In late 2016 when the HTC VIVE entered the market, Romain Armand started designing VR accessories on a Prusa Mk2 he received for his birthday. Within a month he was selling his own products.
Today, ProTubeVR ship hundreds of products globally per week. With an expanding team of 14 people, their product lines consist of modular VR accessories to fit major VR platforms, including Oculus, Valve Index, HTC Vive, and PSVR. They’ve partnered with the Electronic Sports League, VR League, and are on a mission to bring VR gamers a new level of immersion. 3D printing makes it all possible.
A ProTubeVR gunstock in use at the VR League
“Welcome to the Oasis!” ProTubeVR were featured on popular YouTube channel ‘Virtual Reality Oasis’
3D printing enables customer choice
Customisation is at the heart of ProTubeVR’s product offering. Products are made up of carbon fibre tubes and connectors with clamped 3D printed parts.
VR controllers are firmly seated in controller ‘cups’ – the customer specifies the VR platform they use so they have the correct fit. Colour can also be customised to order thanks to the economy of the 3D printing process.
‘ForceTube’ - a wireless haptic feedback module (with 3D printed enclosure, complete with multicolour logo detail) is an optional upgrade for deeper game immersion.
ProTubeVR’s products are made up of 3D printed parts and are compatible with leading VR platforms
The bulk of ProTubeVR’s manufacturing takes place in-house. They use:
- 25 x Prusa MK3s (5 fitted with E3D Hemera)
- 31 x E3D 0.5mm hardened steel nozzles with pro silicone socks and heatbreaks
- 2 x Prusa MK2s fitted with E3D Hemera
- 4 x Prusa MMUv2 (2 fitted with E3D Hemera)
- 50kg of filament per week
Choosing 3D printing as a production method means all products can be designed and developed at a single location. Compared to traditional manufacturing methods this means less time spent waiting around for supplier deliveries and more time spent developing good ideas. A 3D printing process allows production flexibility, so they can mass-customise products based on customer requirements. It wouldn’t be economical to do this using any other manufacturing method.
Product demand continues to grow, and since production happens in a single location, the team are dependent on machine uptime. Romain explains:
“If you know the real cost of 3D printing, you pay for it. We experimented with some clone nozzles from Asia, but quickly discovered these are horrible when you’re running a business. Clones cost less, but you invest so much time fixing things, replacing nozzles, and restarting failed prints, you never get to print what you need. With genuine E3D products I know I’m getting items that work well. For me, that’s priceless.”
The bulk of production happens here. Each printer is fitted with E3D components. Printers even have their own names!
Getting to market faster
Each ProTubeVR product will use 3D printing in some way. If it isn’t an end-use part, 3D printing has at least been involved during the development and manufacturing process:
Design prototyping. 3D printing is the perfect tool for prototyping. It helps the team test form, fit, and function and allows them to iterate the design before making production parts that go on sale to customers.
Custom end-use parts. Using 3D printing as a production process makes it economical for mass customisation. Customers configure their product and the team have them made to order.
Tooling development. Demand keeps growing, so ProTubeVR need to produce more parts in higher volumes. Controller ‘cups’ (where VR controllers are seated) are an example of parts moving to an injection moulding process. As injection moulding tooling is milled in metal, it's an expensive material for iterative design. 3D printing is significantly cheaper, so the team have used it to verify their tooling designs first. They then have confidence their production tooling will be delivered in spec.
‘ForceTube’ haptic feedback module assembly
Overcoming 3D print challenges with E3D
The team often use carbon fibre material for robust, slick-looking end-use parts. This is a challenging material to 3D print, no matter which machine you use. E3D has solutions:
Challenge. Carbon fibre filament will wear away the internals of any standard brass nozzle in a short amount of time, making it useless.
Solution. E3D hardened steel nozzles don’t degrade when used with composites.
Prusa Mk2 and Mk3 hotends are already made by E3D, so are directly compatible. A simple screw-in upgrade means machines are ready to perform with carbon fibre filament, plus lots of other engineering-grade materials.
Challenge. Carbon fibre filament tends to stick to the printer’s nozzle and heaterblock, accumulating around the hotend until it becomes engulfed in a giant blob of carbon fibre. When this happens, the hotend is beyond repair and needs replacement. Wasted time, wasted material, and machine downtime. No!
Solution. An E3D pro silicone sock fits snugly around the nozzle and heater block. Non-stick properties mean material doesn’t collect on the nozzle and heater block - instead, it’s placed on the build plate where it’s needed. “If we didn't have silicone socks, we wouldn’t be able to sell carbon fibre parts.” says Romain.
As a bonus, the silicone’s heat resistant properties act as a thermal barrier, protecting operators from burning themselves if they should touch the heater block at temperature.
Pro silicone socks help ProTubeVR print carbon fibre parts
"Without E3D and Prusa Research, ProTubeVR wouldn’t exist. I wouldn't buy a machine if the hotend wasn’t made by E3D. All our machines include E3D parts, and that’s super important: it means a reliable, repeatable 3D printing process for us, and high-quality results for our customers."
– Romain Armand, Founder, ProTubeVR
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