Trials and tribulations in 3D printing

3d printed skullMy 3D printing adventures have been proving an uphill battle. I’ve had a 3D printer – the Replicator 2 – for three months now. During that time I’ve invested countless hours in producing a myriad of half-finished objects.

Put bluntly my experience has been that I get about one in seven items successfully printing. That’s simply not good enough. I’ve been through one of those exhaustive and boring technical support series with the makers in the US where each successive rote question requires a 24-hour turnaround and doesn’t move things forward. The manufacturers were very nice, but completely ineffective. That culminated with them suggesting I print out, on my 3D printer which doesn’t reliably work, the parts they thought would fix the problem!

The local distributors were more helpful. Last week they sent me replacement parts. After a worrying day dismantling much of the printer, replacing parts and putting it back together, I had a printer with a new heat sensor and a new mechanism for pulling the plastic through to be heated and extruded. Sadly at first this seemed to make no difference. Failure after failure ensued. Then, finally, a success. After three months I managed to get a skull to print (I chose that simply because it’s one of the built-in examples that come with the software; although there’s a possibility that there was some subconscious resonance with the way I’m feeling about the whole experience right now).

Part of the compounding problem is that it takes ages to work out if there’s a problem. My skull print took nearly 5 hours to complete and could have gone wrong anywhere along the way.

Now I never expected to be just able to print like printing a photo on a paper printer. But I did expect the printer, out of the box, to work more often than not. And I didn’t expect to have to dismantle the printer when something goes wrong. Can you imagine having a problem with a computer or a toaster and being told to pull out your screwdriver?

3D printing is clearly nowhere near ready for mass delivery yet. Anything which involves this much fiddling, this much dismantling of awkward mechanical parts, this much experimentation and failure means you really need to be a committed user. The future is coming, but it’s not here yet.

3 thoughts on “Trials and tribulations in 3D printing

  • Pingback: My 3D printer works - what I learnt on the way - Geek In Sydney

  • May 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Hi Geek in Sydney.
    I think the problem is that companies are selling toys and calling them 3D printers. If you buy a hobby machine you get what you pay for ” a hobby machine”.
    I do not think you even start to get real 3D printing until you spend at least $18 to $20K, for them to make real parts you need a heated and temperature controlled print chamber. It doesn’t come cheep.!!
    However it is a bit sad that you are not told this in the first place.
    My next printer that I will purchase soon will cost $100,000 installed, ouch. but it is for real work.

    • May 11, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      A fair point. Although now I have my printer working (see later posts) I must say I’m very pleased with it. It isn’t professional-level, certainly, but the results are very pleasing.


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