With 2014 soon to be done, it is time to write some thoughts on how much further things have developed with consumer 3D printing and scanning. If you’ve read my past posts, in March I listed the “new crop” of consumer models announced or in progress for sale. Here is a recap:
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-robox.com
- Solidoodle: www.solidoodle.com
- Phoenix3D: www.phoenix3dprinter.com
- Makibox: www.makibox.com [as of summer 2014, Makibox is bankrupt and did not deliver all orders]
- Printrbot: www.printrbot.com (and fully assembled)
So how did things turn out? There were definitely successes and failures, as one would expect. As for failures, MakiBox was one. I was fortunate to have an early order that was fulfilled, but many were left with nothing for their $250 investment. The manufacturing quality was fairly good, the instructions “Ikea” like, but the cartesian XY system was a bad design and subject to binding or too much “slop.” I’ve not build anything with it yet, but it does respond to Repetier and should work if I ever chose to. However, it is in desperate need of a revision to the XY axes system.
MakerBot had tons of problems with their “Smart Extruder” system, continuing to revise it all year long. I think the latest generation of extruders are doing better – I’m on my third one for a Mini. Software has gotten more stable and generally works as planned. However, the Mini and 5th Generation machines are simply overpriced (as is their scanner) compared to other units. What will they show next month in Las Vegas (the Winter CES)? Will there be a 6th generation that actually works reliably and allows for an ever wider array of filament options?
DaVinci released their dual nozzle unit and the AIO – a single nozzle machine with an integral scanner. Blog reports for the AIO suggest the scanner is not much use. In fact, speaking of scanners, the MakerBot scanner isn’t of much use either – I’ve tried numerous models and the results are rarely usable. DaVinci has tried to beat the cartridge refill option, although it is still possible to remain on a machine firmware level that will allow this – the web has plenty of hacks that work. A new touch screen interface for even the 1.0 unit will probably make all the current hacks obsolete, but don’t underestimate the cleverness of the technical folks out there. The promised release of the Nobel 1.0 SLA didn’t happen as far as I can see, so we will have to wait until next year. Update: release announced for 3d quarter 2015 at $1499 – which is pretty amazing.
Phoenix3D is more or less dead. They have very poor reviews of their kits on several blogs. I’ve asked for a refund of my “deposit” from March 2014 and have not received it as of this writing. They raised their prices dramatically – probably to try and pay off their refund requests – but they are nowhere competitively. You can purchase a fully assembled and working Davinci or PrintrBot Simple for less.
Zeepro ZIM continues to fulfill their Kickstarter rewards and also have begun to sell machines on Newegg, including filament supplies. My machine works but I had an early failure with filament backup around the nozzles – the machine crashed somehow but continued to extrude. I finally got this cleaned up. A replacement to the retaining hardware for the Bowden tubes was sent, but my Bowden tubes didn’t fit the new retaining fittings very well and I crushed them too much during reassembly. I purchased new tubing of a better fitting OD and the fit was perfect. I need to retry this machine again – there was at least one firmware update while it was down for repairs. It is very quiet, nicely built, but the main limitation seems to be the web-based interface. Wish they had gone with a Cubieboard 2 instead of the first-generation model for that part of the system. Running slic3r on that board is a bit of a challenge – yes, the ZIM has two CPU boards – a traditional RAMPS board adapted to that system, and a web-based server running on a Cubieboard. On mine at least I can run it on Repetier and it bypasses the internal server completely.
CEL Robox continues to sell machines into the market, but mine had some issues early on. I actually have now built (or sort of built) some small parts but I would not declare this fixed and ready to go. There seems to be a Z gapping problem. What happens is this – you first go through the manual calibration process by using the software and a piece of paper to set the gap. Once completed, you reinstall the PEI build bed. Then before each print, the machine measures the Z gap by lowering the head into the plate until a limit switch is tripped. However, my results give a Z gap that is too low – despite confirming the gap as directed. My first layer is smeared to the table and there are clicking noises from filament jamming – neither good. So I put in a support ticket over a week ago and so far nothing heard (yes, that includes Christmas but still…). They appear to have lost their best support tech and there has been little added to the FAQ section (and yes, my problem is not listed.) While this machine is very well made and has some wonderful features (the host software is actually one of the best I’ve seen), support is slow. Update: got a reply to the ticket on 1/8/15 and they posted a solution.
Solidooodle refreshed their lineup this summer, and the surprise was a new “consumer” unit called the “Press.” Built in China instead of Brooklyn, the first buyers were offered different tiered pricing depending on quotas. Well, for some reason, I managed to snag the very first Press order at $349 (it is now $599). This was promised for fall delivery, but as usual, there were delays. And as of now, my Press is sitting on a container ship off the port of Long Beach, California, waiting to be unloaded. The Press even comes with a new software package that appears to be on the same interface level as the DaVinci machines – pretty bare bones but functional for first-time users – the market Solidoodle is trying to reach. Stay tuned. I’ll be getting a review out just as soon as it hits my workbench. This one could be the sleeper of 2015!
Which leaves me to the last one, the Cube third generation machine from 3D Systems. A beautifully made cast and CNC’d aluminum internal frame with linear sliders all around, this dual nozzle unit is a steal at $999. And the prints it makes are very impressive – it is just that there is no restock of filament cartridges (they are of course proprietary). I have 5 cartridges on order from as long ago as July. I know that they have had manufacturing issues with their plastics supplier and even as late as December I have no idea on when they might ship my orders. So while this unit might be my every day building choice, one can’t use it without filament! Lets hope they get this part fixed very soon for the obvious reason – no filament, no printer. Update: cartridge orders are starting to get sent as of 1/16/15
As for 3D scanners, there were some interesting developments. The MakerBot scanner should be completely avoided – it should be priced under $200 for all it does. The MatterandForm scanner has much more promise and the latest software release is definitely making a big difference. A few folks seem to have hardware problems, but my unit with the new software outperforms the MakerBot scanner by and far. As for the Rubicon unit, it is still “in production” but I expect that I should have mine sometime before March 2015. The software for it seems to be well developed, and I have tried some earlier editions (without a scanner, of course). But I did receive two other scanners – the Cubify Sense unit and the Occipital iPad add-on. Both work pretty well, but don’t expect sub-millimeter accuracy. So long as you are scanning modestly large objects (like people, statues, furniture, etc) you’ll get reasonable results. On the other hand, engineering scanning with these models is mostly out of the question (things like gears, mechanical parts to copy, etc.). I will be doing a comparison of these consumer offerings to some commercial scanners early next year.
It was thought that 2014 would be the year of the liquid machine. So far, there has not been a huge outpouring of models, but there are some interesting developments. I predict that 2015 will see much more in the way of machines that are primarily consumer oriented. I built a SeeMe CNC “DropLit” as a beta tester – it works, although my main complaint is that there are too many light leaks and there is no lower shutter to shield the resin during idle times. A LittleRP kit is on its way to me as I write this. Both use DLP projectors to expose the resin, modified for close focus. I plan on using a closeup adapter lens instead of modifying my projector. A new “mini” SLA machine was announced on Kickstarter that uses a UV photodiode array for exposure. Although small, it most certainly provides a nice intro to the technology. And the Peachy Printer (another Kickstarter) continues to develop their hardware, but they are way over their initial delivery date. Hopefully that will be fixed in 2015!