New 3D printers pop up on crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter with alarming regularity at the moment. Some go the distance and deliver; others are vapourware that will never see the light of day. It may appear that this funding model is the only way to launch a new printer these days, but UK-based Kora have other ideas. And the new thinking doesn’t stop there…
Kora's Alpha 3D printer
If your interest has ever been piqued by a 3D printer launch, to the point that you actually start to do research with a view to making a purchase, you will likely have encountered the somewhat nebulous nature of many of the ‘companies’ behind them. All to often a slick website and some nifty renders are complemented by an info@ email address and little else. Want to call? No chance. Want to pop in to a physical address? There may not even be one.
So it was pleasantly reassuring to be invited to a physical, UK address to see a pre-launch desktop 3D printer in the flesh. No renders, no crowdfunding, no vague shipping dates. Just a real, working printer in a real, established company. The company is Kora, part of a larger group of firms that are already renowned OE supplier to some of the largest luxury carmakers. The expertise in complex electronics, tight regulation and ultimate quality bodes well for the latest venture.
Having been exposed to 3D printing through the other aspects of the business, MD Steve Burrows and Product Development Director John Hicken decided to establish Kora in 2013 to deploy the group’s considerable expertise in fixing some of the perceived problems with existing 3D printers. The result is the Alpha, the first — but, Steve assured, not the last — 3D printer to be developed at the Leeds HQ.
Standing at 470 mm high with a 400 mm by 420 mm footprint the Alpha packs an impressive 230 mm x 230 mm x 250 mm build volume for a moderate use of desktop real estate. On first sight there is little to distinguish the system from one of the dozens of other similar sized, similar shaped 3D printer — but the devil as always is the details.
For starters, the filament feed motor is located on the side of the machine, rather than on the top of the extruder a detail that at first seems a little incongruous. While it de-clutters the action-end of the printer, the reason isn’t entirely clear until one learns about the extruder swap-out system Kora has developed. Dubbed VariBLOCK, it allows users to quickly and easily swap out the hot end, greatly increasing the scope for materials — not to mention making servicing, upgrading and repairs much easier for less technical users.
A lot of work has gone into ensuring that the printer is low-maintenance and, to bastardise the old Formula 1 adage, if it looks simple it probably is. Gone are the bulky wiring looms to be replaced with PCB’s with integrated LED lighting running neatly up the back of the printer away from danger. The same can be said for the heated bed that has been developed to heat up quickly and evenly across the whole of the available build area while retaining an uncluttered look. In operation the quality of the components and assembly is evident through the quiet wobble free printing — this is a system that could sit at the end of your desk and be used without driving you and your colleagues to distraction.
Back your products
The quality is also backed up by an unprecedented 12-month warranty whereby the company will send you a replacement printer first and rectify any issues later. No back-to-base replacements here (especially annoying when you realise that ‘base’ is somehow an address in the Philippines and you’re based in Boston.) Steve Burrows explained:
“If you’re confident in the quality of your components and engineering there’s no reason not to offer a comprehensive warranty. Although complex, the technologies that underpin extrusion-based 3D printing and well-proven and shouldn’t pose any problems. Our experience as OE supplier into some of the most demanding companies means we’re willing to put our reputation behind the quality of the Alpha.”
Beyond the base specification there are a number of exciting options up for grabs including Wi-Fi connectivity, on-board webcam, dual extruder upgrade and — with the education sector in mind — a fully enclosed version with an automatic locking mechanism that seals the unit above 40°C.
- Nozzle temperature range 160 – 300°C
- Layer resolution: 20 microns (0.02mm) to 400 microns (0.4mm)
- Position precision: X: 12.5 microns (0.125mm), Y: 12.5 microns (0.125mm), Z: 5 microns (0.005mm)
- Print speed: 30mm per second – 300mm per second
- Travel speed: 30mm per second – 350mm per second
- Filament diameter: 1.75mm Nozzle diameter: Standard 0.4mm (available 0.25, 0.3, 0.35, 0.6mm, 0.8mm)