Why We Don’t Offer Kits Without 3D-Printed Parts

We get asked for product kits that include all the hardware except the 3D printed parts. We get asked this a lot.

For the uninitiated, we offer most of our products in two forms: fully assembled and in kit form, for you to put together yourself. Our kits include everything you need except a few tools, including all of the metal hardware, electronics and the 3D printed plastic parts. When we get asked for hardware-only kits, it means someone is asking us to exclude the 3D printed parts from the kit, presumably so they can save money and print the parts themselves.

In the limited medium of Reddit, the answer we go to is that including the plastic parts doesn’t really change the economics of the product, so we just include them for convenience.

And while this is true and cuts succinctly to the heart of the matter, it’s incomplete. So here’s a longer take for the curious. Here, in detail, is why we don’t offer kits without 3D printed parts. As with all good things, it comes in a triad.

First, when we send you printed parts, you have a working product the instant you get it from us.

How does this help you? In short, it’s easy to make something work if it’s already working. In the case of a Ploopy product, if you already have a set of working parts that we’ve sent you, it’s much easier to produce working parts of your own in whatever crazy colour scheme you want.

This works well in real life, and it’s practiced by anyone who works in an agile-like development or production system. These systems codify concepts like sprints, MVPs and continuous integration, which are just fancy ways of describing patterns of working that require there be some intermediate product that works. Think of it like we’re sending you a buildable MVP that you can then break and remake on your next sprint/spiral.

Second, many of the parts we use are quite tricky to print, and may result in a lot of frustration for the hobbyist with a home printer. Not all printers are the same, and even high quality printers require substantial amounts of tuning and maintenance to print Ploopy parts.

The reason this is so is because our designs have to work as a system with the switches, sensors and other stuff we get from our vendors, all of whom assume we have access to injection molded parts for integration. In other words, they implicitly assume that we can produce parts to a tolerance of about 20 microns for critical dimensions. That’s 0.020mm, or about 0.0008in. It’s very small.

This requirement exceeds the specifications of most FDM 3D printers, including the ones we use. We do a lot of clever things to get around this issue, and so could you. But expecting usable parts to just roll off the printer you have on your desk at home is probably going to result in disappointment. Our goal here is to make products (that you use daily) not projects (that you tinker with forever), so it’s important to us that everything fits together the first time.

This brings me to my last point: it’s impossible to provide great support for kits without printed parts.

We make a point of providing killer support for our products. There’s lots of reasons for this, but ultimately it’s because we like our customers and want to make sure that every one of you has a great experience with the things we make.

A fair amount of this philosophy is encoded directly into the products themselves. We choose our kit parts carefully to make it easy for you to build and easy for us to help you if something goes sideways. There’s no way to do this without including 3D printed parts. Even if you never intend to use them, you benefit from this arrangement as insurance against things going wrong during your build process.

Ultimately, what we offer for sale is more than just a box of bits and pieces. It’s a system (kits, instructions, community, support, warranty, etc.) that is designed to result in a working product that will serve you well and for a long time. Removing the printed parts from the kit would make this system less efficient, which results in the counterintuitive situation where taking parts out of the kit would force us to charge more for it!

For those of you who want to blaze your own trail, we’ve published our source files under the CERN OHL-S v2 so that you can make it yourself. That said, I’m afraid there’s no half-assing it: there’s a lot of steps between some CAD files and having a thing finished on your desk, and going your own way means you’ll have to figure all of them out for yourself. As the saying goes, open source is free as in freedom, not necessarily free as in “free beer”.

And there you have it: a complete explanation on why we don’t offer kits without printed parts. I hope you’ve found this take illuminating; check back later for more zany thoughts on running an OSHW outfit!