As of December 2020, something remarkable has happened: Creality, a big chinese 3D Printer company has openly acknowledged and worked with western developers to bring forth a belt-based 3D printer.
Usually chinese companies have copied without acknowledge or give credit to development done by others like Adrian Bowyer or Josef Prusa, yet with the influence of Naomi Wu, a maker from Shenzen, Creality seemed to have been swayed to give proper attribution and even actively work with Open Source Hardware inventors to mass produce a belt-based 3D Printer.
The past decades “Western Innovation vs Chinese Manufacturing” combo has been operating very well and brought many consumer products at low cost, including 3D printers.
Now, in this particular case, we see Bill Steele and Karl Brown (White Knight Printer) properly attributed in the 3DPrintMill Kickstarter page:
And even giving proper context of the overall lineage:
All consumer 3D printers currently sold, build in some way on the work of Adrian Bowyer and his RepRap project- Open Source 3D printing. Some 3D printers iterate more than others, some are simply clones and claim innovations as their own that was in fact the community’s work. Others take only the broad strokes of an idea and build on it, improve it, and allow others to build on it further. For the 3DPrintMill (Creality CR-30) we have taken pains to involve and consult the talented individuals who brought the technology this far, and built on their work with their permission.
Bill Steele, who first demonstrated Infinite-Z FDM and DLP printers, and Karl Brown who created the first practical, Open Source kit so consumers could build their own Infinite-Z printer. Both Karl and Bill have given the project their blessing- and indeed, without them, it would never have been possible.
As said, this is remarkable and probably a new level of cooperation of Open Source Hardware movement and chinese manufacturers.
Back in 2010 I thought that the Open Source Hardware movement should actively seek cooperative alliance with chinese manufacturers instead just to complain – but this did not happen. Now in late 2020 it seems happening, thanks to Naomi Wu (Project Head for the CR-30/3DPrintMill), who made an effort to bridge the western innovation culture and chinese manufacturing culture – without a bridge, a canyon keeps villages apart.
Thanks also to Creality, namely Michael Tang (Co-founder of Creality), Steven Han (Brand Director), Zhou Yong (Product Manager), Lei Congjin (R & D Manager), Yu Xianhong (Project Manager) for the acknowledgment as expressed in the Kickstarter page.
Open Source Hardware Commitment
Additionally, and perhaps even more relevant is their on-going commitment to Open Source Hardware as expressed in this passage:
Bringing the 3DPrintMill (Creality CR-30) to life would need the resources of a full engineering team and a company with substantial 3D printer manufacturing experience. So a deal was struck, Creality would invest the R&D resources necessary to make the 3DPrintMill(Creality CR-30) real, and as soon as that expense was recouped, the entire product would be fully Open Sourced for the benefit of the community. When the 3DPrintMill (Creality CR-30) reaches 5 million USD in crowdfunding, the whole machine- CAD files, BOM, firmware, schematics, will be fully Open Sourced. Anyone in any country can make their own version, iterate and improve on it- leading to vastly accelerated development.
This is probably what many Open Source Hardware (OSHW) enthusiasts have been waiting for, one of the big player like Creality join the common OSHW efforts once more, after having released all plans of the Ender 3 in 2018 and giving an example for other companies.
And I look at Apple, Microsoft, IBM, ARM, Intel, AMD and I wonder, with the Open Source ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) of RISC-V on the horizon, whether we are going to see the full stack of Open Source Hardware from the CPU design up to the PCB and final assembled computer (GPU, RAM, I/O); and if any of the big players take a moment, and look at what Creality did here?
Naomi Wu ranted away on Twitter with the following, which hits the nail about Open Source and Open Source Hardware is really about:
Software? Fusion360, Adobe Creative Cloud, John Deere tractors- a tradesperson can’t even own their own tools anymore. We’re all sharecroppers. Everything is rented.
Every single thing we own is being taken, put in the cloud, and rented back to us. Willingly. Because no one wants to know how to do anything beyond a narrow scope. We’re a world of carpenters willing to rent sharp chisels and saws rather than learn to sharpen them ourselves.
Although the rant started as people seemingly complained on the non-existing or poor customer support of Creality, her main argument is, rather have Open Source Hardware and a community helping each other, than a Closed Source without any control but good customer support – the rant actually targets the Software- & Hardware Sovereignty, which is behind all of the Open Source movement, that is the core issue: you are allowed, you are given the opportunity to improve what you bought, what you own, you can resolve the needs and requirements of your own use cases – personal evolution – and you contribute and help others by being able to share it again – collective evolution. And the mentioned companies, like Apple, or Microsoft, who have been locking up their hardware and software further and further, to improve usability and simplicity – and believe me, I have been an open critic of poor GUIs in Linux not able to catch up – but the price is high, loss of “digital sovereignty” as of software and hardware.
So, because companies are profit driven, they have to balance their own needs and requirements with the collective interest – and this is done in these statements:
Creality would invest the R&D resources necessary to make the 3DPrintMill(Creality CR-30) real, and as soon as that expense was recouped, the entire product would be fully Open Sourced for the benefit of the community.
When the 3DPrintMill (Creality CR-30) reaches 5 million USD in crowdfunding, the whole machine- CAD files, BOM, firmware, schematics, will be fully Open Sourced.
This is why I consider this an important and significant move, because a profit-driven company has actively and willingly balancing its own needs and requirements with those of the collective of the Open Source Hardware movement, and acknowledged that very product they are about to produce has been possible because of individuals like Adrian Bowyer, Bill Steele and Karl Brown.
PS: If you are interested in early development 3D printers, see RepRap movement or general 3D Printer History.