An assembly line at Ultimaker

How are Ultimaker printers made? Read our AMA recap

What happens behind the scenes at Ultimaker’s production facilities? Our SVP Supply Chain and Manufacturing Steve Harris, and Operations Director at FBRC8 Erin Oliver, recently answered questions from our community. Members wanted insight into what some of our assembly processes entail and how changes are handled.

AMA (meaning “ask me anything”) is a type of Q&A popular in online communities. During a session, people can ask the host anything about a particular topic. In our last session, Steve and Erin answered questions that users had posted on Twitter (using the hashtag #UltimakerAMA) or to our community forum.

Steve works in the Ultimaker production facility in the Netherlands and leads our global Lean Six Sigma projects, planning, purchasing, logistics, manufacturing, manufacturing engineering, and quality assurance teams. Erin is in North America with FBRC8. She's responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations in the assembly, tech support, quality control, shipping, and inventory departments.

The big news: Ultimaker S5 launch

There was a lot of interest in how Ultimaker’s latest launch had changed our production process. The Ultimaker S5 is a much bigger printer than our previous products, with a new build volume of 330 x 240 x 300 mm (up from 215 x 215 x 200 mm in the Ultimaker 3). User @Dim3nsioneer asked: “What special challenges came in production with the new Ultimaker S5?”

Ultimaker S5 3D printers on an assembly line

Steve answered this one. “The Ultimaker S5 is big! It brings new challenges to how we move semi and finished products around. We have therefore developed lifts that also operate as trolleys, which allows the team to more easily and safely lift and move the S5 through the assembly process.”

@cjs also asked about the new aluminum build plate and its challenges. “There are no challenges, only opportunities,” replied Steve. “In this case we are working to achieve the highest possible quality for the aluminum build plate and this is taking a little longer than anticipated.”

Processes and procedures

@ultiarjan wanted to know if the S5 fitted onto existing conveyors, which stimulated a conversation around how the production line works.

“We actually work in cells with every operator trained and able to assemble every model of printer that we produce,” said Steve. They have work instructions for each printer and assemble one full printer at a time. This is a little different to line manufacturing that is often used for higher volume production.

Erin also confirmed this: “Most of the printer is assembled by a single technician working at their desk, which is ESD safe. However, some parts of the printer are assembled separately ahead of time to help make the assembly process go more smoothly.”

A tray of 3D printer component

Steve went on to elaborate: “There are two flows of parts to the person who picks and populates the production trays for assembly. One flow [contains] individual parts directly from the warehouse. The other flow is pre-assemblies, where we pick the parts and then assemble [these] in to a combined part.”

@kmanstudios wanted to know how the Netherlands and North American sites stay in sync with each other. Erin explained that “We have regular meetings to discuss any upcoming changes, or issues we see. There’s a constant feedback loop going between the production, quality control, and technical support. This means any issues seen at any point in the process can be investigated and a cause can be determined, and the best course of action can be agreed upon and implemented.”

All about assembly

Some users wanted to know a little more about how our printers are actually put together. A question from @cjs about the average assembly time for each of the printers evoked an interesting response from Steve: “The total throughput time – including picking, pre-assemblies, quality control, and boxing – ranges from 400-550 minutes. The Ultimaker 2+ is currently the quickest printer to assemble. The S5 is now quicker than the smaller dual extrusion Ultimaker 3, because the manufacturing engineering team has made improvements to the assembly process.”

He continued to explain some of the upgrades that had decreased the assembly time of the S5. “The assembly of the housing was a significant improvement, with self-locking flat head screws for speed and aesthetics. We can now use a single hand with an electric screwdriver, instead of having to use two hands to hold and tighten screws.”

You can read the entire AMA session on our community forum. Thanks to everyone who asked a question. We enjoy sharing what happens at Ultimaker, so follow us on Twitter hear about our next AMA!