Review: Printrbot Assembled Simple Metal

Hackaday is getting back into the swing of doing reviews, and with that comes reviews of the tool du jour, 3D printers. I have some reservations about reviewing a 3D printer; they’re a new technology, and what may be standard today could be hopelessly outdated in a few months time. Remember geared extruders? The new hotness is, apparently, direct drive extruders.

This is a review of the Printrbot Assembled Simple Metal. If you need any evidence that reviews of 3D printers have a shelf life, you only need to look at the Getting Started guides for this printer. When I bought my Simple Metal, the Printrbot recommended software stack was Slic3r and Repetier-Host. Barely three months later, Cura is now the Printrbot recommended software stack. If you think a simple change in software is inconsequential, check out these prints:

prusa parts
Prusa i3 X-carriages. Left sliced by Slic3r, right sliced by Cura

The print on the left was sliced with Slic3r. The print on the right was sliced with Cura. Notice the small teeth that grip the timing belt on each of these prints. With the Cura-sliced print, everything is fine. The Slic3r-sliced print is a complete failure, not of the machine, but the recommended software for the machine.

Therefore, if the goal of writing a review is to have a definitive opinion of a piece of equipment, a number of questions must be addressed. Since most 3D printing software is open source, should software be included in the review? Is the value proposition of a 3D printer simply a function of price to build volume (this seems to be the standard metric now), or are there intangibles? Should the review cover the quality of prints out of the box, or should the review only focus on print quality after dozens of hours of tweaking? I simply don’t know the answers to these questions, and I suspect you couldn’t get any two people to agree on the answers to these questions.

With that said, I feel I have used this printer enough to make a judgment call as to if this printer was a good buy.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My 3D Printer

So, you’re thinking about finally buying a 3D printer? All the cool kids have one. Plus, how hard can it be anyways? Well, before you pull the trigger, it might be best to read this cautionary tale of one user’s experience in getting started with his first 3D printer.

[Scott Hanselman] is a programmer and teacher who started out with zero knowledge of 3D printing. In his informative (and somewhat humorous) blog post, you can follow along with [Scott] hour-by-hour as he unravels the some of the common mysteries that almost everyone will encounter with their first 3D printer.

His adventure begins with the frustration of z-axis calibration, an important part of any 3D printer. Some of the newer printers are automating this step (as well as bed-leveling) with sensors and clever software, but even then it might need small tweaks to lay down the all-important first layer. By hour five with his new printer, this slight annoyance turns into disgruntlement, as he finds that although there is tons of documentation on-line, a lot of it can be outdated or simply unhelpful.

In the end, [Scott] got his printer up and running, and learned a lot along the way.  We bet you can too – with a little effort that is. As the quality of printers on the market keeps going up, and the price continuing to fall for an entry-level printer, now might be the perfect time for you to get started. But you might want to read [Scott’s] journey to help manage your out-of-the-box expectations.

Printrbot files in the wild

After a few months of eager waiting, [Brook Drumm] has finally released the files for his paradigm-shifting 3D printer, the Printrbot. If you didn’t order one of these during the Kickstarter, you can now print your own set of parts.

[Brook] gave his Printrbot to the world last November with the promise of being extremely cheap, extremely easy to build, and having a relatively high print quality. The simplicity of the Printrbot was amazing, which probably led to the Printrbot getting $830k worth of funding on the initial Kickstarter. Although the files for the 3D printed parts are out in the wild now, there still aren’t any instructions on how to build it apart from a Flickr slideshow.

[Brook] promised to release the files for the Printrbot much earlier, but we’re guessing he’s been busy printing and assembling  the 1200 Printrbots that were claimed in his Kickstarter. While we’re on the subject of cheap 3D printers, [Richard Sum], the English gent behind the SUMPOD sent in a link of one of his $600 printers milling MDF and extruding for seven hours straight. We’re on the cusp of Star Trek-style replicators here, people.

The cheapest and easiest 3D printer we’ve seen so far

3D printers are awesome, but boy are they frustrating. If you’ve built a RepRap Mendel, Prusa or Huxely, you know there’s nothing quite like trying to get a washer off of a threaded rod without disassembling the entire machine. This frustration in part sourcing, assembling and correctly aligning a printer is where printers like the Makerbot find their niche. There’s a new printer on the block that promises a 45 minute assembly time and less than 2 hours from starting the build to first print. It will do all this for under $500, electronics and motors included.

From the Flickr photoset, we can see that the Printrbot has 2 motors for the z-axis, uses sanguinololu electronics, and uses a derivative of Wade’s extruder – all proven design choices. Unlike the RepRaps, most of the frame is actually printed, and not built out of threaded rods. This drastically reduces the assembly and calibration time.

The inventor of the Printrbot, [Brook Drumm], has a Kickstarter up where he’s selling complete kits (electronics, motors and vitamins) for $499. This beats the very inexpensive SUMPOD in affordability. We haven’t been able to find the 3D design files for the Printrbot (although you can buy these printed parts for $75), and there’s no word on the build volume of the stock printer. That being said, the printrbot does have pretty good resolution. Check out the video of a Printrbot in action after the break.

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