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3D Printer Experience – One Year In

3D printer experience

Time to reflect on my 3D printer experience. How has my Sunhokey Prusa i3 performed? Has my 3D printer experience been good?

In a word, yes. Good, but not great. Good in that the printer works well enough and proves that the concept of cheap 3D printing is quite useful. Not great in that the printer takes some effort to calibrate and maintain – this kit has definitely not been “plug and play.”

One year ago (April 2015) I ordered and received my 3D printer kit from 3D Printers Online Store. I paid US$325 for my Sunhokey Acrylic Reprap Prusa i3 DIY Kit, which now sells for US$255. Earlier this month it was on sale for US$229! From what I can tell, this is the same model I bought a year ago.

So, I think we can safely say the price of 3D printers has been dropping. Looking at the web site, it looks like most prices are down 25-30% from one year ago, across the board.

If I consider the replacement parts I have purchased over the past year (more on that later) I probably did not save as much money buying a kit as I had hoped. But I did learn a lot along the way, and that was worth a lot to me, as learning was probably my main objective.

In writing a summary of 3D printer experience, I must acknowledge that I have been a fairly light user. Many of my build projects are documented on this web site. The summary falls under three headings.

  1. The machine itself. If you buy a kit, count on spending time calibrating and fixing it. Not hard, but time consuming. Make lots of notes about the things you do so that you remember what to do next time. This includes mechanical adjustments and firmware modifications. Also a big consideration is print bed treatment to make sure the printed part builds-up properly. After much experimenting, I found the calibration settings and print bed treatments that work well.
  2. The printing software. There are lots of options and settings to consider when you decide to print something. These include type of plastic, extrusion and heating temperatures, movement speeds, layer heights, supports, etc. Lots to learn and everyone’s machine or roll of filament is different. The software lets you save options and settings as a named processes for future use. The Sunhokey came with popular software – Repetier Host, Slic3r and Cura slicers. Recently, I have been experimenting with Simplify3D, which seems to work even better.
  3. The creation of 3D models. As documented on this web site, creating your own 3D part designs using CAD and or 123Catch (structure from motion) is a lot of work. It’s not really hard to do, per se. The hard part is learning to use the modeling software, especially if you only use it occasionally. My 3D printing experience is to keep at it – the more you model, the easier it gets. And of course, take advantage of the many 3D models already available on sites like Thingiverse and others.

One last thought. Use bookmarks. Whenever you do web searches for 3D printer information, make sure you record useful sites as bookmarks and keep them organized.

3D Printer Experience – Lots of fixing needed

In total, I have spent around CDN$100 fixing broken parts on the printer during the first year. These items were as follows.

  • Smooth Rod for Y Axis. One of these arrived bent and Sunhokey would not send me a replacement. So, I substituted a piece of 5/16 O1 drill rod, which is close enough to 8 mm diameter. CDN$8.00.
  • MKS Control Board. Mine died after about a month. Sunhokey would not send me a replacement. For a while, I substituted an Arduino Mega and RAMPS board, then I eventually bought a new MKS control board. $CDN52.00. (I will not count the cost of the Arduino Mega or RAMPS board as I will use them in other projects, such as the MPCNC machine.)
  • Hot End. During the winter, the hot end on my extruder stopped heating, or would only work intermittently. I replaced it with a Chinese clone. CDN$11.00
  • Heated Bed. Last month, the heater in my heated aluminum bed burnt out. I replaced it with an MK3 heated bed for CDN$32.00. This one heats up faster, at least so far. Also, I replaced the original 18 AWG wiring with 16 AWG, which I would suggest is the minimum for the amount of current drawn.

Judging by what I see on the user groups, my 3D printer experience has not been unusual. Either in regard to the Sunhokey printer, or in general. The good news is that because the Prusa i3 is a common open source design, all of these replacements were cheap and readily available. The bad news is that, as far as I am concerned, the (not so) smooth rod and control board problems were product defects, and given my low volume of printing, the hot end and heated bed should not have given out in such a short time.

I am sure that if you spend enough on a new already built 3D printer, it will come close to plug and play on the hardware side, and contain better parts that don’t break. But that will probably cost at least three times as much as I have spent. However, my 3D printer experience is that you will still have a lot to do learning to use the printing software and CAD tools.

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