Skip to content

Once Upon a Time: 2009

The year of 2009 was at the start of a new wave of personal fabrication revolution. We were grateful that we had been playing a role in this and eye-witnessed all the great changes in the industry. So let’s go back a little, and talk about what Tiertime was like, in the good old days.

The very first line of rapid prototyping products Tiertime developed was the “Inspire” series. These were the machines with large footprints, big build volumes and dual extrusion aimed for industrial and higher education market in China.

Tiertime was founded in 2003 by Allen Guo with several schoolmates from Tsinghua University. They had been researching for years in the field of rapid prototyping and had experimented different 3D printing technologies such as SLA, LOM, FDM and etc. The team later decided to concentrate on FDM technology, as compared to other techs paths, it was elegantly simple, clean and did not require expensive imported components (e. g. lasers) from overseas.

At around 2005, Adrian Bowyer from Bath University of UK started the RepRap project. The project was aimed to produce self-replicating machines and it was basically a FDM printer partially made from plastic parts printed by the printer itself. Inspired by the project and with the development of compact CNC electronics, Tiertime also started to explore a compact sized product that could be sold at a lower price for personal use.

At 2009, Stratasys’ primary patent for FDM technology expired. The Reprap project, after several years of development, had become an open source library for all the people who were interested in the technology. Soon people started to develop, improve and make their own versions of Reprap machines and shared their designs on the internet. Then based on the public resources, some entrepreneurial technologists started their companies to sell parts, kits and even constructed machines for people who could not build their own Repraps or found necessary parts. At that year, many prominent players of Desktop 3D printing started their business.

In the middle of 2009, Tiertime was also preparing to launch its own desktop models. Allen and his team had spent many days and nights working on the software and hardware of the new product. It was a completely different machine from the Inspire series, with very compact footprint and designed for people with little tech skills or knowledge in rapid prototyping. Although the Reprap project provide a rich resource for building a 3d printing system, Tiertime team believed their system was better than RepRap, and it used an independently developed, proprietary system based on their own research and work.

The release of the first Tiertime desktop model, the UP Plus, was an instant success. Tiertime team sold and marketed their first desktop model on a new website, with an online forum and store, targeting the international market. Compared to machines of the same time, such as Prusa Mendel, Makerbot Cupcake, and Ultimaker Original, the UP Plus was much more advanced. While most machines on the market were made from plywood, used DC motor for extrusion and 3mm diameter filament. UP Plus used stepper motors extruder and 1.75mm filament for much finer control with a full metal body.

At that time, there was no dedicated software for Reprap based printers, and most of them were still using Skeinforge – an open source all purpose software that was not very user friendly for average people. Tiertime released UP! Software accompanied with UP Plus, which provided a simple software interface to interact with the printer and process 3d files. As the software contained the optimized print profiles, without tinkering, users could produce 3d models with high quality prints right out of the box. UP! software at that time already had advanced functions such as 9-point matrix leveling and automatic support generation which are still unique features of Tiertime products today.

At 2013, the second generation, the UP Plus 2 was released. It was the first 3D printer in its class with an automatic platform calibration system , provides reliable and high quality 3d printing results. The unique design of the machine, made it a classic model, and won Tiertime a number of rewards from Make Magazine from 2013-2015. The UP Plus 2, even appeared in the scene as props of the Iron Man 3 blockbuster. Many manufacturers have studied and referenced UP Plus 2 functions in their product development.

UP Plus 2 (left) labeled as Afinia
and the now obsoleted Cube (right, an American knock-off )
– The cover of Make Magazine of 2013

Make magazine used to show UP Plus2 on the cover twice and ranked UP Plus 2 as the “Best in class: just hit print” and “Best overall experience” of the year.

After UP Plus 2, Tiertime also released their consumer model UP mini and professional model UP BOX. These 2 models although not as popular, also made a great impact on the market. Tiertime became one of the major desktop 3d printer manufacturers around the globe.

The story keeps going.