and such, so certain mods are very common and very popular.
It is quite hard to talk about this because you haven’t been in our old office. But, the old office was basically like one of the floors we have now in this building. Everything was cramped. And we were living in the depths of space, because people, you know, they can work in a smaller space for quite some time. But after some time, it starts to get very ineffective because people are tired of being too close to each other.
So actually, just by moving here, we use up like 1.5 times more space than we used in the old office, but we can organize it nicely here. We have a warehouse now. Before we had to have an external warehouse. And the best thing is that we have a very good spot in Prague. It is not far from city center, but all the trucks can come here and load stuff into our warehouse or get stuff back. But we have almost three floors prepared for manufacturing, so we can definitely ramp up the production.
Our facilities right now are not what is keeping us from ramping it up, it’s our suppliers, which unfortunately cannot scale as fast as we can with the quality we need, and that’s all of the suppliers.
So, right now half of the floor is just the 3D printing farm. You have over 250 printers, the number is different every day, but I think the maximum is 258. We are planning on expanding it. If you take a look on the Prusa printer; you’ll see that all the orange parts are printed. The idea behind the printed parts is that we are using them where they are not limited by complexity. So actually by making the 3D printing parts very complex, you can use simple nuts and bolts, and threaded rods and stuff.
Yeah, right now printing the parts for one printer takes roughly 24 hours. We are printing from ABS. And some parts are printed from PETG, the black ones that cover for the electronics. Sometimes the machine parts needs to be more flexible, and that’s usually when we use PETG. I feel that right now, in the 3D printing industry, not many companies actually use their printers to print, so this gives us a huge amount of feedback of our products.
When I was talking about going from the MK2 to MK2S upgrade, this is exactly where we got the things we need to improve in our farm, because if we screw up the design somehow, we cannot produce, it’s just a big, big problem. So, that’s what we used to tweak the problem, tweak the printer, and remove the possible problems, which is very beneficial for them and the customers, too.
Well, it prints nice (laughs). We have full control over the whole thing. We develop thermal. We develop the electronics. We develop the hardware. We also develop the slicer. So we can tweak everything together nicely. And also we do not spend much time in trying to make it look nice. We are just very functional. That means that at lower cost, we can get the same or better print quality as the more expensive printers. And we always try to take good care of our customers.
We are very responsive and nice to the customers. You know, for other companies which have distributors, it’s very hard to control the quality of the support, if it’s done by distributors. So if you have a bad distributor in one country, it can hurt your sales or the brand name. In fact, with the Chinese clones, you don’t have anything. You just have some random Facebook or Google groups. We are at this sweet spot. We are not too expensive. We are not too cheap for companies. We try to take good care of the customers, and we print nice, so that is the key to the success.
We are preparing some other things. We plan to do more business with filaments, because right now, we ship them only here in Europe, but we also want to expand the sales of the filaments to the States, so that’s another thing. Yeah, we can see ourselves making two product lines, the i3 line and something more like a professional line. Because we know we have the technology, but we can use it to making some bigger printer, which could be more appealing to industrial customers.
I’m quite confident that the FDM has still a way to go, and will for the next few years, maybe another decade, because it is just so much user friendlier and safer than any other technology. But what it lacks, and we plan to work on is, you know, the user friendliness of the technology. You probably saw it in the Prusa Control release, we are trying to. You know, for the users who are new and don’t want to dive right in, we try to get them the knowledge you need to have as a 3D printer operator.
Also making the machine smarter and adding more sensors, so the machine can detect if something is not right, or if you forget to prepare the heated bed, all these sort of things which can ruin a print. So, I think the key to making 3D printing successful is making it as user friendly and as reliable as possible, which very few companies can do.
Well, it is quite simple. The goal is very simple, but the road to it is very hard. The ultimate goal would be if you just pick an object and you run through the tool chain for your printer, and it can be done by a grandmother, and all the intelligence would be baked in, and she would still get the perfect print. I mean, it would help her decide which material to use and everything.
This is too big, you cannot print it from ABS because it will curl up, try PLA. And all this sort of stuff to bake into the printer. That is the ultimate goal. Because I don’t think we can go much further in the print or surface finish with the stuff we made, like variable layer height, also this can be fully automatic. This is the long term goal for us.
Yeah, it is quite crazy. The last year and five months was very crazy, ever since the MK2 release. We grew from like 30 employees to 130. Almost every day I meet somebody new that I never met before in the hallways here in the new factory. And also we shipped almost, somewhere around 30,000 MK2 and MK2S, which is incredible.
And we are still increasing the production, so that is also extremely, extremely good. Yes, we are doing very well financially. Yes, open source can work. And you can do an honest business and be successful.
Well, to be honest, I never expected to be this big. But I didn’t have much time to think it, because the road to the point where we are now was just so fast. If you had asked me two or three years ago that we would have a factory like this, I would never ever have guessed that. So yes, I am surprised how well it is going.
Well, even after you buy the Prusa, you get upgrades all the time. We regularly add new features. We add new features to the slicer. When a new product comes out, we usually have the upgrade kits, so you do not have to buy a new printer. So you can evolve with the technology. Compared to the clones, you get support and warranty. We are CE certified, which is not standard for some other manufacturers. And we also have the best print quality, proven by many tests, including the 3D Hubs Trends Report.
Thank you for the support, guys.
License: The text of "All3DP Visits Josef Prusa at the New Prusa Research Facility" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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