Hackaday Prize 2022: $40k Stratasys Printer Fix Costs $1

The printer in question - it's tall, about a meter and a half tall, in fact!

Companies don’t treat equipment in the same way that we, hobbyists, do. When it comes to reassessing equipment state, there’s calculations to be done – how many failures it’s experienced, what’s the rate of the support contract for it (often increasing as equipment ages), and whether it’d be more price-efficient to just buy a new one. Hobbyists aren’t tied to commercial support contracts that prohibit DIY repair, however. We can investigate things and try our luck, and in many cases, the repair will be super simple and satisfying! Today’s lucky repair story is about [Gregor], who has acquired a written-off ±$40k Stratasys 3D printer for peanuts, and repaired it with $1 in parts.

The error code shown on the display indicated an extruder changer error — yes, this is a dual extruder printer! Earlier, [Gregor] noted that some of the chamber lighting LEDs failed, very likely because of the constant heat in the chamber. After investigating the infrared LED responsible for extruder change detection, it indeed had failed as well, presumably for the same reason. After the installation of a new SMD LED, the error message went away. Thus concludes the story of [Gregor] getting himself a new professional-grade printer! He also documents other possible failure modes, some just as easy to fix. In short, if you ever spot a Stratasys Dimension printer for sale, you might want to consider it!

As it turns out, this isn’t the only Stratasys success story we’ve seen on Hackaday.io. After you’ve repaired your newly obtained Stratasys, you might want to bypass the cartridge DRM, by the way. Got repairs of your own to share, industrial printer or otherwise? Submit it for the 2022 Hackaday Prize, there’s still a few days left in the Hack it Back round!

36 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize 2022: $40k Stratasys Printer Fix Costs $1

    1. One time, years ago, I got a “business class” Samsung color printer for free. Otherwise entirely irrelevant, this is actually sorta related to the article in that the problem was a failed infrared LED that kept telling the printer that the waste toner container was full.

      In my case, I didn’t have to pay anything for the repair part as I scavenged it from one of about 2 dozen old cable box remotes that I scrounged, weirdly, out of a dumpster next to a convenience store more years earlier.

      Sheesh…the sorts of things that I look back on as accomplishments sometimes is baffling…

  1. Cool that the printer could be fixed.

    But regarding the referred currency named “peanuts”, what’s the current exchange rate of a “peanut” and how many “peanuts” were required for the purchase of the printer in its defective state?

  2. Even with dual-extrusion… Forty grand for a filament printer?!?! How could it possibly be worth that?! I hope he got it for many orders of magnitude less than that.

      1. Well, out local university was literally giving them away because they’re nearly 20 years old and basically garbage. Our maker space gutter it for parts because it literally wasn’t worth repairing. Bragging about this is like saying you changed the tires on a used Ford pinto.

    1. If I remember correctly my vocational school’s CAD department had this model or one like it back in 2005-6, 40k seems about right. They were pretty revolutionary tech back then. I remember I got a spiral impingement waterblock positive printed on it and not being impressed with the lack of smoothness. Still not impressed by FDM today hahaha

      Brought to you by Resin Gang

    2. Well… at the time that printer was sold, Stratasys was about the only name for industrial FDM printers. We had a Fortus 250 at work. It was designed to print ABS with dissolvable supports. For the price, you got the printer, and slicer with VERY tuned and lock down settings.

      The build plates were designed to be consumable too. Basicly, it would print a heavy layer of ABS, then support material, then the part.

      We ended up selling it and buying a Prusa mk3 w/ mmu2. Each time we needed a service call, it was $1k+.
      For what we needed (prototyping, tooling, and small run production) the Prusa’s been a better fit. Esp since we can fix it in house without waiting on a tech.

      Having said that, the Fortus definitely paid for itself. And it WAS as close to a turnkey system as you could get at that time.

      1. Lack of competition as well.

        When the Sybian had a patent, nobody else really could make a similar (or better) product.

        Then (many years later), just like how beer was suddenly available the instant it became legal, the Sybian patent expired.

        Immediately it was then Sybian vs Tremor vs Motorbunny and probably several others as well.

        Several of which were actually not just better but offered better materials, lower prices, etc.

        Finally made Sybian come out with actual silicone products but that’s a different story.

    3. As someone else mentioned. Patents. There where only two companies making these, and that resulted in a monopoly situation.

      Stratasys also charges insane amount of money for service and repair on these things. A simple repair like this could easily have costed 2k even now. Filament refill, $500. So with those costs in mind, you could easy buy a cheaper simpler printer now that doesn’t break the bank as much.

      1. Stratasys does not service the smaller machines themselves. They utilize partner resellers to service the mass thousands of “Small Box” machines. So Stratasys only charges huge prices for their larger industrial machines because they require more resources to fix. Local resellers chose how much they want to charge for parts and services just like a car dealership. Whoever owned this machine probably didnt like the prices the reseller was giving them. If you call Stratasys tech support with the serial number, they will give you the parts history so you can know what you need.

  3. I got a free dual-extruder 3D printer while inventoring the warehouse at my previous job. Turns out the company had tried selling printers and 3D filament a while ago, customers returned stock due to “quality defects”, and there were no techs in the company who could actually diagnose the problem, so the stock ended up sleeping in the warehouse for a few years.

    I asked my boss if I could get one and see if I can get it to work again. I wasn’t an “official” tech at that company yet, just some guy who answers the phone for L1 aftersales support, so it was definitely not on my working hours that I could try to diagnose and repair things, and my boss was aware of that. He started saying that he could sell it to me, and I said, well, I’m going to spend time on it and maybe it won’t work in the end, so I don’t think I’m getting a fair deal there, and anyway you’re just going to throw them away next year because they take space and nobody wants them, right?

    We were in good terms so he let me take one out of the stock and we removed it from the inventory as “defective.” It turns out that the “defect” was that the printer was printing parts at a reduced scale (90%). Which I originally solved by scaling my models to 110% (ish) before printing (genius!). Then I investigated further and I discovered that the printer had X, Y and Z gears with a different number of teeth than what the printer’s firmware (that was a generic Sailfish version) was expecting, probably due to inventory problems at the printers’ factory. I ended up changing those values and voila, I got 100% scale prints, for free.

    I went back to my boss and I told him the story. He asked how long it would take to reflash all the stock and to do testing (because maybe not all the printers had that problem?), I gave him an estimate, and after a quick calculation, he decided to junk the rest anyway. The company had left the 3D print market since this event and concentrated on its core business, so he didn’t have any potential customers for that – and tech support for other potential problems that would arise. Pity, but hey, I kept my free printer – and I was eventually also able to salvage a whole set of perfectly fine PLA and ABS filament from the stock before it was sent to recycling.

  4. We have a couple of these at my job. The question of “How could it cost that much” is simple… The darn things essentially never fail a print. That means more up-front checks and maintenance (like this), but once the printer gets going, you will almost certainly get your part out. My job does all KINDS of cool stuff, including some very expensive one-off parts made of very expensive materials, so reliable printing for test-fits before moving to expensive materials is a huge cost/time saver.

    My $400 Prusa can do 90% of what a $4,000 Ultimaker can do. The Ultimaker can do 90% of what one of these $40,000 machines can do.

    There’s a bunch of other stuff like reliable dissolvable filament (need a special bath), disposable build plates, proprietary filament, etc. which makes operating these machines also VERY expensive ($200+ for a spool of filament, depending on material) compared to the FDM machines most of us have at home. So even if you can get the machine for cheap, running it for cheap is a totally different problem.

    1. Yeah, come to think of it, a place that I worked at had a dual filament Stratasys printer.
      I don’t recall hearing the users complain about failed prints.

      1. You guys were lucky. I ran a Stratasys Dimension a few jobs ago. That thing had a 10% failure rate. Usually not due to the print failing into a ball of spagetti, per say, but software communications failure causing the machine to need a reboot.

        At my current job we have a bunch of well tuned Prusas, a bunch of decently maintained Markforge Onyx and one Markforge Mk2 (that can print continuous fiber reinforcement) and an Ultimaker S5. The S5 is probably the least reliable. I would put the Prusa on par with reliability as the Markforge – which is crazy, given that the Onyx machines are $4k+ each, and the Prusa is $799 plus shipping. And with a diamondback nozzle on the Prusa, it will print from the leftover filament spools from the Onyx machines just fine.

  5. Our mechanical workshop has a very similar model. They’re 40 grand because they just work with next to no faffing around. That’s not really true of cheap printers now and it certainly wasn’t true 10+ years ago.

    1. Completely agree. I posted the other linked Hackaday.io page on fixing a Stratasys printer, and it’s just a tank. Slicing settings are simple and consistent, it never needs leveling or really any maintenance, and it prints well. My recommendations for anyone trying to use one of these are to first get it running with the Insight software rather than Catalyst, and then get it running at 0.007″ layer height. There are settings to get it to go down to 0.005″, but the ABS prints pretty weirdly there and I don’t like the output. This is more a function of the plastic filament than the printer. Then make sure you can refill cartridges, and you’re good to go. A beast of a printer that can be had for less than a good quality new FDM printer.

  6. FYI, the part that failed was the toggle bar board. These are some of the most failure prone parts (this is relative, they’re still tanky printers) and it was a regular thing for us techs to go out and swap them out on the machines we serviced. The parts would go for quite a while once replaced, though, so I was mostly seeing old dimension 1200 and fortus 250 printers that had been in the field for years (a Fortus 250 is pretty much just a dimension 1200 with a U-Print head, FYI). The fortus 250s used a more reliable flag with the little u-shaped optical detector that is seen on all sorts of printers now, but the dimension 1200s used a reflective foil that the LED would bounce off of and get picked up. These would fail due to fouling and other issues, but the parts were relatively cheap and we kept a couple spares around and get them replaced by Stratasys every time we’d put one in a machine on service. I did have a really annoying intermittent issue with a Fortus 250 that was caused by the flag on the toggle bar being loose. It would knock itself slightly out of alignment every 500-1000 layers and cause the build to fail. drove me and the customer nuts until we figured it out.

    The other “regular” repairs were for head communication issues. We’d get a trio of parts (a “trifecta”) from stratasys; the TC amp board, the head board, and a new chunky umbilical cable that ran through the e-chain at the top of the printer. These E-chains would degrade over time because of how much they bend and move, and would eventually fail. That was a couple hour job to swap out and then the machines would be up and running again. It was also sometimes the boards mentioned, so stratasys would send us those too for good measure and we’d swap all three at once.

    Beyond that, it was mostly just PM kits which replace the heater fans and blower ducting and a few other things which is supposed to be done every year. You can get the fans through the manufacturer way cheaper than Stratasys if you want to do it yourself, and its important as the head blower fan failing will almost immediately cause a head encasement. the heater fan failures will just cause a shutdown or slow heating to build temp. I do like these old printers still :)

    1. I’m a highschool teacher who’s had the pleasure of maintaining a Dimension 1200 bst for a few years. It was donated to the school district by a local business that found the maintenance and repairs getting too costly. I’ve replaced the toggle head board and nozzles. I also do my own filament cartridge refilling for about $5/spool with an eeprom programmer. It has been a great machine and my students have made some cool projects with it.

  7. Got an HP Laserjet 5 for free (curb alert). These things are built like tanks, legendarily reliable. There were many, many thousands made, and they were the standard office printer for many years. So, when I saw one offered, I grabbed it.

    Fast forward to the start of COVID. I needed a printer for WFH, and it was time to “get a round tuit”. The printer made a grinding noise and produced a reasonable image…which wasn’t “baked”…the toner smeared all over the paper. I consulted The Internet, and purchased a rebuilt fuser assembly for %100, and a set of replacement gears to drive it (for around $20). While I was at it, I ordered up the max RAM configuration (about $30) and a JetDirect Ethernet card ($20). A new (refilled) toner cartridge was $40. Then, I rolled up my sleeves, watched a few YouTube videos on printer repair and pulled out the screwdrivers.

    Took me a couple of days (as I worked slowly to understand how this beast came apart ), but at the end, I had a working printer! Total cost around $250, which is about what a new Brother would have cost me. Mine says it’s had 300k pages printed, and I’ve been assured it will outlive me. It draws around 7w on standby, comes alive when I want to print, and has been up and running without any issues for over 2 years now. I also scored two NOS HP toner cartridges in original packaging, for $15 each from Goodwill.

    I love recycling and using old equipment. These printers are a joy to work on, built when HP was still run by Hewlett and Packard, and built quality stuff.

    1. I scrapped it long ago, but I had a 4+ I got from a bank IT internship with over 3 MILLION pages through it. I grabbed it at the time because it did ‘blacker than black’ prints on glossy photo paper that choked everything else. If it’s not in a landfill I bet that printer is still going strong somewhere

    2. HPs old LaserJet printers are tanks. I have a 4100DTN which I loaded up with RAM so print jobs dump to it and off it goes without further attention from the PC. EIO hard drives have come down from the you gotta be kidding me price range. I don’t really *need* a hard drive in a printer that only I use, but on occasion there is one pretty large job I’ve printed that exceeds the RAM capacity of the printer.

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