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Build One

Preview Image

Preview Image

Strap in for this article, it covers approximately 7 years of pain! Hopefully it should be an interesting read about the perils of community backed 3D printing.

Background

The following is an attempt to provide some context to the situation.

First Printer

Let us go back to the glorious days 2013, when I pre-ordered a QU-BD One Up, a promising 3D printer at the time that promised a working 3D printer for about $200 USD. It offered some basic features like a 100 x 100 x 125mm (or more with up upgrade) build plate, decent print speeds and was a promising project.

QU-BD printer

QU-BD printer

When the QU-BD One Up arrived (roughly on time), I had to pay a massive import duty tax - something I didn't previously consider. But okay, I got the parts in the box and with the help of a friend we built the printer in our student accommodation (after requesting an additional missing part). The printer was made of wood and generally was awful build quality, but this is something I could fix after the fact. We check everything, and turn the printer on - all good so far. We then plugged it into my laptop - and then it exploded, taking out the printer, the laptop and the house trip switches.

Of course, when I contacted the QU-BD One Up, they were nowhere to be seen. I was at this point down about $500 USD (including the laptop) and had nothing to show for it. Luckily, the Dell customer support team were epic when I contacted them. I originally though that maybe some fuses were blown, so I asked for some schematics, and they then inform me that the laptop actually had just a few days left on the original owners warranty. They ended up replacing everything other than the chassis and display.

According to KickStarter, I was lucky to receive anything at all:

Printer arrived broken

Printer arrived broken

And this is one of the nicer people complaining about not receiving anything:

Printer sold on Amazon

Printer sold on Amazon

You can read more comments here.

Side Story (Intermission)

A good friend let me borrow an extra laptop he had seeing the situation I was in at that moment. During those days I would sip a can of energy drink as I worked, but I am always cautious.

We are half listening to a business studies course in Bayesian marketing and the chap next to me leans across the laptop, spilling the drink over the keyboard. Within a second, I had the laptop upside down and powered off, but it was too late. The other guy offered some money to replace the keyboard, but something was more fundamentally screwed and the laptop could only now operate with an external keyboard.

I felt quit bad for my friend, he sold the laptop for much less than it was worth on eBay. (I did eventually get him some work offer that paid him with a new high-spec laptop, but I still feel bad about the situation.)

Second Printer

Let us travel fast forward to 2017, where I am still looking for a 3D printer. I still cannot afford an off the shelf solution at this moment, so I am looking at another promising 3D printer on KickStarter called the Build One. The irony here is, if I had just saved my money in the first place, I could have had a very good starting printer with those funds. But here we are.

Build One printer

Build One printer

Now we're getting close to 2021, the Build One has still not been delivered and a delivery any time soon does not look promising.

Timeline

Build One prototype

Build One prototype

On day one, we were shown a working 3D printer prototype that was "ready to go into production". Normally I would be cautious to believe such wishful promises, but the creator, Erik, has a proven track record with delivering items like the DigiStump and DigiSpark projects. This printer project is of course much ambitious than those projects, but this seemed liked something not too risky given his previous credentials.

Build One prototype

Build One prototype

The original prototype used lead-screws, meaning no belts and some really high resolution prints. For the price point of $100 USD for a base model, it was really promising. At this point there was no concerns and we were all ignorant of what was to come.

The first troubles began when in August Erik (the creator) started flip-flopping on a major design point, the lead screws. We're not talking about a small design change here, this is very fundamental to the operation of the printer. At the time it looked like he decided to not make changes, and things looked on the up again.

Build One lead screws

Build One lead screws

So then in September we get another update, suggesting that the lead screws from the factory won't be of high enough quality for the printer. This then kicked off the change from a lead screw design to a belt driven design, something that isn't a simple change at all.

I think this was ultimately a mistake. They should have either engineered out the lead screw error, or paid for higher quality lead screws and cut costs somewhere else. Such a major change that late in the day was a big mistake.

Build One bad samples

Build One bad samples

We then get more updates on the re-design process, then blaming the Chinese New Year for production delays. Then they decide to get some parts injection molded to save cost, but Erik is well out of his depth in designing such parts and they arrive deformed. He then reaches out to the community, which he then mostly neglects, for help on designing the parts.

We're now late 2018 and he's discussing the head unit - a fundamental part of the printer which is essentially bringing all the axis and printer head together to actually do the print. We then again get another blaming of the Chinese New Year for production delays.

Now in early 2019, we're talking about a "final" prototype once again, this time with pictures. Finally we are back to the stage of having a working printer.

Build One new prototype

Build One new prototype

Then in August Erik is talking about offering partial refunds, which is 50%. He suggests that money already invested at the factory cannot be refunded (which sounds reasonable). A few of the early critics take this option and this mostly cleans up the comments section for a while.

In September we start hearing about the power supply being too costly to have a certified one that won't burn down people's houses, so he starts discussing options to reduce the cost. He eventually decides on a metal frame power supply and all seems normal again.

In October we are told that printers will be produced within 60 days after wiring the payment to the factory. So printers soon right?

Build One pays factory

Build One pays factory

We're now in November 2019, and things are getting weird. Erik suggests that the weight of the printer is now up by 20% and they will make a loss on the project. They want support to help reduce the loses of a volunteer basis.

Build One support call

Build One support call

To those who donate $40 or more, they are being promised an "exclusive" axis upgrade kit, which is apparently some milled metal brackets to strengthen the structure. Some of the hardcore supporters love this idea, and pledge an extra $40, some more than $100 to help the project move along.

Build One axis upgrade

Build One axis upgrade

December rolls around and he's asking for people to confirm their addresses, which they do of course. Of course, we blow past early 2020 and there is another Chinese New Year...

Then this little heard of thing called the "global pandemic" happened. All factories everywhere shutting down, Chinese staff welded into their homes if they so much as sneeze.

In February 2020 the factory slowly reopens. Then in June the factory says that they are unable to get a shipping quote to some Countries, as Countries around to world are desperately locking down their borders to slow down the virus. Understandably, you can't start production until you have viable shipping lined up - storage is much too costly for such items.

Build One shipping quote

Build One shipping quote

After some more shipping updates, our last update was October 2020, where we are promised everything is still okay. It's now been 2.5 months since the last update and the creator has not logged in since.

In the last update, Erik offered another 50% refund and promised a turn around within a week, so you can imagine people are slightly pissed that after 2.5 months they have heard nothing.

It's almost a meme now, because the 2021 Chinese New Year will again be a factor in delivery - if this project even delivers in 2021 at all. Some people ordered this printer for their curious growing kids, who have since grown up and left home. I for one might have moved Countries twice by the time this thing delivers.

Theory

So now it is time to put on our tin foil hats and discuss some points...

As you may imagine, one question that is always in peoples minds is "is this a scam?". As a result, throughout the project (at least since it missed the first deadline in 2017) people have been on the hunt for evidence that the creator has run off with the money.

We have so far never seen evidence that the money does actually still exist (despite being promised so) and without access to the accounts, the only thing that can be done could be to explain where the money may have went.

Build one KickStarter title

Build one KickStarter title

Bare in mind, this project was backed by 3.2k people, raising a total of $771k USD. This doesn't include KickStarter cuts, but it also doesn't include pre-orders.

Disclaimer: The points spoken about here are unsupported by evidence that I would suggest could be called "without reasonable doubt". There is some supporting evidence which suggest the points are worth considering, but at this point nothing more.

Wages

When trying to explain where the money may have spent, the first thing to consider is simply people taking just enough to live from. As the Build One project has been active, the DigiStump project has not, meaning that Erik has had no additional income during this time to his normal day job - something he hasn't consistently had over the whole time either.

DigiStump store

DigiStump store

We also need to consider the size of the Erik's "core" team, which apparently consists of himself, a chap in Shenzhen named Clark Liao and his sister, Julianna. If all of these people are pulling a wage from the project, you could easily burn over $100k USD a year just by having them all on board.

Build One staff

Build One staff

Can we also just take a moment to reflect that his sister, Julianna, is the "Project and QC Manager". The irony is, this is exactly the role the project has needed this whole time. The joke is not lost on me.

During the pandemic and various lockdowns, I can easily imagine Erik or family and friends needing to pull soem cash out of the project. It is after all just sitting there, and they could repay it later...

House

Another working theory is that Erik purchased a house with the money (he mentioned he was moving homes in one of the comments). There is also now some evidence that he and his wife purchased $1.25 million USD on 160 acres of land, which they purchased an automated sprinkler system for, something that won't be cheap for such a vast property.

Please do not stalk them

Please do not stalk them

If you think this is impossible, please consider the case of the Peachy printer, another promising $100 3D printer. In this case, one of the founders of the project spent the money on upgrading their house, causing the project to collapse. To this day, nobody seems to have got in any legal hot water other the project.

EDIT: (2020-01-03) It has since been mentioned that it's quite likely that Erik purchased a property with the money, which doesn't seem entirely impossible:

Please do not stalk them

Please do not stalk them

And the calculated amounts does have legs according the Kickstarter breakdowns:

Kickstarter costs

Kickstarter costs

I would add also that this doesn't account for the amounts in pre-orders, something he has not yet addressed. It's entirely possible that refunds so far have been paid with pre-order money.

Wishful Thinking

Although I mentioned the previous "theories", I still do not want to believe this to be the truth. Whilst it's concerning the creator has not responded in 2.5 months, I still believe that his mostly lacking updates have shown good faith so far, even during these times when he could have called an end and nobody would have questioned it.

Going forwards, there are several outcomes I consider for the project:

  1. Box of parts -- At this point I would simply suggest to drop the power supply and ask each person to buy their own, that way you save on shipping weight and printer cost. Go back the design with a standard barrel jack and each person should be able to find something suitable. You never technically promised a power supply, so it could be a compromise to get this thing delivered.
  2. Open source -- At the very least, this project should be open sourced, especially if it doesn't deliver. It's entirely possible somebody can pick it up, modernize it and deliver it. There are still some really nice features that are interesting, especially to the open source community.
  3. More updates -- Whatever happens, please just inform us. Good news, bad news, no news, it's fine. Just touch base and let us know that you're still thinking about the project. It's not hard. Early on we got updates from Erik that also included his personal situation, such as a fire near his home. This helped people understand exactly his situation and work with him.
  4. Reach out -- The backers are not your normal consumers, some of these people are literally industry experts. Lean on them, they want to see this delivered too. The sooner you so this, the sooner people can even help patch and improve your designs. It should remove stress if done properly, for example, send a prototype to somebody in the US to help you update the very lacking wiki. They could even do some videos of the printing process for you, something you've not been very good at providing lately.

Anyway, for now this is where I leave it. Let's hope in 2021 I have a more promising update to provide!