First Impressions – the DaVinci 1.0 3D printer

DaVinci 1.0It arrived just last Friday and is now sitting in my lab space – where it has made a number of successful models.  At the price it is quite amazing!  It worked right out of the box.  So here are some pros and cons based on my limited exposure to using it:

Pros: Software is easy to install, firmware updates happen quickly with no reset buttons needing pressed.  8 x 8 x 8″ glass build platform is heated, and has self-leveling software too.  At some out of tolerance condition, the user is guided to adjust the bed thumbscrews, but the unit is well marked to warn you not to adjust the bed from the initial factory settings unless prompted.  Unit is fully enclosed – top door is sensed when open but the front door is not. Well lit inside for viewing.  There is a 4-line LCD and 6 button interface with a home button. The extruder has a park position with a nose wiper and “spit” bucket for excess filament. Loading filament is easy but you do have to push a bit at first to insure the pinch roller catches it.  The machine goes into an idle standby condition after several minutes, and this time can be set in the menu.  The machine is pretty quiet – far quieter than my 1st generation Cube.   And it appears that the machine will store the current job and does not need to remain connected to the computer.

Cons: The software has a spartan look about it, but all the essential features are there. Slicing is slow, but there are a lot more options than the 3D Systems Cube client.  Four different layer thicknesses can be chosen, and the 100 micron setting does really work.  Setting profiles can be named and saved for later recall.  Currently only ABS can be used, but supposedly PLA is on the way.  Proprietary 600g cartridges are used, but at the current price, they are very competitive and even cheaper than some brands of open reel filament. The machine appears to be a bit slower than the Cube 3d unit, but works smoothly. So is it worth $500?  Definitely – this would make a great addition to a school classroom and clearly would work well for someone with little or no experience in 3D printing.

I’ll update this post with more details as we get more time with the machine.

The New Crop

The Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is for technically-minded folks something like a theme park for kids.  Having experienced one some years ago, it is about the only reason I’d make a visit to Las Vegas – they can keep the gambling casinos!

If the current show was any indication, 3D printing and scanning is certainly getting more and more attention.  Despite what manufacturers think we want and the prices they hope we will pay, the marketplace will eventually sort it all out.  In the technical goods world, the model over time is clear: as the technology becomes more adopted, features expand, prices shrink.  As we are still in the early days of consumer 3D printing, this trend is just starting to show up, and I believe there will be some clear winners and losers over the next few years.

As someone who always shops for the most bang for the buck, I’ve formed some opinions on the new crop of 3D FFF (fused filament fabrication) printers.  What becomes clear is that some models are way overpriced for their capabilities.  However, one difficult to measure parameter is the true value of the “ecosystem” that the manufacturer provides. Few provide data on noise levels or expected life of extruders, heaters, etc.  My source of information comes from what the manufacturer has published and not from real life tests – as of this writing, most of these machines have been announced but not sold.  However, my long experience in this area gives me some confidence that I am close to reality.

So what machines, as of early March 2014 are on the horizon?  The 5th generation Makerbots have started to ship this week.  Cubify 3d generation machines are still not open for orders.  I have heard early April may be the time.  The DaVinci 1.0 machine, which takes the prize currently on low price and competitive specifications ($499) does used chipped cartridges like the Cube 3D unit.  At $28/600g of filament that is better than the other currently chipped consumer model.  After more than a year in the making, the Makibot A6 at $300 as a kit is now shipping [mine is currently in transit as of late March].  And don’t forget Kickstarter projects Zeepro Zim, CEL Robox, and EZ3D Phoenix are soon to launch into the consumer space!

Also, the emergence of low-cost 3D scanners is upon us this spring, with the Makerbot digitizer, the Matterform unit, and the Rubicon 3D.

Rather than give you my own impressions, here are the links to the product pages for the above.  Happy researching!  I suggest you compare things like build volume and price, material choices, the “ecosystem” offered [client software, etc.] and any warranty after the sale.  I have my favorites, but that might change as I test them – more to come!

Fused Filament Machines (fully assembled)

MakerBot:   www.makerbot.com

Cube3D:     www.cubify.com

DaVinci:      us.xyzprinting.com

Zeepro Zim:   www.zeepro.com

CEL Robox:  www.cel-robotics.com

Kits:

Phoenix3D:   www.phoenix3dprinter.com

Makibox:   www.makibox.com

Scanners:

Matterform:   www.matterform.net

Rubicon: www.rubicon3d.com

Makerbot:   www.makerbot.com/digitizer

Note that all three of these scanners use laser lines and a camera to measure the object and create a point cloud.  Where things get interesting is in the client software, so while the hardware is fairly easy, the data processing part is not.

Cube 3D Printer Review

I’ve owned a first-generation Cube 3D printer

for almost a year (I ordered it in April 2012, but it was not delivered until a few months later).  I’ve printed a lot of parts with it and most were successful.  So if you are considering this machine, let me summarize the good and bad.  BTW the second generation machine is almost identical but for the build plate and material selection, but more on that later.  Both first and second generation machines offer only a single nozzle, but the client software does provide for rafts and supports.

First the good:

If you are a novice to 3D printing looking for a 3D printer that is more of an appliance than others, then this is a reasonable choice.  Think of this as a 3D printer with a 2D printer business model – most everything is proprietary and you really only have one source of supply – 3D Systems who sells it.  You can’t use your own filament (the cartridges are chipped to prevent this like ink cartridges in a 2D printer), the software to run it is proprietary (free and updated now and then, but still fairly “bare bones” at that), the Cube glue for adding adhesion is theirs, etc., etc.  In fact, the options are so limited in the driver software (both Windows and Mac versions) it severely limits making engineering strength parts (the second generation Cube will do “solid” fill parts though).

If you are looking for a very controlled experience, then here it is.  As for materials, they do offer a range of colors and two materials:  ABS and PLA.  However, PLA is only usable in the second generation machine, but people have hacked the first gens to work with this. And you are effectively paying $49 for .75 pounds of ABS (or PLA) which amounts to $65 a pound, when good quality ABS filament can be had for $16-18/lb. in the open market.  The ecosystem is well integrated into a special Cube web site, so much so that you have to “activate” your printer online before you can use it!

The web site has plenty of supporting materials:  latest driver software download, manuals,  guides, etc.  The supplies and some replacement parts are easily purchased there.  Customer support (when I needed it on a few occasions) was fairly fast and responsive.

The machine is quite compact and hidden inside it are some good mechanical components.  The axes are linear dovetail sliders with plastic bearing interfaces.  The Z and X axes are mounted to a rigid sheet metal frame while the Y axis is on a separate gantry that moves the platform.  The aluminum build platform is heated and can be easily removed – it is magnetically attached with locating pins.  There is an optical encoder on the extruder pinch wheel, and the processor is a fairly capable PIC32MX440.  There is a 2Gb mini SD card buried inside on the controller board, probably buffering space for job files. There are two USB ports, one only for updates the other for a USB thumb drive. WiFi is built in and can be configured in ad-hoc or networked mode. The touch screen interface, while small, is still easy to navigate.  The power supply is a “floor brick” like a laptop, but much bigger.

The Bad:

The first thing you will notice is this:  the first generation machine is downright noisy!  I tried to use it in a demo during a virtual statewide teacher’s conference and even putting it in the back of the room was too much for the participants to bear at the remote facilities – the noise got picked up by the microphone and drowned out the speaker.  Now, it isn’t so bad in a room but you will notice it.  I’ve heard the official second generation machine is quieter, but I have no idea if it is really “quiet.” Slicing a model in the driver software is pretty fast, but there are no choices of layer height.  And you can use .STL files (thankfully!) from anywhere, but they also distribute models in an internal format that can’t be changed or used elsewhere but on the Cube machine.  And in my opinion, the closed system with software and supplies is only an advantage if you are looking for an appliance that serves your needs in 3D printing and you want to put in the least “sweat equity” to get models made.

As for the second generation machines, the aluminum build plate was changed to a glass plate, and the heater for the build plate was removed.  Support for PLA as well as ABS material was added, and the second generation setting in the client software unlocks some new options for model fills.  But from all I can see, the basic machine is the same.  The price as of writing this was still $1299, but with other competition on the horizon, I don’t see how this will remain at that level for much longer.

New Reviews Coming Soon

Looks like early July for some new reviews on 3D printers, most specifically the Revolution  from QU-BD.COM, the PiMaker and the 3D Systems Cube.  The Revolution should be delivered to me before the end of June, the PiMaker kit is being delivered shortly, and I’ve had the 3D Systems Cube for 9 months (but no time to really go into a full article on it).

Revolution 3D Printer (6x5.5x5.5 Build Area)QU-BD  Revolution

UPDATE:  OK, July came and went, and like the promises of a lot of crowd funded projects, they don’t get fulfilled.  So as of early September, I’m still waiting on my QU-BD Revolution machine, despite being one of the first 10 in January of this year to order one.  Soon, so I’m told…yet other orders have gone out that were placed after mine was, and nobody there seems willing to commit to a ship date and my emails are ignored.  Not a good way to build a business for the long term where there is a lot of competition and more buyers expecting the vendor to be responsive to customer needs (Update: RXL received in late October and I will get something out soon on this unit).

pimaker-3d-printer-1

As for the PiMaker, I did receive that in late July and got the main chassis work done, despite having very limited documentation at the time (almost none, really).  So, I decided to give it a few months to sort out the details, and that has proven to be useful.  And, somehow I totally forgot that I ordered a makibox (www.makibox.com) kit back in April (that was a busy month) and that is expected late September or early October (Update:  shipping started in December 2013 but mine is still in the queue).  Then, slated for February 2014 is the Buccaneer 3D printer from Kickstarter (Update: this has been delayed to April 2014).

I did get my linear bearing and aluminum platform updates installed in the Solidoodle 2d generation unit, and that made a world of difference.  It is so quiet and smooth that it is hard to believe it is the same unit.

So once the backlog of reviews gets posted, you’ll have a lot to read and comment on.  I promise! :-)

Solidoodle V2 – Updates

Wow, seems like an eternity since last September and I’m long overdue for an update.  First of all, there will be some new machines reviewed here in the coming months – most notably the PiMaker kit from the Kickstarter campaign, and the Qu-Bd Revolution machine.  Both are expected to arrive in March.  Look for some musings about the Cube and Cube 2 to be posted as well….

As for my Solidoodle 2, I’ve made some significant modifications.  So in no particular order, here they are:

Power Supply

I really got tired of the dangling brick power supply, so I replaced it with a 12V, 12A unit and placed it inside of the case.  The original unit was 12V, 10A.  Because I like to take machines to technical events, the original design is not good as the wires on the 12V end are just placed into a screw terminal block. So to accomplish this, I also made the next change…

DSC01084

X Endstop LocationDSC01083

In the as received design, the X endstop is a switch mounted on the right end of the X axis.   The wires for this are routed through the chassis and back under the Z axis.  This was in the way for the location of the new power supply.  So, I removed the switch, installed a smaller microswitch underneath the extruder mount, and added a fixed endstop plug where the original microswitch was mounted.  The wiring for the new location now is in the same bundle that goes to the extruder.  The pictures show it well, so I’ve included those here for you to see.  The result is that now all of the wires that come from the lower left chassis grommet (looking from the front) now stay on the left side of the chassis!  The wood stop was made from some scrap MDF board. I’ve left the MDF unpainted in these photos – much easier to see, but I later painted it black to match the plastic.DSC01082

Electronics Cover and Fans

Again for reasons of making transportation easier
(as well as keeping the electronics cool) I think this should be a standard part of the unit but then at the $499 price it is probably not possible.  The design is straight from Thingiverse thing noted here by lawsy: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:31325

About the only thing left to do at this time is to attach some acrylic covers to the sides and a door to the front.  I did not order the door/cover combo.  I am gluing magnets to the acrylic sheets that are thick enough to also be spacers so that there is a small amount of venting of the inside.  As for the door, two common hinges and a knob with the acrylic sheet will do nicely.  This will keep prying fingers out of the box, but the top will still be open.

Solidoodle V2 – First Successful Print

Solidoodle V2 first successful printAfter a long summer hiatus, I’m finally back working on the Solidoodle V2.  Suffice to say it wasn’t ready to print right out of the box.  Several issues were apparent – the bed was not level nor at the right gap from the tip, and there was a gouge out of the Kapton tape cover on the heated bed.  Then I was bamboozled by an undocumented change to how the unit would get to the home position in addition to the reported temperature settings being 20C off of reality.  These are all things one might not expect, but then again, getting an early unit from the start of production you have to be willing to work out some bugs.

After two firmware updates, bed leveling, replacing the Kapton sheet, and working on Skeinforge settings, I have my first successful print.

First Impressions

On the hardware side, the V2 is much better than the V1.  The metal frame is well made, with crisp corners and solid construction.  Actual threaded inserts are used instead of sheet metal screws into thin steel sheet.  On the minus side, the electronics sit on the back side of the case with exposed wiring, and while this is low voltage, in the V1 the controller board was nicely isolated inside the case.  I ordered mine with a heated bed which honestly could use a higher wattage heating element — it is slow to get to temperature, unlike the extruder.

Temperature Problems

OK basically if you set the temp of the extruder with Pronterface to 200C what you get at the tip is 218 – 220C!  This is  not good.  Would somebody please save me the trouble of doing a thermistor calibration table for the firmware?  If I set the extruder to 210C or whatever in the gcode file or from Pronterface, it should be 210C at the tip!  (consider this a mild rant).

Parts not Sticking to the Build Platform

A huge issue.  I spent a lot of time leveling, gap setting, and cleaning the Kapton.  The build platform should be around 100C but mine never gets there.  85C is about all it can do, and then it has the issue of being wrong anyway with the thermistor calibration.  I’ve not taken the time to measure the actual temperatures, but I did find an absolutely bullet-proof solution (pun intended).  The 3D Systems Cube printer comes with “magic glue” to coat the aluminum build plate (there is no Kapton on it) and it washes off when done.  Without a doubt this is some sort of PVA water-based glue [update:  no, it is rather something like "Mucilage" of days gone by...]  It is thick with a slightly amber color.  It washes away with warm water in an instant, so it cleans off both the platform and part without a trace.  Putting a thin layer on the Kapton surface, my prints have stuck with incredible success and are fairly easy to remove and clean!

Improvements

After hours of getting this to work for the first print, I’ll have to admit that at times I was ready to pack it up and send it back or unload it on ebay.  I’m no stranger to these machines (as this blog should prove) but the lack of updated and machine-specific documentation, a serious temperature calibration issue (which could lead to hot-end meltdown), and some other quirks have proven to be frustrating.  And, the first prints are still showing oozing and other issues that mean the Skeinforge profile needs tweaked.  I’d like to see the electronics better protected.  Some of the wiring cables appear to be too short and I’m worried that with more use they will break from fatigue.

I’m a big fan of competition in these sorts of things, and at the price it is a reasonable value if only the unit would live up to the results I got in the V1 right out of the box.  BTW an excellent new blog on the V2 just went live in late August, so check out Ian Johnson’s Solidoodletips for lots of helpful material if you are looking to get your V2 set up.

Did I mention the Cube(tm) 3D printer?  Yes, mine is working as I write this.  A review will come next.  How are the prints?  Incredible right out of the box! :-)

UPDATE:  After trying to make a known size calibration cube, it became painfully obvious that something was wrong.  The X and Y dimensions were well within specifications, but the Z was crunched by about 15%.  I thought of all sorts of things, including the firmware calibration factor for the Z screw but that was not the problem.  The Z axis motor driver was way too hot and the idle voltage was well over the .500 V the troubleshooting page suggests.  This is how it came from the factory, so I made sure all of the stepper driver boards were adjusted to the  suggested values, or slightly less, and now things are fully functional.  I’ll put up some prints of parts soon.  One change from the V1 to V2 for the Z axis is that the V2 uses a 5/16 threaded rod and the V1 used a 1/4″ Acme screw (which is far more precise).  But, such is the need for cost savings.

Printrbot LC+ First Impressions

With the summer heat here in the East, staying inside in air conditioning was a more comfortable option.  And, with the arrival of my Printrbot LC+ last week, building this long awaited kit was the perfect indoor activity.

So how did it go?  Well, total build time so far 5 hours (to what you see in the pictures).  It is not yet ready to fire up but close.  The heated build platform is off at the glass cutter for a custom fit — more on that later. For now, let me reflect on the good, the not so good, and some (yes) bad.
The Good
The kit had all of the parts as listed on the manifest, including some extras here and there. The laser cut plywood is stiff and nicely done.  I had no fit issues per se with the plywood pieces.  The electronics are well executed and the board is clean and has a nice layout.  I bought an extra one earlier for use on another reprap project.  You get a pound of black 3mm ABS filament to get started and an extra brass nozzle.  It even comes with the USB cable.  Linear bearings and smooth rod are nice but the use of threaded rod for the z-screw is a throwback to the old reprap days. By now Acme screw rod should be the norm here.

The motors and other electrical parts come with pre-wired connectors so that part is plug and play.  However, no cable management materials come with the kit, so I used my own spiral wrap to dress the runs.

Not So Good

Documentation for the build needs a lot of help.  For the LC+ what you basically have is a 2D layout of the laser cut wood parts that are more or less in spatial relation, but no 3D views of any assembly other than the extruder, which is common for all the models.  What you do get are (IMHO) tedious assembly videos that are specific to the LC+ without any printed documentation and mostly one (above view) camera angle. Mr. Drumm sometimes contradicts himself or gets chatty with really unnecessary explanations. There are times when I just gave up watching and fast forwarded to some frame with a sufficient view that helped to show the result.  The folks at the H-1 project (www.seemecnc.com) have an incredible step-by-step build book that Mr. Drumm should emulate for future sales from his store.  Could my kid build this?  Yes, he’s an aerospace engineer.  Could your 12 year old build this?  Probably not without some serious help.  While I understand the response from the Kickstarter campaign was over the top, one of the first persons I’d get under some contract for help would be a CAD draftsperson to craft detailed documentation.

The z-axis uses two motors – one to drive each threaded rod.  I’m wondering just how well this will work, because if one motor skips due to friction, the tilt of the x-axis will be affected.  As it is now, it appears that there is some warping from side to side, so that may be something to address when I try to run it.

To insure positive engagement of the x-axis endstop, I turned the screw around so that the head was facing the switch.  Not sure this is in the video or not, but if you use the threaded end the alignment is off enough that it misses the edge of the switch lever.  Since this should be a once and done adjustment, I don’t see this as a big deal.

The Bad

Yes, there is some bad to share.  Most of the printed plastic parts left a lot to be desired. The biggest problem was they were so undersized they couldn’t be used.   The other problem was that on the down-facing surface, there was a noticeable flare where the plastic melted, suggesting to me a too hot build surface.  This was most evident in the drive gear for the extruder. The result is that unless you remove the flare, the mesh of the extruder gears is very poor.

The extruder body itself was also undersized.  Thus you could not easily place the hot end into the hole without first reaming it out. In the large extruder gear, the head of the hobbed bolt could not be fit into the opening. I was able to use the bed mounts and the Z-axis motor to screw adapters, but I reprinted on other equipment all of the other plastic parts.  Comparing the sizes didn’t need calipers, as it was readily evident to visual inspection.

The heated bed didn’t come with a glass cover (which was expected) but there were no clips to hold down the sandwich of glass and platform as shown in the web catalog shot. In my case, I’m having the glass made with the corners cut at 45 degree angles away from the mounting screws so that the cover will allow for a bed leveling design I’m adding.  Although  it is mentioned that you can cover the heated platform with painters tape or Kapton tape, the glass surface has the advantage in being very flat and uniform.  A local shop made mine for $8.

Conclusions?

For now, I’m waiting to get the glass for the heated build platform, and complete the assembly and confirm my electronics hookup.  Of course, you will end up with a PC power supply on the loose, but that is the nature of this unit.  Is it worth $699 at the store?  Well, stay tuned, as a review of a Solidoodle 2 is coming next week or so.  Although it has a smaller build envelope (6″ cube) it comes fully assembled and tested.

These days the numerous offerings of 3D printers for home use is very reminiscent of the early days of personal computers when models were showing up everywhere — VIC20 anyone?

UPDATE:  I’ve given it the “smoke test” and after powering up, it connected to pronterface and all axes work and the hot end works correctly!  Still waiting for that custom glass piece for the bed!  ;-(  Build video coming soon!

UPDATE #2: Glass piece came but now a big problem – the heated bed is defective!  Somehow it is a dead short, and every time I turn it on from pronterface the next thing to happen is the power supply goes down from overload.  I have a very sensitive ohmmeter and it says “dead short.”  So, thankfully I had another 8×8 mendel prusa heat bed in the shop.  I used this instead for the one that came with the kit and all is well!  I contacted printrbot by email asking for a replacement but no response so far… The next thing is to actually try a print!

UPDATE #3: Someone from printrbot finally responded to my inquiry and at their request, I sent the heated bed plate back to them for testing on July 19.  Well, two weeks later (8/4) still nothing heard… I did just send an email asking for an update on my board.  Compared to Makerbot (where I find the response is almost immediate), the customer service here so far leaves something to be desired….

UPDATE #4: After some fun with the glass company and a replacement heated bed, the unit is done!  But due to my work obligations, vacations and such, I’ve shelved this project because my 3D Systems Cube(tm) is now on the way.  So, maybe I’ll get the time to actually fire this up again and test a real part on it.  I’ll get a report out then!