Another Round of 3D printers

As summer approaches here in the US, two machines that were announced at the Winter CES event are now available.  The MakerBot Mini began shipping two weeks ago, and 3D Systems’ Cube 3 was set for late June deliveries with preorders now.  The third generation Cube claims a layer resolution of 75 microns (.003″) and prints in ABS or PLA in two materials / colors at once.   The exciting thing about this machine is the new filament delivery system, with nozzles attached to the print cartridges.  The price of the cartridges is the same as the previous Cube 2 model, but it isn’t clear if they contain the same amount of filament as before.  WiFi remote is still included but now there will be an iOS and Android control app too.Cube 3D printer

I plan on posting my personal experiences with both of these machines in early July.  The Mini uses PLA only, but you can source your own filament.  The Cube requires proprietary cartridges, but the cartridges come in PLA or ABS with more color choices.  A departure from the previous generation Cubes is that this unit changes to a Bowden-style remote extruder motor that drives the filament using an internal mechanism in the center of the new cartridge.

However, the next wave of personal 3D printers will be those using liquid photopolymers.  And again, capabilities are expanding while prices are going down.  A commercial SLA machine I know currently costs $10,000.  The build envelope is 4 x 3 x 4″.  It does not have WiFi or an internal buffer, thus it has to be in communication with a computer at all times while printing through a USB connection.  But this week, XYZ Printing announced the Nobel 1.0, to be sold for under $2500 at the end of 2014.  Here is a quote from their press release:

“Using stereolithography technology, also known as optical fabrication or photo-solidification, the print resolution of Nobel 1.0 reaches 25 microns. By improving the resin-filling mechanism, Nobel 1.0 provides a stable SLA printing quality so that users do not need to add liquid resin constantly throughout the printing process. Slightly larger
than other desktop SLA printers, the build size of Nobel 1.0 is 5 by 5 by 7.9 inches. It is expected to hit the market in 2014 Q4 at the price level of $2500 or less, making Nobel 1.0 the most affordable desktop SLA 3D printer on the market. Targeting users that are more concerned in printing quality, Nobel 1.0 works perfectly for jewelry designers, dentists, and industries that require rapid molding processes.”

 Nobel 1.0 SLA

Nobel 1.0 SL

While this technology is amazing for smaller, precision parts (like the applications mentioned above) there are downsides.  The photopolymer liquid is hazardous before it is cured, and skin contact is to be avoided at all costs.  The materials have shelf lives of perhaps a year.  Unused material must be disposed of properly – I have resorted to small disposable trays put out on a sunny day to cure.  Models must be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol to remove any remaining liquid, and depending on several factors, might need additional curing with UV light.  Also, this material is eventually degraded by exposure to sunlight, and generally has lower strength and heat deflection temperatures than ABS or PLA.  Supports are made of the same photopolymer, and thus are “breakaway” needing cleanup and removal.

I’ve amazed some of my students by taking a small cup of photopolymer and “drawing” in it with a blu-ray laser pointer.  I pour away the remaining liquid, leaving a “solid doodle” that recorded the light’s movement in the cup.  Yes, this stuff cures that fast.  In fact, heat is generated during the curing process, making for a small risk of fire if you get a large quantity in contact with some catalytic agent – so my advice is never use metal objects with these materials while liquid.

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.

UPDATE: After two weeks of use, this machine is doing just fine.  There have been some incremental updates to the driver software such that things like infill are now more explained.  The latest firmware (1.1.I as of this writing) adds several useful menu items, such as moving the head to enable easy access to the drip box for cleaning it out.  The only weird thing is that it insists on purging the head above the build platform at the beginning of a job, requiring a manual removal of that stray filament – or it will be dragged into the build.  Why this is happening (when it is so easy to fix) is beyond me.  Why not do that at the drip box???  But once a job has started, I feel confident to leave it to completion.  And if you are patient, the builds easily pop of the glass plate once cooled down – no need for a scraper. Given that there have been a number of early improvements to both driver and firmware, I suspect both will continue to improve the machine’s capabilities with time.

Of course, there is some debate about the chipped cartridges.  Yes, there have been hacks posted… but probably the biggest issue at the moment is just the availability of the cartridges in the retail market.  At $28 for 600g of ABS, that translates to $46 for 1 kg, and although you can get ABS filament for perhaps $30 a kg, I’ve not been all that happy with my samples of the cheaper brands.  At $48/kg, Makerbot filament has been consistently good (at least in my machines) but obviously without hacking the EEPROM you can’t refill an empty unit.

How do the builds compare to other machines?  With careful choice of parameters, I’ve produced models almost as good as a $15,000 uPrint machine.  And, the DaVinci has a bigger build volume though it is a little slower.  It definitely beats my Solidoodle 2, but my Cube 2 can make better quality sidewalls.  This may be a belt tension issue so I’m going to investigate that soon.

By mid-summer the 2.0 dual nozzle unit should be on sale in the US (it is currently on preorder in Taiwan, and they will not ship outside that area).  The WiFi enabled, Android touch panel version comes out after that.  I suspect that this model is causing heartburn in more that a few places that were selling more hobbyist-style models. There is certainly a place for those – but not for someone who has limited interest in sweat equity technology.

UPDATE 2: Yes, the sidewall problems were indeed a loose X belt which was simply fixed with a procedure that is now shown on the support page for the printer.  And with that, the prints have been really consistent.  The purge behavior is still the same, even though I’m now on the “J” firmware version and several client software versions later.  The fix?  I put a piece of 2 mil Kapton tape on the right edge  of the build platform where it purges and that solved it.

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)




Zeepro Zim:

CEL Robox:



Makibox: [as of summer 2014, Makibox is bankrupt and did not deliver all orders]





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).


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 ( 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…


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:

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!


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 ( 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.


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!

Printerbot LC+ On the Way

Printrbot LC

After a long wait (the Kickstarter project funded last December), I received a note from the shipping agent that my LC+ was on the way.  So, sometime next week it should appear at my door and as I have done before, I’ll be posting assembly shots and commentary on the kit.

MakerBot Replicator(tm) first impressions

I received one of the first batches of machines sent out into the wild, being delivered in late March.  I’ve run quite a number of jobs with it and am generally very pleased with this new model.  I have the dual extruder version. Here is some early experience feedback from my one month of use.

First, the machine came incredibly well packed, with custom cardboard inserts and clever use of materials to cushion the bot.  No damage was found from shipping.  Setting it up was pretty simple, although I found the leveling of the build plate to be fussy (more on that below).  My first test print from the SD card went fine.  As I already had a supply of several color ABS spools, I opted for the “standard” order which comes with two spools of ABS: natural and black.

The good:  it works!  Part build quality is very nice and compares favorably to a uPrint ™ machine from Dimension that costs $15,000 that I have in my lab at work.  In fact, it would be very hard for someone to tell the difference, with the notable exception that the uPrint machine only will accept natural ABS and they do not sell tinted material for it (for that you have to purchase the next model up at $19,000).  MakerBot ABS works out to about 65 cents per cubic inch while the “professional” materials for the uPrint ™ are $4.66 a cubic inch.

The bad:  well, a few annoying bugs cropped up the first month.  Getting a part to stick to the build surface can be a real problem.  I’ve followed the cleaning and leveling instructions and still have had issues with builds that have long dimensions on the platform.  Raising the build plate temperature to 105C helped.  And the 4 screws used to level the build plate are just barely long enough to do the job and retain some tension on the springs that are meant to keep things tight. One of the thumbscrews fell off during a build from vibration.  I also hear that they have increased the thickness of the aluminum build plate in models shipping now -mine is slightly warped so that the edges bow up from the center which is the lowest point.

The x-axis limit switch is not mechanically fixed to the PCB it is soldered to, so with time it became angled up off the board and didn’t trip at the end of travel when homing the x axis.  A spot of glue puts it in place permanently.

I also ran into a bug when switching from dual to single extrusion.  Moving from a just finished dual extrusion job to a single extruder, the head not being used is still pretty hot.  This seems to fool the software and so the machine actually times out with a head error and shuts down after a bit thinking that the unused extruder should not be hot.  The solution I found was to let the machine cool down completely and then start the single extruder job.  But this certainly slows things down if you are looking to build a number of parts in sequence.

And, a bug in early hardware (mine included) is that you can’t load or remove an SD card when powered up or bad things can happen.  I don’t know what the exact hardware problem is. So far I’ve not encountered it, but do plan on powering it off before exchanging SD cards.

Also, just a small gripe – at this price, you’d think they could provide the machine with a coat of polyurethane on the plywood, but none of the wood surfaces are protected.

Even so, all in all this is light years ahead of the CupCakeCNC machine they started with (and my model still makes parts!) and higher quality than the ThingOMatic.  Now if they would offer a good 3D scanner!