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BCN3D x 4D SYSTEMS: Creative Possibilities in 3D Print

You might think sourcing an appropriate off-the-shelf display module would be the easiest part of creating a sophisticated 3D printer, but it proved unexpectedly difficult.

The Sigma 3D printers BCN3D manufactures aren’t cheap, but they are impressive. As one independent industry publication noted recently, “Ultimately, the BCN3D Sigma is a powerful and versatile 3D printer that’s perfect for those looking to turn ideas into reality quickly.”

The same publication also observed, “We were pleased to see that the LCD screen is bigger than average, and the user interface is clean and uncluttered, which makes for a less frustrating experience. While this printer might come with several advanced features, it certainly looks easy enough to use, even if you’re not particularly tech-savvy.”

When designing a futuristic machine that can spit out 3D objects, you might assume locating a suitably user-friendly interface would be the easy part of the project. But that’s not the experience the engineering team at BCN3D had.

An unexpected roadblock

Some years ago, BCN3D, which prides itself on offering “the world’s most productive FFF 3D printing solutions” and has a customer list that includes the likes of Airbus, BMW, NASA, Samsung and Siemens, wanted to create a small and relatively affordable desktop 3D printer. The type of 3D printer “engineered to grant maximum productivity through a hassle-free experience”, delivering “functional prototypes with quality and precision”.

The BCN3D team knew they would run into challenges. But they initially didn’t imagine sourcing a usable off-the-shelf display module would be one of those challenges. As detailed on the company’s website, “From the very beginning of the BCN3D Sigma development we were looking for an easy and user-friendly way to interface with the machine. We knew we wanted a touch screen but we didn’t have any experience with them.”

Over time, they began to realise how difficult it would be to find a touch screen manufacturer able to supply a product that met their needs. As also detailed on the BCN3D website, “We searched lots of solutions from lots of companies but we always found some issues. Sometimes the problem was with the processing power, [other times] the resolution and others the flexibility of the solution.”

4D SYSTEMS’ gen4 display modules deliver

Fortunately, the BCN3D team eventually discovered 4D SYSTEMS’ range of gen4 display modules.

These were free of the resolution and flexibility issues that ruled out so many other touch screens and provided “multiple screen sizes and technologies with enough processing power”. What sealed the deal for the BCN3D engineers was “the ability to connect the display module via a serial connection to [the printer’s] hardware and integrate the Arduino-compatible library to our main firmware. There’s no easier way of implementing a touch screen interface to your application, period.”

For its first Sigma 3D printer, BCN3D Technologies opted for a gen4 display module with resistive touch. That worked well, but when the company was developing the BCN3D Sigma R17, it wanted to use a similar but more advanced touch screen.

So, it upgraded to the gen4-ULCD-35DCT-CLB, a 3.5-inch Intelligent TFT-LCD display module with capacitive touch.

BCN3D was even more impressed with the new gen4 touch screen than it had been with the old one. Or, as they put it, “The black frame gives the machine a more professional look and it’s easy to assemble with fewer parts. The capacitive touch is a huge step up for us as the responsiveness has been greatly improved. The screen is the only way the user can interact with the printer, so it’s quite important.”

Ultimately, BCN3D have found the perfect match through the gen4 series of intelligent display modules, seamlessly integrating into an excellent commercial application. An exciting innovation in the sophisticated 3D printing space.

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