The Quest for a 3D printer

Not Great, Not Terrible #1

3D printing isn’t exactly the latest news but it has matured into a very useful technology for businesses, research labs and makers at home. The prices have fallen as the accuracy and features have been progressively enhanced.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of 3D printing we suggest reading this article at 3DInsider:
https://3dinsider.com/3d-printing-history/

Naturally, as a startup that also develops hardware, a 3D printer was an obvious priority in our acquisition list.

In this post we will go through:

  • What is the utility of a 3D printer for a startup like Dalma?
  • Specs we considered a must?
  • What printers did we consider? (Comparison & Reviews)
  • Why we chose the Prusa I3 MK3S?
  • Why we chose the kit and not the assembled product?
  • Building the kit
  • Some final thoughts and expectations

What is the utility of a 3D printer for a startup like Dalma?

If you have ever designed a part or assembly and had it manufactured you might know some of the pains of the process.
Between finding a manufacturer, miscalculations in your design, misinterpretation of your technical drawings or manufacturing errors you can lose a considerable amount of time until you get the perfect fit.

With a 3D printer we no longer have the necessity to reach out to a manufacturer, and risk errors in the design that will require modifications and a second run of production. This process could take up a few weeks. Weeks that with the 3D printer could be turned into a couple of days, once the part is printed we can immediately test it on our robot and start working on the corrections.

This saves one of the most valuable assets a startup like us has which is time. Time we can use to focus on new developments.

Specs we considered a must?

  • Good build volume: As a rough figure for our applications we considered that above 20x20x20 cm build volume would be reasonable, and we wouldn’t need anything over 50x50x50 cm.
  • Automatic Bed Leveling: This feature was a very heavy “must have” to us. Auto bed leveling saves a lot of time and hassle in our experience.
  • Noise Level: Noise can sometimes be overlooked, but for our sanity we decided that the printer should have a low noise output.
  • Supported Materials: When looking at materials the more the printer can handle the better, however we believe that we will mostly use PLA, ABS, PETG.
  • Power Loss Recovery: Having this feature could save an extensive print from going in the garbage in case of a power outage.
  • Price: We defined our price range to be under 1500€
  • Lead Time: Maximum of 3 weeks

What printers did we consider?

Reviews & Websites:

— — — — — — — — —— Prusa i3 MK3S — — — — — — — — — — —

— — — — — — — — — — Beeverycreative — — — — — — — — — — —

— — — — — — — — — — — — Craftbot — — — — — —— — — — —

— — — — — — — —— — — Ender 3 Pro — — — — — — — — — — —

— — — — — — —— — — — Cetus MK3 — — — — — — — — — — —

Why we chose the Prusa I3 MK3S?

Keep in mind we did not evaluate every 3D printer offer on the market. But according to our research and our constraints the obvious two contenders were the Prusa i3 MK3S and the Beeverycreative B2X300.

At first sight the B2X300 seems like the right choice, bigger build volume, dual extrusion, cheaper. However there are some key issues:

  • The need to oil the filament for detailed and complex prints
  • The exposed metal from the break-off points will rust faster
  • The lead time (6 to 10 weeks)

The biggest issue in our perspective is the lead time, it falls completely out of our requirements. Secondly the need to use oil on the filament will result in more often maintenance and a longer setup time.
The exposed metal can be easily solved with some paint however it does add some time to the setup.

So even though the Prusa appears to have less bells and whistles than the B2X300, it is according to the reviews the most reliable and hassle free printer at this price point, and to us that is worth the extra buck.

The Prusa i3 MK3S is without a doubt THE reference in this “DIY” segment of 3D printers. Here are the reasons we believe make it the best choice:

  • Reliability
  • Simple setup
  • Ease of maintenance
  • Good set of features ( Auto Mesh Levelling, Magnetic Bed, Power Loss Recovery … )
  • Low noise
  • Support for several materials
  • Somewhat affordable
  • Large community (well documented issues and how to solve them)

The last factor that heavily influenced our decision was the lead time, falling into our 3 weeks restriction. Making the Prusa the worthy owner of the title of “Dalma’s first 3D printer”.

Building the kit

Building the kit is mainly straightforward, except for the god damn extruder. The full build takes around a day and a half of work, and most of the problems we had were caused by-, wait for it-, can you guess? Not reading the instruction manual carefully. With the printer comes a very well documented instruction manual, there are even Youtube assembly videos you can follow. So just pay attention to the instructions and you will save yourself some “I’m so stupid” moments.

On to build quality the printer is solid. The 3D printed parts, although less robust, are a statement to the capabilities of the printer and that a final product can use 3D printed parts.

With that said, the only issue we encountered was during the filament loading phase during the wizard setup. The filament wouldn’t load and the extruder motor started to twitch, however unloading the filament would work perfectly, leading us to believe there was a misalignment between the filament and the extruder. After adjusting the tension on the spring loaded screw, (see the images below) and assuring the filament was aligned the issue was promptly solved. We have changed filaments twice in the last few days and the problem has not returned.

Spring Loaded Screw

Some final thoughts and expectations

So, did we choose the right printer? Only time will tell, but we are fairly confident in our decision and the experience using it this week has been positive. Mainly our expectations lie in not having to worry too much about the printer and being able to prototype parts fast and reliably for our robots.

For now we plan to leave the printer as is, gain some relevant experience with it and possibly, if the opportunity presents itself, add the Multi Material Upgrade. This addition will allow us to print complex parts that require support material like PVA.

In the end we are satisfied with our printer, and already started using it to prototype some of our designs. The printer is functional but we are still in testing, so suggest some prints or your favourite stress tests in the comment section below!

If you don’t know where to start you can check out Thingiverse to get some awesome ideas.

On a finishing note we were left very curious about the Beeverycreative printer, given that they are also a Portuguese brand and even though some points did not align with our requisites we believe it is a very strong alternative to the Prusa, as suggested by All3DP in this article. We are really proud to see Portuguese companies in the spotlight with quality products. Props to Beeverycreative!
If are as curious as we are visit their website and show them some love.

We make robots for moving stuff around. https://www.dalmarobotics.com