10+ Common Questions About the ‘Zero’ Conveyor Belt 3D Printer

After (almost) four full weeks of offering pre-order Powerbelt kits, we have received a ton of questions and feedback. We thought the world could benefit from a post that answers a lot of the common questions we’ve received.

1. Why/how is it so cheap?

The short answer is simple: smart design. We designed the Powerbelt3D Zero specifically to be a low-cost option for makers and hobbyists to start 3D printing on a conveyor belt. We leveraged many standard 3D printer components and hardware.

While we’re using a lot of 3D printed components today, most of those have been designed to translate easily for sheet metal fabrication. Sheet metal fabrication is generally the most cost-effective way to make metal components.

2. What is the belt material?

We’re still figuring this out. Since we first started prototyping the Zero, we have tested:

  • 3 papers
  • 3 foils
  • 2 fabrics

And various coverings on top of those: blue tape, kapton, fake-Tak, etc. We want to find the best balance of cost and performance, and we will keep testing until we find it.

Other conveyor belt 3D printers have used stainless steel shim stock, with some covering over it. This has been proven to work well, but is very expensive. We tested it, and found only a very marginal print quality increase compared to using some of the papers and fabrics.

3. Do you need to reach a minimum order quantity?

Nope! We’re happy to put together 30 kits or 300 kits. We would rather make 300 (obviously), so that we can negotiate discounts when ordering components in bulk, and make a higher margin for our efforts. That being said, we can make a small amount of money selling the kits in any quantity, and use those funds to further develop our 3D printer.

Our mission is to empower Makers, Innovators, and Hobbyists. We think a low-cost conveyor belt 3D printer can do just that. For us, it is worth it to pursue our mission with a small margin than not pursue it at all.

4. How does slicing work?

We’ve been using Blackbelt Cura. It’s easy to use if you’re used to Ultimaker’s popular slicing software. What we have learned during our development process, is that positioning your model correctly is actually more difficult than the slicing itself. We wrote a blog about it here.

5. What angle is the extruder at?

The Zero prints at 35 degrees. However, conveyor belt 3D printers can work at a variety of different angles. We’ve tested 45, 25, and 35 and had the best print results at the latter. At 45 degrees, we experienced less reliable adhesion to the conveyor belt. At 35 degrees, the filament flow path is more perpendicular to the belt, and tends to adhere better.

6. Isn’t this patented?

We have done a lot of research, and we don’t think so. As far as we can tell, the original idea dates back to 2016 and was released as open source by Andreas Bastian. He initially imagined this style of 3D printer being used to print textiles. His original work can be found here.

Hackaday wrote an interesting article on this topic, that you can find here.

7. Why is the wiring so bad?

We believe that form follows function. We are actively taking apart, modifying, and improving our development printer. Therefore, we’ve opted not to make the wiring pretty just to have to take it apart.

We made the choice early on to use real photos of our development printer instead of pretty computer renderings. While this is rarely done with start-up companies like ours, we think it’s important to be as transparent as possible.

8. When will pre-order units ship?

We have a goal to start shipping pre-order units in February 2020, and be finished by July 31, 2020. These are our goals, and goals can have delays, but we’ve started laying the ground work with suppliers to meet those timelines.

9. What materials can it print?

The Powerbelt3D Zero supports any 1.75mm filament. You may need to tune printing profiles if you want to print something beyond common materials like PLA and PETG.

10. Do you need a special nozzle?

Nope! We’re using a modified e3d v6 clone. Our development printer uses a standard MK8 nozzle. These can be found cheaply online in many different sizes and materials.

11. Is the bed heated?

Yes! In fact, part of the build platform under the conveyor belt is heated, and the other is room temperature. This wicks away heat from the conveyor belt, so that when parts reach the roller, they are ready to easily release from the conveyor belt.

12. What control board does it use?

We chose an MKS base to build the Powerbelt3D Zero. This board generally has higher build quality than a RAMPS board, and allows the 3D printer to be easily modified, hacked, and upgraded.