Author Topic: Best 3D printer  (Read 3478 times)


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Best 3D printer
« on: May 13, 2016, 12:24:05 PM »
Well, this is one of those Religion-Politics things that can sure get a rowdy conversation started. And like everything, "best" depends on what you need it for, your taste, level of experience, etc.

Most folks that are just getting into 3D printing correctly are reluctant to invest a lot of money and maybe buy the wrong thing. I have been there, buying my first machine over three years ago, an $800 Solidoodle 3. It was what we call an FFF or Fused Filament Fabrication (or Filament Deposition Modeling) printer where the machine squirts melted plastic out in a thin thread to make the layers of the object. Since then I have purchased a "low end" $400 Prusa i3 clone made by Wanhao Industries and the $1400 Robox printer by CEL-Robox of London.

After cutting/gnashing and wearing out my teeth on the Solidoodle, I was pleasantly surprised how much 3D printers had evolved in only three years. Suffice it to say I love both my Wanhao and Robox, but for different reasons.

The Wanhao is what is called an open-source Prusa clone. A man names Prusa invented a nifty printer design and rather than patenting it, made it available for anyone to use and improve upon, with certain conditions. You can read more on Wikipedia. So now several companies sell their variant on the Prusa design each with different features or slightly different specs and prices. Pruse then is a design standard. Another type of 3d printer design standard is the "delta" machine made by companies like Rostock. It is a three legged machine with the print head hanging between the three legs, moving in three dimensions to print the object. Another standard is RepRep, with many variants like the Solidoodle being built in the last several years.Other types od desktop 3D printers include a laser that melts plastic powder called SLS technology or Selective Laser Sintering. Machines that use a laser to solidify the surface of liquid resin in layers to make objects are called SLA or Stereolithography. Other machines use a common (or not so common) projector like you might see in a conference room, to solidify a special type of photo-reactive liquid resin.

You can get kits or assembled machines. Machines that are cheap but require a considerable investment of time to build and or keep adjusted. The Wanhao Duplicator I bought came pre assembled but does require an occasional leveling of the bed, to within a fraction of a millimeter. And, being a manual and slightly subjective process (you have to "feel" how a slip of paper drags between the nozzle and the build plate) it can be a little frustrating at times and it is not hard to knock the machine out of level when you are wrestling a  stuck part off the print bed.

Others, like the Robox are pre assembled, pre calibrated and self-leveling. This is the ideal. A machine that just works straight out of the box and doesn't make you think a lot. Or rather, it lets you think about what it is you are making rather than keeping the printer running right.

I love my Robox. It makes high quality prints but you still get a slight fabric kind of look and texture due to the way the machine lays down molten plastic in threads as it builds up the part. It is also fast and especially, trouble free and low maintenance. When it does require adjustment it has a suite of nice automated routines to streamline the process.

But the Robox makes a few trade-offs to achieve this high level of precision and hassle free printing. They use some proprietary technology like valves in the extrusion nozzles that do a great job of preventing stringing, resulting in remarkably clean prints. However, the needles and the fine nozzles can be damaged if you try to print, say, one of the new Carbon Fiber filaments which are notoriously hard on printers. Since the Robx uses their own design of valved nozzles you can't just upgrade to a set of hardened steel nozzles.

So that is why I have the Wanhao. It is a simple, rugged little direct drive machine (I installed the hardened steel nozzles and all metal hot end) that can print metallics, rubber and other filaments that might damage or be difficult for the Robox.

I typically print some parts of a project on the Robox and some on the Wanhao, to get the best balance of speed, precision and capability.

Note that the Solidoodle company I bought my first printer from no longer exists. It started outsourcing its manufacturing to China and soon ran into a myriad of problems from too-long supply lines, quality problems, indifference, communication issues and other nightmares. Solidoodle was not the first nor will it be the last printer manufacturer to take the long swan dive. This is one way of saying that the industry is still settling out, much like the personal computer industry was in the late 70s through the mid 80s or the Internet. Remember Compaq? Netscape? Wordstar? Lotus? Ashton-Tate (dBase)? All huge leaders. All gone.

Allow yourself to risk a little to get your feet wet but don't plow a bunch of hard-earned dough into a big fancy printer. You may find yourself searching for support and parts in a year or so. Or maybe not. Just be realistic when you go to buy your "best" 3D printer. And don't forget to have fun.
ELEKS Maker 2.5W A5 laser engraver, Robox 3D printer, Wanhao i3 Duplicator 3D printer, Windows 10


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Re: Best 3D printer
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2016, 12:54:59 PM »
I bought a Prusa i3 kit for under $300.00. Having already assembled my Benbox laser machine, the 3D printer wasn't that hard to put together but took more time because there are more wires, a large power supply box that you have to wire up. The RAMPS 1.4 Ardunio Mega controller board has to be wired up too and that takes time. I had to take it slow and easy to make sure I was wiring everything up correctly so that when I turned on power for the first time, I wouldn't see any smoke!

Well, everything went fine, it powered up OK and I was able to print some test pieces successfully. But I was far from being done with setting it up.

The axis end stops are very cheap and of very poor design. Thingaverse is full of improved end stop designs and my first real use was to print out replacement end stop parts and install them.

The software that I use is called Repetier Host and I like it now that I'm used to using it. It takes a .stl file and slices it into a lot (hundreds) of thin pieces so the printer can print the part one layer at a time. This is the main reason 3D print jobs take a long time.

It took me about 2 weeks of daily use to tweak the software settings in Repetier Host to finally get the right setup to produce the highest quality parts possible for 3D parts. There are a lot of settings, 50+ I would guess off the top of my head. Using the 3D printer requires a lot of hand holding, tweaking and get good quality parts. Very very different from using my Benbox laser which doesn't need anything once you set it up initially, then you just use it. Not so for 3D printing.

Bed leveling is the most important thing affecting print quality and for the newbies, that does not mean leveling the bed with a bubble (although I did that to start off with to make sure the bed was level with the center of the earth). But what bed leveling really means in 3D printing is how level the extruder head (the thing that spits out the hot filament) is as it passes over the bed surface? The head comes down to about the thickness of a piece of paper! So I am now well used to manually jogging the head around the bed surface and making small adjustments to the head/bed distance as I move the head around to different areas of the bed.

Before anyone asks, no I am not going to add an auto-bed leveler. I am so good now at manually adjusting the bed, I can do it very quickly and now I don't have to do it very often.

The hot bed isn't perfectly level across its whole surface. So, you will find the 'sweet spot' on your own bed and use that for your prints.

All in all, I can print some pretty high quality parts now but the 3D printer takes a lot of hand holding to keep it in perfect tune to do that. My experience has been that a 3D printer requires a lot more attention to use it than does our laser printers. I am glad I bought the kit as that gave me the knowledge I needed to work with it, modify the end stop parts and to generally maintain it.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2016, 12:57:16 PM by Administrator »
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Re: Best 3D printer
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2016, 05:33:35 PM »
I bought a Printrbot Simple Metal with heated bed. It works pretty well. BUT my wife would not let me tinker on a $850 machine! Dang wives! LOL

So I bought a Printrbot Simple Makers Kit at $349. The build was pretty easy and setup was not too bad. I was not impressed with the thousand and one zip ties holding it together. Worse was the Birch ply. It tended to change day to day, caused by humidity and temperature. This caused constant maintenance and adjustments. So it would print real well one day then crappy the next! I now know that I should have sealed the birch to help stop this from happening. But some of the problems would have still kept cropping up, after all the linear bearings were all zip tied in. Some of the bolts were threaded into the ply which is not all that good either. I do not recommend a ply based kits!!!!

Then Printrbot came out with the Play upgrade for the Maker Kit. All metal frame about a dozen zip ties, all for wire management. So I ponied up another $199. It was worth it. The Play is a much sturdier machine than the Maker Kit ever was.
I stole my brothers simple metal bed after he upgraded his Play to a heated bed. We had cut it down to fit his Play. That gave us about 7 5/8" (189mm). My machine now is at X 107mm Y 189mm and Z 135mm. The 4" (102mm) X is a bit small.

That was not enough so I Then went the Raspberry Pi route and used Octopi (Octoprint on the Raspberry Pi) to make my printers both wireless with Raspberry PI 2B's and wireless dongles. My wife found the whole thing about converting to Gcode then dropping it into Octopi too hard. Get file from Thingiverse, extract it, Slice it then save the Gcode, send that to the Octopi print server. Too complicated for her. Even after I installed the Slicing files and it could slice some things on its own, it just did not suit her.

So my next try was I bought a cheap $56 8" Windows8 32GB tablet. I immediately upgraded it to Win10. I installed Cura then set the .stl extensions to open Cura. Now we do not even have to extract the zip files. You just open the compressed folder and double click the .stl. It then automatically opens Cura and slices it. We just set the temp and infills if the ones saved last session are not right for the print. I 3D printed a mount to keep the tablet on the printer. The tablet is powered by the printer with a LM2596 board retro-fitted in the printers base. On that Tablet I had to use an OTG cable and it powered and ran data no problem. Then I dropped the tablet and broke it.

So I moved to a 10" "Unbranded" Tablet for $78. It would either connect USB with one end of the OTG or charge with the other end. I opened up the tablet, cut the battery wires and installed a power harness for direct powering from the printer.

Both Tablets used Atom Z3537 w/2GB memory and I chose 32GB. I tried an earlier Atom processor and Repetier would not work due to video.
All of these work great on the tablet. Some really big projects will fail to slice then I have to resort to the desktop. I added the tablet to my Workgroup so I can send the file to the public folder if I have a project from the desktop. Sketchup works just fine tablet only, but a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse pad really makes it work easier for designing on the go. The Browser also is nice to have as you can go directly to Thingiverse or other site to get files. The Tablet gives me WiFi and Bluetooth access. Tablet generally only have one USB which sucks. There are times I really would like more so a Powered hub will probably slip into it sooner or later.

I save links to the desktop for sites like thingiverse. I have a link to the troubleshooting sites for print problems and to the printrbot site for adjustments when needed. Everything is a double click away and saved in one place.

This printer will be a never ending project for my weird ideas. The wife just shakes her head every time she sees it changed!

So I now have a totally portable 3D printer.
A5 2.5W w/homing switches on L7
A5 2W diode self upgraded from stock 500mw
Printrbot Play. Ext bed, integrated tablet control.
Printrbot Simple Metal