3D Printer Halts and Catches Fire — Analysis Finds a Surprising Culprit

Let’s build a robot that gets hot. Really hot — like three times hotter than McDonald’s coffee. Then make it move around. And let’s get the cost in at around $100. Sounds crazy? Not really, since that describes the cheap 3D printers we all have been buying. [John] found out the hard way that you really need to be careful with hot moving parts.

The short story is that [John’s] Anet A8 caught on fire — significantly caught on fire. Common wisdom says that cheap printers often don’t have connectors for the heated bed that can handle the current. There have been several well-publicized cases of those connectors melting, especially on early production models of several printers. However, this printer had an add-on heater with a relay, so that shouldn’t be the problem. Of course, a cheap power supply could do it, too, but the evidence pointed to it being none of those things.

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How Cheap Can A 3D Printer Get? The Anet A8

The short answer: something like $200, if your time is worth $0/hour. How is this possible? Cheap kit printers, with laser-cut acrylic frames, but otherwise reasonably solid components. In particular, for this review, an Anet A8. If you’re willing to add a little sweat equity and fix up some of the bugs, an A8 can be turned into a good 3D printer on a shoestring budget.

That said, the A8 is a printer kit, not a printer. You’re going to be responsible for assembly of every last M3 screw, and there are many. Building the thing took me eight or ten hours over three evenings. It’s not rocket surgery, though. There are very accessible videos available online, and a community of people dedicated to turning this box of parts into a great machine. You can do it if you want to.

This article is half how-to guide and half review, and while the fun of a how-to is in the details, the review part is easy enough to sum up: if you want the experience of building a 3D printer, and don’t mind tweaking to get things just right, you should absolutely look into the A8. If you want a backup printer that can print well enough right after assembly, the A8 is a good deal as well; most of the work I’ve put into mine is in chasing perfection. But there are a couple reasons that I’d hesitate to recommend it to a rank beginner, and one of them is fire.

Still, I’ve put 1,615 m (1.0035 miles) of filament through my A8 over 330 hours of run-time spread across the last three months — it’s been actively running for 15% of its lifetime! Some parts have broken, and some have “needed” improving, but basically, it’s been a very functional machine with only three or four hours of unintentional downtime. My expectations going in were naturally fairly low, but the A8 has turned out to be not just a workhorse but also a decent performer, with a little TLC. In short, it’s a hacker’s printer, and I love it.

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