MetrixCreateSpace in Seattle, the hackerspace where I’m a member, has a 3d printer night every thursday night. I go every once in a while to keep track of developments in the space. As you know, I’m not currently selling EasyMakers ( Mr. Market has spoken ), but I’m really surprised by the low quality of the other offerings, and don’t understand why people are willing to buy 3D printers that have such terrible problems. I’ve seen the following robots up close, and talked to their owners over the last few months — these are their stories and my opinions:
Ultimaker, Ord Hadron, Rostock ( Johan himself ), Rostock clones ( Made with either OpenBeam or 80/20 ), and have come to some conclusions.
Rostock is good. The clones of it are OK right now, but may be good soon. The problems in the Rostck clone designs are getting solved, and are mostly around the slide carriage/bearing systems. This is an easy fix, and I expect the Rostock derivatives to be good printers eventually — but they’re just OK right now. The original Rostck isn’t as cool looking as the T-Slot rail derivatives, but it works better. The 8mm rods and lm8uu bearings are more proven than any of the other bearing systems used in the clones. If you’re building your own printer, a Rostock, but not any of the current derivatives, is a good choice. I think in 6 moths, the derivatives will be pretty good as they fix the few middling issues they have left. Id’ call it 90% ready — but not yet consumer ready. The Original Rostock is a nice and simple robot. The derivatives have too many parts that need too much skill to assemble, and unless you’ve already built a 3d printer, cannot recommend the derivatives — stick to Johan’s design. It’s a little faster than EasyMaker, and has better X/Y space efficiency. It has poor Z space efficiency — resulting in a good desktop footprint, but a very tall tower printer. It cannot mill, and multiple extruders may be a problem for it.
The Ultimaker. The owner loved it, and hated it. She spent over a month trying to calibrate it, and managed to get one small, nice quality print. The one part was really nice — but she couldn’t replicate the result. It’s the same speed as EasyMaker, just harder to setup and get quality parts from. At the same time, it’s also a one-trick pony. OverHyped, but not very good. If you’re highly skilled, you can make it a good printer that works well — but this printer is really a “user skill” robot, and I can’t recommend it at this time.
The Ord Hadron bot. This thing is crap. I don’t know why anyone would get one. The motion system shakes like a scared Chihuahua. The quality of parts used is very nice — it’s a very complete-looking, attractive robot. It’s also entirely form over function. Quality of output is terrible. If you get an ORD, get the smaller one. The motion system does not scale well. I have video of the owner talking about how badly it shakes. It shakes so badly, yo cannot see it in video — the camera’s image stabilization software thinks it’s my hand shaking, and compensates. The problem is the 90 degree connectors used to mount Z are way too weak. There’s not enough room in the design to put in proper strength connectors. Hence, the robot has to be very small to work. The Hadron version is larger than the normal ORD bot — and the Hadron is too large for the connectors. Bigger/better Z beam connectors are needed to make this robot decent, and the room for that just isn’t there. The other option is to make it a Bowden drive. The owner had mounted a Greg’s extruder, and that was just too much moving mass for this weak a design.
MakerGear M1 — I didn’t get to see this running, but I was impressed with it. The owner was having electronics problems, and it wouldn’t boot. The design seemed nice, and I think it’ll make a good printer. Small, portable, lightweight. I’d consider it for a portable printing robot. I think the M2 will likely be as nice. If I wanted a portable, fully built unit, I would seriously consider this unit. I would like to see it working to be sure, but I have a good opinion of it.
MakerBot cupcake — This was seriously upgraded over the original, and used the nicest plastic. It was older, but the print quality was very good. Say what you will about MakerBot, their printers are very good, and the most user friendly. I’ve seen the cupcake run for the longest periods of time, and consistently get good quality and long run times. It’s nowhere as good as EasyMaker in final quality — but the cupcake is rock solid reliable. MakerBot did a great job on extruder design, and on electronics. These are two large problem areas for RepRap designs. The Mk6 on is a great extruder, but prior to Mk6, extruder quality was spotty. I’d recommend getting an Mk7 extruder ( or clone ) if you’re building your own printer. It’s much better than any other extruder on the market right now. Makerbot’s Gear and filament guide idea are wonderful ideas, and every extruder should use both from here on in. The filament guide is crucial for both feed and water control.
I’ll also debunk some bad information I fell victim to — the Stratasys device has good output quality, far better than any MakerBot I have seen so far, and is fully supported( aka overhangs). I’ve seen bad output quality and good output quality from the devices — the skill of the operator is a big deal here. I had previously seen only terrible parts, be recently, got to see good parts, Also — most 3D printers depend on the skill of the operator. It’s possible that EasyMaker’s quality is due to me, not due to the machine. Some of what I’ve seen — I wonder why/how people buy those robots. On the low end, the original Rostock is a good choice. On the medium end, the MakerGear printers are a good choice, and on the high end — MakerBot or EasyMaker are good choices, as of right now for the home market. In the professional market, I think that the Stratasys device could be a good choice. I don’t know the middle professional end, maybe an OBjet. At the very high end of professional devices, EOS is the one to beat — their printers are amazing — but they also start at many hundred thousand dollars and go over a million for their top of the line. I’ve never seen as much detail, density, and strength as I have from an EOS device. They are the “wow” level for me. If EOS made a home device in $2,500 or less price point, I would buy it instantly, sight unseen.
I’ve backed the EventrBot and the MakiBox. I’m looking forward to receiving these robots. Why so many Robots? EasyMaker is an amazing printer, but I find I need multiple robots to design efficiently — they each have different roles. Grover needs a robot to test his designs with, and we sometimes contend for use of the existing robot. 3D prints are slow — and I design large parts. Right now, I’m lucky to design, print, and test a part a week. At this rate, I won’t have the next robot done until next fall. Some weeks, like this one, were lost entirely to extruder issues from being in the cold, wet garage. So, I went a little nutty and decided to get multiple robots. Each of these robots I got as basic kit — I have a 3d printer and a lot of skill — so I can build each robot for very little. The first 3d printer you get and make will be very expensive — the second will be nearly free. They’ll both take some time to arrive. I backed the Makibox in February, 2012. I hope to get it before next summer, if I’m lucky. I have no idea when Eventrbot will ship. Again, I hope to get it before next summer. Maybe Santa will help these ship before christmas? That would be wonderful!
So, the MakiBox will be the “on the desk, inside the house, ABS” robot used for testing small to midsized parts where ABS is the right material to work with. ABS is terribly difficult to work with in the cold — it is not “garage” friendly at all. The problem is curl. I can heat the bed and keep the part smooth until completion with ABS. Then, I turn off the heated bed and lift the part. The ABS shrinks and curls right in front of my eyes. The layers shrink/curl differently, and I watch the part deform once in the open air of the garage, and I watch stress fractures form. It’s really interesting! But, ABS can’t be in a cold garage and get good results. I have great ABS results — from the summer time, printed on hot days, inside the house. If it’s in the house, it has to be small — or the wife will kill me. The Maki is the smallest robot — EM is far too large to be allowed in the house.The EventrBot is to replace my RepRap Prusa, which is a terrible robot, with something better, and will be an “in the garage, PLA” robot, used for slightly larger parts and for parts better made with PLA. When I can. EasyMaker will be put into mill mode, and will primarily be used as a mill. This way, I can get some high-density, large parts. I may keep EasyMaker a printer until the end of the experimenting phase. Printers aren’t as useful as CNC mills, in my opinion. But, they’re far more home friendly. If a design works on when made on a 3d printer, and can be manufactured in a single setup on a 3 axis CNC mill, then it’s a good design. The single setup mill operation is needed to get good costs at production scales. The “works when 3d printed” indicates good tolerances for production scale. If both are true, then you can go to scale cheaply/efficiently.
Alright, thanks for reading such a long post.