3D Printers: The Good, The Bad, and the Inoperable


The beginning of 2015 has been an adventuresome time for 3D printing at Tesseract Design. Given that 3D printing is a relatively new technology, the machines can sometimes be a little finicky. In mid-January, I was having some issues with the printers that were giving me a major case of heartburn. Well, that’s all part of the crazy, rock-n-roll world of 3D printing. Here’s the lowdown.

The Good: Makerbot Replicator 2X

This printer has been a real workhorse, racking up nearly 1000 hours of print time. Consequently, I was more than a little dismayed when the print quality on this machine took an abrupt downward turn. This was an exceptional bummer, as it meant that I had to start turning away paying work. Over the two years that I’ve owned the Rep2X, I’ve had to take it apart and put it back together a number of times. In the past, Makerbot support had provided exemplary service and advice, and I knew I could rely on them if the printer started acting flaky. Alas, that is no more. Now one either has to pony up for their MakerCare plan, or pay $100 to talk to a live support person to aid in diagnosis and repair.

Given that I was turning away paying jobs, I was just about to cough up the Franklin to get some help. At the last moment, I decided to go through the notebook of fixit instructions I had accumulated over previous problems that I’d had with the printer. This was a good call, as I hit paydirt on the second try. The problem was that the gantry (the structure on which the print head moves back and forth) had come out of alignment. It was a relatively simple matter to realign the gantry and get the Rep 2X back to normal print quality.

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Make Magazine articulated robot model in a variety of action poses.

To check the print quality, I decided to try printing the Make Magazine robot, designed by Samuel N. Bernier. The robot has multiple points of articulation, but is printed all in one go – so it comes straight out of the printer ready to rock. I scaled it up by about 50% before printing it. This meant that the spaces between the moving parts were likewise scaled, resulting in a very loose-limbed robot. Regardless, this model really piqued my interest in the inherent possibilities of 3D printing objects with moving parts with no assembly required.

The Bad: RapMan 3.0

Ah, my old RapMan. I build this out of a kit nearly four years ago. After some teething issues, I finally got it to produce some half-decent prints in PLA and ABS. Sadly, the electronics board went blooey some time back. Further, the original manufacturer, Bits from Bytes, no longer exists, making it impossible to get a replacement board. So I went to the DIY 3D printing wizards at Hedron Technology to get some help adapting a RAMPS board to the RapMan. James Mitchell put a lot of time into getting the printer running again – thanks James!

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Revitalized RapMan with RAMPS controller board.

So the old printer is running pretty much as well as it previously had. But here’s the rub: that wasn’t all that good to start with. This was a great project for learning the basic concepts of 3D printing, but maybe it’s time to let it go. It’s got some beefy NEMA 23 stepper motors that could probably be used to make a large delta printer. I’m on the lookout for open-source delta printer design; if you have any suggestions, please email me at crawford@tesseract-design.com.

The Inoperable: Pegasus Touch

In a previous post, I talked about my initial experiences with the FSL3D Pegasus Touch, a resin-based stereolithography (SLA) printer. I was excited about the new (to me) printer technology, even though I was running into more debugging issues than I had initially expected. Sadly, this printer has continued to be nothing but a frustrating time-suck.

I’ve gone round after round with FSL3D’s support service, and yet nearly 6 months after receiving the printer, I still cannot get a decent print out of the thing with any sort of regularity. The most frustrating thing is that the Pegasus Touch does show signs of enormous potential. For example, I’ve tried printing out the Eiffel Tower model that they frequently use in marketing images, with no success. However, it gets the millimeter-sized hand railing right almost every time, even thought the rest of the model is a mess.

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Pegasus Touch with front panel removed.

In the latest round, I’ve had to remove the front panel and the laser diode, and ship it to Las Vegas for repair by FSL3D. I really hope this fixes the issue, because at this point, I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, only to have Lucy snatch it away at the last moment – again. Not a good feeling.

Then again, that’s how things work in a still-emerging technology like 3D printing. There’s always bound to be some growing pains as the tech develops. It wouldn’t be interesting otherwise.


For information on how Tesseract Design can provide you with 3D printing solutions, please see www.tesseract-design.com/3-d-printing