The 3D printer from Hell (and by Hell I mean Indiegogo)

My Makerbot was getting on in its age and I had decided to replace it back in 2013. I had saved my cash and was hunting for the best new printer I could afford. That's when I found it on Indiegogo... The FABTOTUM. They had a beautiful and slick video campaign. I was hooked from the first view. They promised everything in one package - 3D printer, scanner, milling machine. It had a changeable head so you could switch out between heads and upgrade for new features in the future. I was salivating at all the things that I was going to do with it. I told friends and family that this was the one for me. We were going to make so much together (sigh - I still feel dreamy remembering all the projects I wanted to do on it). So in August 2013 I put my money down and backed the campaign.

Months went by waiting for my printer. milestones were missed and newer and better printers were coming out all the time. Updates showed they changed construction from solid metal frame to an injection moulded one (cheaper for them, less reliable, shorter life and more flimsy for the user), corners were cut and the final design and manufacturing was a mess. I finally received my printer in June 2015 way way way after it was promised.

My first few prints looked ok, a little better than the Makerbot. I tried to find out how to use the other features like milling and scanning. No luck, showing you how to use the machine was not part of the deal for the Fabtotum guys. My 3D print success rate plummeted to less than 30% each time i ran a build. I would have to babysit the printer to make sure that it did not grind filament in the ridiculously poorly designed extruder setup or the parts dislodging from the build platform because they would not stick. I would have to constantly pull the machine apart every time something went wrong and went wrong it did. I never did use the milling or scanning functions, I was too frustrated with its performance to even bother. My love for 3D printing was killing me slowly and then I realised why.

 

In the 3D printing world there are really 2 main camps.

  1. Those whose hobby is 3D printers and 3D printing.
  2. Those who design and use 3D printers to make things.

Camp 1 - The 3D printer hobbyists love to get into the nuts and bolts of the machine. They want to know and use all of the settings, challenge the machine with as many materials as they can get their hands on, find the latest tweaks and hardware they can add to the machine and dive into the software (preferably open-source).

Camp 2 - The Designer wants to have the latest and greatest printer to just do one thing, print their designs. They design with a 3D printer type (FDM, SLA/DLP or SLS) in mind so that the final product can be made correctly and functions as expected. To have the right design output, they need their 3D printer to work every time (imagine trying to design in CAD if you weren't sure that your computer would switch on).

There is nothing wrong with either group, but they both have very different needs. At the beginning I was in the 1st camp. I put my machine together, I customised and tweaked it, I challenged and tinkered with settings and materials. The Makerbot was a great platform for that. I learned a lot about the technology and how to use it. But as I wanted to focus more on designing I needed to spend less time on the machine and more on the making. I was disappointed in my new machine because it was meant to be a professional device. So now I am firmly in the 2nd camp. I want (no NEED) a reliable printer that will allow me to hit print and walk away to go back to designing.

This is a cautionary tale in case you are wondering. I am warning you in your journey to be a designer. Stay away from 3D printers on Kickstarter and Indiegogo or whatever crowdfunding website the kids are on these days. No matter how beautiful they make it look, how many features they promise, how much expertise they claim to have you will always get a second rate machine that has not be refined and tested. Sure you can buy the second release once the company has ironed out all the bugs and issues they found in the crowd funded release, but don't get the first one. 

If you are a designer, engineer or creator I do not recommend you ever go buy a kit or cheaper printer. Buy one with a reliable reputation, great software (especially if the software is regularly updated by the brand) and good customer service to help fix the printer if something is wrong. Think of the additional money you spend as the price of the time and frustration you will save in actual designing of your parts.

What do you think? Any good or bad stories with your 3D printer?