As of February 2017, Netherlands-based 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker has filed its first patent in the 3D printing industry. The patent protects the Active Bed Leveling technology found inside the Ultimaker 3 series. The 3D printer was first released in October 2016.

A gyro 3D printed on an Ultimaker 3 using water soluble supports. Photo via Ultimaker on YouTube

A gyro 3D printed on an Ultimaker 3 using water soluble supports. Photo via Ultimaker on YouTube

Protecting IP in the industrial market

As explained by Lana Lozova in a post on the company’s blog, this action is a defensive patent. Ultimaker says the patent is intended to protect the company’s inventions from competitors. As Lozova explains,

The industrial additive manufacturing market has some strong players, some of whom are very proactive with patents […]

A defensive patent helps protect a company against patent infringement lawsuits. It also lets a company countersue if a competitor sues for infringement, or any other reason for that matter.

Ultimaker also assures its users that the move is not the step in becoming closed off to the open source community. Lozova explains,

We won’t be initiating patent lawsuits against anyone who uses our technology in good faith – for example, for personal use, research or small business development […]

We’re also open to co-development, and won’t claim IP rights from other parties. Ultimaker 3 STEP files will be shared on Github, and we’ll continue to use open source licensing.

What does the patent cover?

Active Bed Leveling is Ultimaker’s term for the process that automatically sets up the build plate for 3D printing. Bed leveling  is one of the key factors that affects the success of a 3D print.

In contrast to the automatic bed leveling found in some 3D printers, the bed in an Ultimaker 3 does not move, as  Ultimaker’s Daid explains, “We do not level the bed, the bed stays where it is. We compensate for a tilted bed.”

Active bed levelling. Clip via Ultimaker on YouTube

The filed patent covers the process for one or more nozzles, with contactless sensors that detect the distance between those nozzles, a flat bed, and in relation to the center of the surface. More detail is added in a blog post by SandervG.

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Featured image shows the Ultimaker 3 family of 3D printers. Photo via Ultimaker

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