Longtime readers of this blog will know that, except for a few dalliances with a Printrbot Simple Beta, I’ve been working with a MakerBot Replicator1 since, like, forever. Lately Zheng Labs has been ramping up for Kickstarter #2, and I realized I’d been spending more time tweaking an aging bot than designing and iterating prints. So I did the research, made some calls, bit the bullet, got my ducks in a row, and finally purchased a 2014 Series 1 printer from Type A Machines.
Photo credit: Type A Machines.
Let’s be completely fair in this comparison– I’m juxtaposing a 2012 vintage machine made of plywood and hobby motors with a sleek new 2014 acrylic and steel bucket o’ hotness. It’s not a fair comparison by any stretch, but if nothing else it’ll help show how far prosumer 3D printing has come in the last two years.
We’re in the late Carboniferous here, folks. If MakerBot Industries got us out of the primordial soup and onto dry land, TypeA Machines has us fornicating in the ferns and laying hard-shelled eggs.
There’s still a long way to go before we fly, but boy howdy have we made some big leaps since 2012.
This particular Rep1 has 957 documented hours of printing, not including the gods-know-how-many-hours I printed before the original Mightyboard melted a year ago. It’s been through a few nozzle replacements and an extruder upgrade during that time.
I haven’t even owned the Series 1 for 957 hours. How’s it going to hold up over time? Same? Different? Better? Worse? Who knows. But let’s dive in for a first look.
A Replicator1 in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars is $2,208.09 in 2014. The TypeA machines 2014 Series 1 is $2,749.00 today. That $500 difference quickly evaporates when one considers that
(time==money), and every minute you’re not spending with a jammed extruder is a minute you could be working on the Next Big Thing.
The Series 1 arrived at Zheng Labs in a fracking HUGE box, 24″ on a side. It’s well protected in some serious closed-cell foam and includes a bunch of accessories and tchotckes including, but not limited to, a cute little print removal spatula and an Elmers’ glue stick. More on the glue stick later.
Assembly ain’t rocket science; all you’re doing is attaching a couple of acrylic panels to the sides of the machine for aestheics and ventilation. You’ll need less than 10 minutes and the included hex wrench. Note: assembly time may be reduced by temporarily removing all cats from the work area.
Once the printer’s all put together the next step is getting it to talk to your other devices. Type A Machines helpfully includes a short cat-5 cable for this purpose.
Plug in the ethernet cable, turn the printer on, and then connect to the printer using your browser of choice. Lo and behold, it works after some fiddling. Expect to spend about ten minutes doing this the first time, especially if you’re an impatient type who power-cycles any electronics that don’t respond within seconds. (guilty, as charged.) The fine print on the Quick Start guide clearly says the Series 1 might need five minutes to recombobulate after a network change.
Initially I had some trouble connecting to the printer over the network, but those problems went away after I ssh’d to the printer once. Coincidence? Who knows. Connections are working flawlessly now and have been for days.
Once the printer’s connected it’s controlled with Octoprint, a web-based interface for 3D printing.
The bed-leveling bugbear haunted my experience with the Replicator1 for years. If you don’t get your print bed leveled properly, your print doesn’t stick and you’re left holding a frustrating bag of fail. Over time I’ve gotten super-proficient at getting the Rep1 level, but it’s a tedious process. Sometimes it takes five or ten minutes to get it right.
Not so with the Series 1. You home the Z axis from Octoprint and then turn ONE KNOB. That’s it. Leveling takes less than a minute and you’re ready to go.
This. This knob. This knob is my new BFF.
BONUS: The Series 1 has wifi! I prised the iPad from the kids’ grimy hands and repurposed it as a printer control device. It’s fun to stand in front of the machine like a manager with a clipboard. It’s also easier than running to and fro across the room to my desktop machine to control the print head.
I’ve since started using an iPhone to control the printer, because it’s easier to hold up one-handed while I’m leveling the bed.
wish_list.append('mobile CSS for Octoprint')
Print controls are clear and straightforward; upload gCode to the printer and hit print. The printer’s got about 5GB of free space on it, so you’ll be able to store all kinds of models right on the machine.
On generating gCode: you’ll need to download Cura for TypeA Machines to slice your models. More on that software in another post.
wish_list.append('Cura for iOS')
You’ve got two options for getting your prints to adhere to the build platform; painters’ tape or a glue stick. Let’s try the glue stick because it’s NEW! and DIFFERENT! At least to me it is.
No special skills required, just rub down the print area with the (included) glue stick and wait for the glue to dry. One could cover the entire bed with glue, but in the interest of Yankee frugality I just painted the center of the platform.
I’m using my preferred PLA for this print.
Wait five or ten minutes for the glue to dry and then hit print. Rep1 users will be familiar with the happy burble and kachunkachunks of a hobbyist bot. The Series 1 sounds completely different; it whirrs all sleek-like while it homes, like the opening few seconds of a Front 242 riff.
(Front 242 is Daft Punk for old people, kids.)
Ten minutes later we’ve got ourselves a Seej pennon.
Note that this flag prints in pieces– I’ve yet to find an FDM printer that will handle that 90° overhang.
After a couple of prints with a glue stick the print bed starts looking like eczema. The rash wipes off with a damp rag and then you’re back to a pristine surface.
Let’s use the go-to challenge print, the Beast Token. It’s got lots of fine details and almost-impossible overhangs, so let’s see what the Series 1 can do with it, this time on painter’s tape at at .06mm layer height.
I’ll be honest though, putting painters’ tape on a printer this pretty feels like slapping a bumper sticker on a Bentley.
Niiiiiiiice. The .06mm layer height brings out the details in this model. You can see a little bit of stringing here and there, but I suspect that’s a slicing issue. Not a bad job handling the forked tail, either.
These small prints worked out well so I ran the printer on a gargantuan 22-hour print job. I’ll have to keep my cards close to vest here with regard to content except to say that the print succeeded and I’m thrilled with the results. The final technical hurdle in Zheng3 Kickstarter #2 has been cleared by the Series 1.
Downsides to the Series 1
In all, the Series 1 is a great printer, so I’ve really had to scrutinize my arm fur to pick enough nits for this part of the post. Here they are.
No heated bed. Yet. I’ll lemonade this lemon; printing with ABS isn’t really my bag anymore. I’ve never cared for the odors and I’m not printing parts that require strength, so printing in PLA only is OK.
Mitigating factor: Type A Machines was kind enough to include a roll of ProtoPasta’s High-Carbon PLA in the box for those who’d like a little more oomph in their prints. I’ll evaluate this stuff in a later post.
Also: Cura For Series 1 doesn’t run on OSX 10.6.8 and likely never will due to Apple’s discontinuing support for the 10.6.8 SDK. Sooner or later I’ll move out of my mud-walled yurt and upgrade my main workstation to a modern OS, but for now I just need to slice on one of the 37 other computing devices at Zheng Labs. On the upside I’m getting some cardio by running up and down the stairs a few times a day.
Mitigating factor: Type A Machines’ support has been friendly, prompt, and well, supportive about my admittedly edge case OS conundrum.
I’ve thrown all kinds of prints at the Series 1, trying to get it to fail. So far, it’s been very reliable.
Everyday prints (Seej bloxen, catapults, and the like) come off the print bed every time, with no mid-print failures, filament jams, or PLA ramen clouds.
Finally! This morning I had a filament break below the drive gear where one can’t grab it with a pair if pliers. Normally I’d take apart the extruder, clear the jam, and then reassemble. That’s easily a 15 minute job on a Rep1 that throws everything out of calibration.
Series 1? Just feed more filament into the extruder. It’s back online in less than a minute.
Later today I’m going to throw an entire Faire Play armor set at the printer, all at once, just to see how the machine handles it.
As always, #staytuned, my friends. Exciting ride ahead.