To begin, I haven’t given up on my Prusa i3. I built the Prusa to better understand the technical facets of 3d printing while learning how to troubleshoot and get things running smoothly. My Prusa i3 is probably running well enough to get some decent prints… I just really don’t like the extruder I’ve been using - an i3ext variant for e3d hot end. Between issues with calibrating the extruder, and getting the various axis issues worked out, I realized it will be a longer road to printing parts that have a decent degree of accuracy. Take this with the fact that I can’t print large parts on the Afinia H479 without a degree of warp/twist given the small build plate, and the Afinia’s locked down hardware limiting Open Source software solutions, I was on the market for a more turnkey printer with a large build volume that could print with a greater degree of quality and accuracy - oh… and able to use open source software.
Process of elimination
Like many folks interested in 3d printing, I was glued to the Make Magazine issue 42 with the Annual Guide to 3d printing last december. I read, reread, second guessed and discussed the printers in the issue. I dreamed of investing in a couple of options for various reasons and eliminated others for obvious reasons listed below. I had no intent of purchasing a new printer but really wanted one - and recently my wife prodded me into it, knowing how much I really enjoy the technology.
My process for evaluating medium to big purchases involves time, analysis and often once making a final selection - rejection of making the entire purchase. This goes for cars, trucks, houses, computers, appliances etc. It’s a nasty habit I have. As I was evaluating 3d printers for my future wish list, I removed cost from the equation since I never really intended to purchase a printer. There were a few early hopefuls that I could justify entirely on cost but rejected on capabilities or possible tinkering required. I am summarizing my thoughts on each printer and a quick reason for elimination - but anyone reading this, I welcome to argue in the comments or send me an email on any error in my ways. Keep in mind, I have no hands-on experience with any of the printers including my Taz 5 that is in transit. If I had unlimited funds for 3d printing I would own each of these for the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) section of my studio.
The printers in order of consideration/elimination:
MakerFarm Prusa 8″ i3v Kit (V-Slot Extrusion)
This isn’t in the Make Magazine review… however after attempting to problem solved issues with my own Prusa i3, this variant comes up over and over as a solid, and inexpensive Prusa i3. I eliminated this printer fairly early and within hours of considering it. While working on my scratch built Prusa i3 I would envy users I followed online that had built the MakerFarm Prusa i3s and were printing successfully. They are solid, open source and the kits come complete. There is some custom parts out there and a history of success.
Reasons for elimination:
Personal Time - a few of the Makerfarm models have a large build volume… but my professional career, focus on family and addiction to Clash of Clans won’t allow me two similar 3d printers that require tinkering and troubleshooting on an ongoing basis.
Looking for Something Different - I really didn’t want a 3d printer that was almost identical to what I have in the Prusa i3. I realize my final selection was based on the Prusa roots, but this was too close.
Long Print Time - not sure why, but the idea of wood frame material for 20+ hour large prints didn’t set well when I took into consideration that I am responsible for building it.
Rostock MAX™ v2 Desktop 3D Printer Kit
I love the look of Delta Printers. The idea of the robotic-looking arms working like little insects building a model intrigues me. I considered the Rostock Max because of it’s large build platform, reviews and look. Their specs also present really good layer height resolution… I just wasn’t sure about the potential for dimensional accuracy.
Reasons for elimination:
Personal Time - Though I like the look of the Rostock, I really wanted something turn-key with a history of quality prints. Though the Rostock is capable of quality prints, I just felt like it would require more hands-on tinkering to get what I needed. This line of thinking started me down the path of something more Turn-Key (and obviously more expensive)
Vertical Build Volume vs Horizontal - I am considering building large items such as guitar bodies, quad copters etc. One of my concerns is the alignment of filament layers vertically vs horizontally. For some reason, long layers of filament seems structurally more sound than parts built vertically with numerous smaller fused layers of filament for the same long part. Nothing to base this on… though I have heard the guys on the 3d Printing Today podcast mention build alignment for optimal strength a few times.
Replicator Clones and Makerbot
Too be honest, I only briefly considered various Replicator clones and any MakerBot products. Andy and Whitney from the 3d Printing Today pod cast use the clones and seem pleased… though it is really hard to say. I never considered Makerbot as a whole because of the various reviews and reputation issues… however my local MicroCenter has been running almost non-stop with a MakerBot (I think rep 2 - not sure) and the guys have told me it runs great.
Reasons for elimination:
What to buy - when it comes to the clones, there’s too many and not much to base my thinking on. I really didn’t want to throw my eggs in a basket that didn’t have a consistent pool of feedback.
Reputation - When I peeked at the MakerBots, right or wrong, there’s too much going on with their reputation on the 5th gen products right now and I don’t hear many good comments around their closed-source extruder designs.
As I was ruling out various low-cost printers and moving more toward turn-key solutions Ultimaker 2 moved to the top of my list. The key words that kept jumping out at me: Easy, Quality, Large Build Plate. Keep in mind, I’m telling the process of elimination story as I was learning and changing my wish list for a product I never thought I would purchase due to cost… whew. I love their 20 micron resolution. I don’t care if it takes 20 hours… it was the consistency and quality at this point I like. As I was looking over the Ultimaker 2, it became apparent, there are some leaders in the FDM printer realm that have withstood the test of time with quality products. I currently have a Prusa i3 with geared extruder and the Afinia has a direct drive. I have no first-hand experience with a Bowden extruder. A few of the pluses I found… included increased printing speed due to the light-weight hot end. Not overly important to me - I just want good prints. The UM2 has a very high resolution and a reputation for quality prints. Obviously the UM2 was overall winner in the Make 2015 3d Printer Shootout for quality. For over a month, I had my heart and mind set on the UM2. I even considered the UM Original+ kit as a low-cost option. However, the UM2 sure would look nice on my shelf.
Reasons for elimination:
Hotend - 3d Printing Today Podcast number 076 made me aware of something I might want to consider. UM2 Extruder Maintainability. The hot end is an integrated piece. You will need to listen to their podcast but long-story short… this hot end might not be as forgiving as I would like for the newb mistakes I am likely to make. Apparently it’s not as easy as swopping hot ends and printing away. That led me to investigate the next point that sealed the elimination deal
Multiple materials - In the back of my mind has been the idea of using flexible materials, nylons etc… as I experiment with my printer. Shoot! Taulman3, notable for nylon and experimental filaments, is literally located a couple miles from my home. There are varying opinions on the UM2s bowden extruder in regards to flexible filaments. As I was pondering this I began considering possible enhancements I would like to make to a printer for future use, such as dual-extruders, multiple materials in addition to the maintainance.
Dual Extruders - At this point I was aware there is currently no out-of-box add-ons for dual extruders with the UM2. This is one of those things I pondered on my path to 3d printer selection and realized, though it isn’t necessary, it would be fun experiment with printer techniques, support material etc…
LulzBot TAZ 5 3D Printer
Winner of my unscientific, overly opinionated and uninformed reviews
This leads me to my selection - the very new, limited reviewed yet fully open-source Lulzbot Taz 5. I hem-hawed around the Taz 5 in all my observations… keeping it on the back burner of my mind but not considering it a real contender. In a local St. Louis Science Center First Friday meet up of local makers, there was a St. Louis based delta 3d printer company and a variety of Maker Group printers… one was a Taz (4 I think). It was huge. And it looked like it had been ridden hard and was still ticking. I started to investigate the Taz after that and realized the Taz 5 was out and covered a few points of my ever-growing wish list.
Reasons for Purchase - beyond being open source:
Construction - like the UM2, the Taz 4-5 is known for rigid construction which allows it to print faster and more accurately.
All Metal Hotend - the Taz has an all-metal hot end AND is known printing a variety of materials. Lulzbot even brags about this capability to some degree.
Dual Extruder - Lulzbot makes a Dual Extruder solution that they stand behind
FlexyDually Extruder = Flexible Materials - strike that… all kinds of materials. If you purchase the FlexyDually Extruder you can not only print a variety of flexible materials, you can use two extruders to experiment with hard and flexible filament fusion, dissolvable support and things I’m sure I haven’t even thought of.
Forums support - much like the UM2… the Lulzbot community is strong and has users available to solve almost every problem you can think of. The great thing is there are very few “out-of-the-box” issues with the Taz. Most users I find hit the ground running with excellent prints… “out-of-the-box”.
Cons I had to overcome:
The Y axis moves. That’s the real advantage the UM2 has over the RepRap roots of the Lulzbot models. Because the Taz bed moves independently of the extruder head, there’s just more room for calibration issues. That being said, the Taz 4 has a long history of quality prints and speed that I expect the Taz 5 to continue.
Z axis resolution - note to this day, I am getting decent .1mm prints from my Afinia and Prusa i3. I was really interested in seeing this 20 micron hubbub of the UM2. However the Taz 4 and Taz 5 boast a respectable 75 micron capability I plan to test.
Who did I buy my Taz 5 from? MatterHackers
As I was considering my potential purchase, I called Lulzbot to see if they had the FlexyDually Extruder in-stock. No-go. They were going to have some in a matter of days (if not hours). By this time I had made my printer decision (though purchasing was a whole other story) - but I didn’t want to make separate purchases for filament, printer and dual extruder. My heart was set if my mind wasn’t convinced about the Taz 5. I looked over the Lulzbot site resellers and low-and-behold, I found MatterHackers - the makers of my favorite open-source 3d printing software/slicer - MatterControl. I looked on their site and they had both a printer and FlexyDually Extruder in-stock. Instead of simply purchasing it online and hoping for the best, I called. I forget the woman’s name but she quickly said she would double check on the printer and extruder. Keep in mind, my heart was set, but my head was still struggling with purchasing a brand-new 2015, untried printer model. She came back, said they had printers and a number of FlexyDually’s in stock, and shared her thoughts on the potential timing of shipment. So I asked… “what do you think of the Taz Printers?” She minced no words, said they use them as their in-house production printers for customers that want 3d printing and they are reliable and high quality. She helped me to believe they were the work-horse I had been reading about with top quality capabilities. As the peasant in my once favorite game, WarCraft II, says… “Job’s Done”. I immediately made the purchase online - both because of the frank feedback I received and the idea of supporting MatterHackers open source efforts with a purchase.
Roughly 3 days and counting before drop-off
I intend to document as much as possible for the blog.
My next plan is to do a time-lapse recording of my build, shoot some pics for posts and start calibrating and printing as much as I can. Top of my list, a pile of yellow jacket traps I plan to design for my Uncle in Minnesota, a whole new set of hopefully square parts for my Prusa i3 rebuild and either a hexapod or quadcopter for my son and I to build. My wife gives me a hard time because I am calm and cool at home waiting for the printer like it’s no big deal… however my 10 year old self is jumping around the inner walls of my skull in anticipation. More to come. Now I just need to figure out a way for my 3d printing habit to pay for itself.