Tag Archives: Karl Brown

Infinite-Z CR-30 aka 3DPrintMill: Creality Acknowledges Prior Development & Commits to Open Source (2020/12)

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.

CR-30 aka 3DPrintMIll by Naomi Wu with Creality (2020)

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.

Bigger Context

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.


That’s it.

PS: If you are interested in early development 3D printers, see RepRap movement or general 3D Printer History.

3D Printer History (1980-2020)

Back in 1980’s the concepts of 3D printing were invented and implemented with

  • Stereolithography (SLA) by Hideo Kodama (1980),
  • Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) by Scott Crump (1988), who later founded Stratasys, and
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) by Carl Deckard (1988).

Most approaches secured with patents by companies like Stratasys, like the famous US #5,121,329: Apparatus and Method for Creating Three-Dimensional Objects (applied 1989, granted 1992) and others were thereby inaccessible for innovation outside of the patent holders and due the high pricing also inaccessible for users – a period of stagnation happened.

Once the patents expired (~2009), and that’s truly a lesson against patents, a surge of innovation occured and the prices for 3D printers fell from 100K+ USD range below 3K USD for the same functionality and print quality.

Adrian Bowyer, a british academic, coined the term of RepRap (2005), the replicating rapid prototyping and designing 3D printers which can print parts for itself: self-replication. Hobbyists started to adapt the design and push it further, since all plans were Open Source aka Open Source Hardware, it was easy to improve and iterate the designs. Eventually the Prusa Mendel as developed by Josef Prusa and reduced overall complexity and his next iteration was most significant: Prusa i3 (2012). This third iteration became quasi standard for low cost 3D printers for the next years and his Prusa Research company surged. See also RepRap Principle and RepRap.org Blog Archive.

  • RepRap Darwin: XY head and Z bed, threaded rods based
  • RepRap Mendel & Huxley: XZ head and Y bed, threaded rods based
  • Prusa Mendel: XZ head and Y bed, threaded rods based
  • Prusa i3: XZ head and Y bed, laser cut XZ frame

Josef Prusa summarizing his history 2010-2019, representing part of the spirit of the RepRap movement:

2009-2013: MakerBot & Thingiverse

US-based MakerBot was at the beginning (2009) a major driving force to the Open Source 3D printing community as partially funded also by Adrian Bowyer and his wife. MakerBot also runs Thingiverse, the major repository of free 3D models and designs for 3D printing. As MakerBot struggled with sales, after receiving Venture Capital and later bought by Stratasys (2013) it left the Open Source principle at the same time Thingiverse struggled since to stay functional (2019). In 2020 Thingiverse was given some attention, it seems now taken care of better.

  • CupCake CNC: Z head, XY bed, laser cut wood frame
  • Thing-o-Matic: Z head, XY bed, laser cut wood frame
  • Replicator 2: XY head, Z bed, metal frame

2011-2016: Kickstarter Hype

With the expiration of patents held by Stratasys and other companies (2009-), the surge for Kickstarter-based 3D printers began, sub 1000 USD printers became widely available, but also many failures and plain scams happened. Printrbot started as Kickstarter and thrived for a few years as US-based 3D printer company, also Snapmaker and FORM 1 by Formlabs made a successful debut, while sub 100 USD 3D printer like MakiBox, metal Eventorbot or slick Buccaneer failed at different stages.

2018: Year of Chinese 3D Printers

In 2016-2018 chinese manufacturers (Geeetech, Creality, Anycubic, FLSUN, TEVO, CTC etc.) started to develop Prusa i3-like machines and the companies started to copy each others parts and improvements at a rapid pace. As a result, many small US companies, like Printrbot, which contributed significantly to the Open Source movement, closed doors for good (2018).

A big game changer was Ender 3 as manufactured by Creality, priced at USD 150-200 incl. shipment, providing excellent printing quality, at a price which was hard to compete by anyone else. Notable was, Creality open sourced Ender 3 entirely, as the Open Source community built up pressure to chinese manufacturers which spit out each month a new Prusa i3 derivative (e.g. different build volumes, slight improvements of extruders etc) back in 2018/2019.

As a side note, the chinese manufactured 3D printer broke the RepRap principle and used other means to produce their parts, while Prusa Research has a 3D printer farm to manufacture their parts.

Prusa Research 3D printer farm (2018)

Western Innovation & Chinese Manufacturing

Mosquito hotend by Slice Engineering (2018) Closed Source, Patent Pending

It became obvious the past years (2010-2019), that true innovation still remained in the west, Czech-based Prusa Research, Denmark-based RepRap.me with Diamond Hotend (3-in-1 and 5-in-1), or UK-based E3D or US-based Slice Engineering with their hotends and extruder technology, and the chinese manufacturer which cloned or copied the Closed- and Open-Source designs within weeks and sold at fraction of the price as by the original inventors. Often chinese manufactures tried to simplify hotend designs and compromised significant features – to copy a design didn’t mean the design was understood.

E3D Hotend Timeline: E3D V4, V5, Kraken, Chimera, Cyclops, V6, Lite6, Titan Aero, Titan Aqua, Hemera (2013-2020)

As pointed out, Creality, one of the big chinese 3D printer manufacturer, started to adapt and join the Open Source Hardware movement, with the release of the Ender 3 source files and get properly certified – time will tell – as of end of 2019 – if they stay true to their commitment, and whether other chinese 3D printer manufacturer follow and become also actual innovators.

In late 2020 Creality announced a belt-based printer named CR-30 aka 3DPrintMill as a result of collaboration with Naomi Wu and acknowledging all the previous research of developers like Bill Steele and Karl Brown (White Knight Belt) the printer is based on – and renewed their commitment to Open Source the CR-30 – a nice development.

See also at RepRap Principle, RepRap.org Blog Archive and RepRap Magazine Archive to read about early RepRap movement (2000-2010).

That’s it.