Rapid Prototyping and Low Volume Production for Start-Ups on a Budget

The Dobot Mooz. (Image courtesy of Dobot.)

The Dobot Mooz. (Image courtesy of Dobot.)

The hardest part of writing a review for a 3D printer is forcing yourself to stop fiddling with it for long enough to sit down and actually write the review. Even now, I catch myself pausing to check on the latest print as the Dobot Mooz hums along beside me. I already had some experience with 3D printing at home—after finding out about the Monoprice Select Mini, I couldn’t help myself—but the Mooz is more than just a 3D printer.

The Mooz becomes capable of CNC carving or laser engraving simply by swapping out the functional modules that attach to the X-axis linear actuator. It’s an impressive amount of versatility to pack into a sub-$1,000 USD machine, but how well does the Mooz perform these three different functions?

Let’s find out.

Dobot Mooz Specs

Here are the specifications for each of the Mooz’s three modules:

3D Printing

Nozzle Diameter

0.4 mm

Layer Resolution

0.05 – 0.3 mm

Extruder Temperature

190 – 260 C

Heated Bed Temperature

50 – 100 C

Build Volume

130 x 130 x 130 mm

Materials

PLA, ABS, PC, FLEX

Print Speed

10 – 80 mm/s

In terms of its 3D printing capabilities, the Mooz’s specs are fairly standard.

A layer resolution of 0.05 mm is impressive at this price point—twice as good as the Monoprice Select Mini (0.1 mm). You’ll get better resolutions from an Ultimaker 3 (0.015 mm) or MakerBot Replicator 2X (0.01 mm), but they’re also more than triple the price of the Mooz.

(Dobot Mooz 3D Printing.)

The Mooz has a smaller build volume smaller than the Ultimaker 3 or Replicator 2X, but the flexibility you get from designing for 3D printing can offset that significantly by allowing users to design large models and then slice them into printable sections for assembly.

The range of printable materials available for the Mooz also covers the standard types, though we only had time to test the machine with PLA. The range given for print speed is pretty wide, but discussion of our test prints should help clarify that aspect of the Mooz in the next section.

CNC Carving

Max Spindle Speed

12,000 rpm

Chuck Clamping Range

0 – 4 mm

Standard Bit Size

3.175mm * 0.3mm * 30° flat bottom sharp cutter

Work Area

130mm x 130mm (z-axis depends on cutting tool)

Materials

Non-Metallic Materials, e.g., wood, plastics, PCB

It’s difficult to find a comparable desktop CNC router to the Mooz, which suggests that Dobot may have found an overlooked niche in prototyping and low volume manufacturing. As a rough comparison, the Sienci Mill One has a slightly larger working area (235mm x 185mm x 100mm) and a potentially higher max spindle speed of 30,000 rpm, depending on the router. The MillRight CNC M3 kit has a working area of 260mm x 260mm x 50mm and a max spindle speed 27,000 rpm using the included DeWalt DWP611 router.

Both options are about $100 cheaper than the Mooz, but they’re also dedicated routers—and there’s certainly no way to add 3D printing or laser engraving capabilities to those machines for less than the difference in price.

Laser Engraving

Power

0.5W

Max Speed

1200mm/min

Work Area

130mm x 130mm

Materials

Wood, Paper, Leather, Some Plastics

As with CNC routing, the laser engraving specifications for the Mooz don’t quite match up to those of dedicated laser engraving machines. The FABOOL Laser Mini, marketed as the “world’s lowest priced desktop laser cutter”, starts at $598 and uses a 1.6W laser. Consequently, the FABOOL machine is able to cut a wider variety of materials than the Mooz, but it’s also not capable of 3D printing or CNC routing—and since it only operates in the XY plane, adding those capabilities isn’t really an option.

All of this implies that the Dobot Mooz is what you might call a Jack of all trades, Master of one.

(Dobot Mooz Laser Engraving.)

While it’s possible to find dedicated machines for CNC routing or laser engraving with better specs at comparable price points, that doesn’t appear to be the case for 3D printing. In any case, what you won’t find at this price point is a machine that’s capable of the trifecta of 3D printing, CNC routing and laser engraving—or even one that offers two out of three.

Flexibility is the primary advantage the Dobot Mooz has over its competition. And if you’re a start-up or a small job shop that’s looking to add 3D printing capabilities, whether for prototyping or low volume production, then flexibility and low cost are likely rank high on your list of priorities. The fact that the Mooz can also be used for CNC routing and laser engraving is icing on the cake.

The Dobot Mooz Hands-On

The Mooz isn’t a plug-and-play machine, but assembly is relatively straightforward.

Mooz Unboxing.

Mooz Unboxing.

Switching between the modules using four hex nuts is easy, though you shouldn’t expect to do quick changes between functions for consecutive operations. That being said, if you wanted to set up a small manufacturing cell using a farm of Mooz machines, you could conceivably have a set for 3D printing, a set for routing and a set for laser engraving, with plenty of back-up modules to go around. Add a cobot for switching parts between operations and you’ve got a low-volume production line going.

Desktop 3D Printing

Our Dobot Mooz completes its first print: #3DBenchy.

Our Dobot Mooz completes its first print: #3DBenchy.

I started with the Mooz configured for the function most familiar to me: 3D printing. Setting the zero point using the A4 method was simple and easy, though the step distance behaved a bit oddly at times—jogging the motor by 1 mm somehow resulted in a 0.06 mm difference, which was finer than the finest setting of 0.1 mm.

Software setup is a breeze for anyone familiar with Cura or other free slicing software. The recommended settings yielded a decent first print (#3DBenchy) though you may not want to have supports enabled by default. Although you can connect the Mooz directly to a PC via USB, our workspace layout necessitated using a microSD card to transfer the Gcode files.

Once it was clear that the machine was working properly, I sent out a general email to the rest of the office asking for 3D printing suggestions. The requests came pouring in, and for the next week the Mooz was running almost continuously throughout the day. The majority of the 3D prints came out well, save for a few cases in which the errors were, admittedly, my own. You can see the results below:

Engineering.com Geodesic V1 (top), V3 (bottom left) and V4 (bottom right).

Engineering.com Geodesic V1 (top), V3 (bottom left) and V4 (bottom right).

Anyone who’s had experience with 3D printing knows how much troubleshooting is involved. There are those days when it seems like you’ve spent more time fixing problems and printing test layers than actually making anything. Fortunately, that was never an issue for the Mooz, which proved to be a robust and reliable 3D printer.

Desktop CNC Routing

I used to think 3D printing would replace all other manufacturing processes, but now that I’m older and wiser, I recognize that there are plenty of cases where you’d be crazy to use 3D printing over a more conventional process, such as CNC machining. That’s why I was excited to try out the CNC routing capabilities on the Mooz. To do that, I needed to download Dobot’s slicer software: MoozStudio.

Since you also need MoozStudio for laser engraving, it’s worth pausing to give the software some consideration. The slicer is designed to take a 2D image and generate a complete Gcode program based on the parameters you input. For the router, these include:

  • Speed
  • Min/Max Carving Depth
  • Contrast (on the image)
  • Tool Diameter
  • Step Depth
  • Safety Height

For me, the routing function was the most intimidating because it’s the process with the greatest potential for catastrophe if something goes wrong. If you screw up setting the zero point for 3D printing or laser engraving, the worst that happens is that your workpiece gets damaged or, more likely, the operation simply doesn’t work at all.

If you mess up with a CNC router, however, you could end up with a broken machine.

The engineering.com geodesic carved into pine.

The engineering.com geodesic carved into pine.

Consequently, using the router was a matter of some very cautious trial and error. It took some time to get a feel for MoozStudio, and I’m still not completely comfortable using the software—due in large part to my inability to read Gcode beyond the superficial coordinate level.

However, there are still some peculiarities to MoozStudio regardless of your skillset. For example, the program displays imported images on a 130 x 130 grid, representing the millimeter dimensions of the Mooz on a 1-1 scale. Where this gets complicated is in translating images from pixels to millimeters.

Importing a 100 x 100 pixel image results in a 19 x 19 mm translation. Importing the same image scaled up to 200 pixels results in a 37 x 37 mm translation, and importing a 2,000 x 2,000 pixel image results in a 71 x 71 mm translation. Fortunately, this sort of software quirk is much easier to fix than a hardware issue, of which the Mooz router module had none.

Desktop Laser Engraving

Working with a laser has an intimidation factor all its own, though the concern is less about damage to the machine than to one’s eyes. Of course, safety glasses are included with the Mooz. The setup for the laser is almost the same as for the router, setting the zero point at the bottom left corner of the workpiece. Doing so is a matter of making incremental stepper motor adjustments while the laser is turned on at the lowest setting.

(Tip: Make sure you use the + button to turn on the laser, rather than just hitting the ON button. Otherwise, the laser will come on at full power and could bore a hole into your workpiece.)

To determine the module’s correct height, you’ll need to watch how the laser spot changes as you move the Z-axis and aim for the focal point. It took a little trial-and-error—which included the inspiration for the tip above—but I was able to get it sorted in short order.

As with the router, the laser engraver gets its Gcode from Dobot’s MoozStudio. Like routing, there are a few settings you can tweak—including Speed, Laser Power, Contrast and Beam Diameter—but speed seemed to make the biggest difference in terms of engraving quality. You can see a sample part that demonstrates this below:

Test workpiece for the Dobot Mooz laser engraver. The pattern on the bottom right was made with default settings and is practically invisible. The top left was engraved at the same speed but with a higher minimum laser power. The top right and bottom left were engraved at 1/8 max speed.

Test workpiece for the Dobot Mooz laser engraver. The pattern on the bottom right was made with default settings and is practically invisible. The top left was engraved at the same speed but with a higher minimum laser power. The top right and bottom left were engraved at 1/8 max speed.

3D Printing for Start-Ups & SMEs

After spending a couple of weeks with the Mooz, I can think of no better endorsement than the fact that I’m already trying to figure out how to convince my wife that we need a second 3D printer. My plan is to emphasize the Mooz’s capabilities for CNC carving and laser engraving.

But the real question is whether this machine makes sense for start-ups and SMEs.

The two biggest things the Mooz has going for it are its low price and its flexibility, both of which are high priorities for small businesses. Where the Mooz is most lacking is in supporting software—though it’s worth noting that Dobot has already released several updates for both the Mooz’s firmware and MoozStudio, and will no doubt continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

(Top) From left to right: articulated slug, filament guide, microphone shock mount. (Bottom) From left to right: I Roll 20’s D20, V29 whistle, SD card holder.

(Top) From left to right: articulated slug, filament guide, microphone shock mount. (Bottom) From left to right: I Roll 20’s D20, V29 whistle, SD card holder.

Moreover, even with my lack of Gcode skills, it’s obvious that a skilled Gcode programmer could do even more with the Mooz. MoozStudio outputs the simplest path, but certainly not the most efficient one—and if you’re a start-up or SME that’s considering 3D printing, odds are you already have at least one person who knows their Gcode on staff.

Overall, if you’re looking for an entry point into additive manufacturing and you also happen to have some light carving and laser engraving work to be done, the Dobot Mooz is a great option.

To learn more, visit Dobot.

Dobot has sponsored this article.  All opinions are mine.  –Ian Wright

How serial entrepreneur Narendra Shyamsukha is empowering edtech startups in India

Founded in 1999 ICA Edu Skills provides professional training in the areas of accounting and taxation. So far, the firm has invested in 15+ startups in the edtech sector.

Narendra Kumar Shyamsukha is the founder and chairman of The Institute of Computer Accountants, known as ICA. A chartered accountant by qualification, Shyamsukha has years of experience in franchisee building and, today, ICA Edu Skills has a robust presence with 250+ centres across India.

He has also been instrumental in launching Terapanth Professional Forum (TPF), an organisation of more than 6,000 Jain professionals working towards betterment of the society and for higher education of financially-challenged students. He is also founder member of JITO- Jain International Trade Organisation for funding startups with Jain founders.

The firm claims that 2,00,000 candidates are trained and placed every year through ICA’s national network of Placement offices.

Narendra Kumar Shyamsukha

ICA Edu Skills is an 18-year-old education and skill development company focusing on accounts, taxation and tally training. The firm has also partnered with National Skill Development Corporation, Ministry of Sustainable Development, and is working jointly with Central and State governments to train and place candidates in various other fields such as apparels, construction, beauty and wellness, retail, BFSI, hospitality, healthcare, logistic, manufacturing and power, among others.

Nurturing startups

“So far, I have invested in 15+ startups, mostly in Education Technology and ICT-based solution in the field of education, training and employability,” reveals Narendra.

In 2017 alone, ICA invested in three startups in the edtech space. Earlier in 2017, the firm invested in a mobile app – Myly. The Jaipur-based platform offers ease of communication for schools and students on topics related to homework, examinations, results, and fee payments among other services. ICA’s second investment last year was in a Pune-based assessment solution for schools, Open Door Education. That offers assessment solutions for subjects like Maths and Science for grades 4-9. In October 2017, ICA made its third investment in 3D Dexter, a Delhi-based startup that provides 3D printing solutions to educational institutions.

The entrepreneurial journey

“I came up with the idea of launching ICA while I was doing my CA practice. I noticed how my newly hired inexperienced employees within a few months would end up being hired by my clients at a higher salary,” highlights Narendra Shyamsukha.

Narendra Shyamsukha’s eureka moment was when he realised that it was his training that made a difference and helped candidates get job. Recalling the initial days, he reveals that the first training centre was a small room at Kolkata commercial space with a capacity of 10 students getting trained in accounting and taxation. Today, ICA has 250+ training centres across India. Backed by a pool of 2,000+ trainers, the chain of institutes is training and placing candidates across 16 sectors.

To ingrain the right skillset in students and make them future-ready, Narendra Shyamsukha founded his second venture – EduLift in September 2015.

During the same time, he also launched GSTIndiaExpert.com, an online portal providing information on Goods and Services Tax in India. It claims to be a one-stop online interactive platform for latest GST news & articles, updated laws and legislations, events on GST across the nation, case studies, discussion forum, courses for all groups and job corner.

“I started to introduce skilling right from school. Through EduLift I intend to connect wonderful Tech enabled products in school so that students can have a more practical learning experience and be skilled,” he adds.

Through Edulift, Narendra Shyamsukha aims to make upskill students, preparing them for jobs of tomorrow through robotics, 3D printing, mind-map tools, and tinkering labs to reinforce their theoretical learning.

Today, Edulift is connected with nearly 3,500 schools and offers a range of solutions, which includes Innov8 Labs, Learnpedia, School Connect, Edulift School Server, Mind Maps Today, Growfit: Health checkup for school children and ATL (Edulift Solutions is registered vendor of Atal Tinkering Labs from NITI Aayog)

Adoption of skill development framework at ICA

ICA has two models – paid and government-sponsored. The paid programmes have courses ranging from three-month duration to three year full-time graduate programmes. The paid model caters to urban and semi-urban populations with reasonable income and academic background. A successful candidate can expect to get a job anywhere between Rs 12,000 and 35,000, depending on the course he has opted, marks obtained and the location. The government-sponsored model is where ICA contributes actively in Skill India mission. The target group is mostly semi-urban, rural, and under-resourced youth who can be skilled and trained in particular job role and provide a sustainable livelihood through employment or entrepreneurship. The process involves mass mobilising candidates, screening, assessment, counselling, training, on-job training, placement and monitoring placement.

Tracing the future roadmap

ICA is expanding and Narendra Shyamsukha hopes that the latest tax reform will see more students showing interested in accounts and taxation courses. The other programme that he’s banking on is the platform’s employable graduate programme, which offers a three-year degree programme with one-year paid internship in partnership with some private universities of India.

ICA follows a franchisee model and the serial entrepreneur reveals that overall he has seen a year-on-year growth of 15-20 percent in its paid vertical.

“The Skill India vision is where we will be training around 2.5 lakh across India by 2018-19,” he adds.

THINK 3D is just movies and dorky glasses? New CCIQ initiative trials free 3D printing for start-ups

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The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland’s new 3D printing lab, Creat3d, gives small business owners and entrepreneurs the opportunity …

2 Israeli Startups Finalists in $25000 French Competition

2 Israeli Startups Finalists in $25,000 French Competition

iiawards

Two Israeli startups have been named among the 6 finalists for the IIAwards (The International Innovation Awards) in Paris: Pixoneye and Pzartech. The winning company will receive a $25,000 prize.

Pixoneye boasts that it offers a paradigm shift in programmatic marketing both on app and web. Its technology allows for a detailed customer profile, based on customers’ photo and video libraries both on their camera roll and in the social media platforms.

Pzartech is a 3D printing company which states its goal to be to bring 3D printing’s disruption to the crowd. Pzartech is meant to be a one stop service combining a 3D designs marketplace and a collaborative 3D printing platform. The company says that it wants to focus its service on Intellectual Property Protection stating, “if we do not manage to protect design’s intellectual property rights, our knowledge based society will collapse in the same fashion that music industry did with mp3.”

The International Innovation Awards is an international startup competition organized by Paris Region Lab. Each technology based multi sector startup from across the world was invited to participate.