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How to Rate 3D Printers

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How to Rate 3D Printers
5 (100%) 5 votes

In a previous blog  I developed a scoring system to look at the quality of filament.

Others have asked me to develop a scoring system for 3D printers as well. With the wide choice of 3D printers on the market, I wanted to develop a way to rate them based on their features and options.

For this blog I’ll compare the MakerBot 5th Gen Replicator,  LulzBot Taz 5 , and Stratasys Mojo printers with this rating system.


  1. Open or Closed Source Printer?

3D printing can trace it roots in the RepRap series of open source 3D printers. When you buy any kit or assembled 3D printer, you should consider if it is open source or closed source. Open source can give you more flexibility with your printer, but not all part may match what your printer needs.

Open Soruce Logo
Open Source Hardware Log

Closed source printers may be better tested, but repairs may require you to send the printer back to the factory.

Score: 2 points if the printer is completely open, 1 point if partially open, and 0 if closed.

5th Gen: Totally closed. 0 points

Taz 5: Totally open. 2 points

Mojo: Totally closed. 0 points


2. Connectivity

How you can connect to the printer is often overlooked, but it can make a difference when you have

MakerBot Mobile
Screen capture of Makerbot Mobile, used to download and control a print

long prints. Tethering to a computer can leave you open to failed prints if your computer shuts down.

SD cards let your printer stand alone when printing, and some printers also offer Bluetooth / WiFi connections. As you look at printers, consider how much time you can spend around them, and how you want to connect to your 3D printer.

Score: 1 point for each method

5th Gen: USB Stick, USB tether, WiFi, Ethernet. 4 points

Taz 5: USB tether, SD card. 2 points

Mojo: USB tether. 1 points


3. Filament Source

A major consideration for any 3D printer is how you can source the filament for production. Printers open to 3D party filaments will give you the flexibility to try cheaper brands and exotic blends. However, some off brand filaments may not work well with your 3D printer. On the flip side, closed source printers that use proprietary filaments tend by be used in higher quality 3D printers. If you use a closed source printer, you will be tied to the (more expensive) prices of the company.

Score: 2 points if totally open to all filaments, 1 point if partially open, 0 points if closed to 3d parties.

5th Gen: This printer has a built in cartage holder for its 1.75 mm filament, which will not

Spool holder
Spool holder that clamps onto 5th Gen printer.

accept the spools of 3d party filaments. You can however make an external spool holder to hold 3d party brands. 1 point

Taz 5: Totally open to all brands of filament. The Taz 5 can accept 1.75 mm and 2.85 mm filaments, as well as a wide range of materials.(link filament store). 2 points

Mojo: Totally closed to 3D party filaments. The Mojo prints with a proprietary cartridges that print only in ABS primary and SR-30 (HIPS) support material. The Mojo also has the disposable print heads in the cartridge, so the printer will not work without the whole assembly. 0 points


4. Heated Platform

Plastics like ABS and HIPS require a headed build platform to prevent print warpage. A headed build plate or chamber can keep your prints flat, and reduce the chances that the print will separate from the build plate.

5th gen
MakerBot 5th gen 3D printer

Score: 2 points if bed heating is standard. 1 point if you can add it on, 0 points if not an option.

5th Gen: No heated option. 0 points

Taz 5: Headed bed standard. 2 points

Mojo: Headed enclosed build chamber. 2 points


5. Bed Leveling

Leveling the build plate is a critical step in 3D printing. Some printers have an auto-leveling feature, while others you have to level manually. If you plan on doing a lot of 3D printing, auto-leveling may be a useful feature. Manually leveled beds tend to hold their level longer in my experience.

depth gauge
Depth gauge mod for Lulzbots.

Score: 2 points for auto-leveling, 1 for manual leveling.

5th Gen: Auto-leveling through the smart extruder head. 2 points

Taz 5: Manual leveling that requires a provided 2 mm Allen Key to level. Many Taz 5 owners also use a depth gauge  to level their build plate. 1 point

Mojo: Auto leveling on a disposable build plate. 2 points


 6. Field Maintenance

Mojo
Mojo 3D printer, which requires exclusive and expensive filament / head carriages from the company

Any 3D printer will require field maintenance with use. Some printers are easier to maintain than others. Open printers tend to be easier than closed printers to fix in the field. In a previous blog I describe the field operations that you should be able to perform on any 3D printer.

Score: 1 point if printer is easy to field maintain. 0 points if the printer is encased or not fixable without voiding factory warranty.

5th Gen: Totally closed and encased, you cannot field maintain the printer without voiding the MakerCare Protection Plan. 0 point

Taz 5: Totally open, you can 3D print replacement parts . 1 point

Mojo: Totally encased, no major part of the printer can be accessed for maintained. 0 points


7. Warranties

A 3D printer is an expensive piece of equipment, and it is nice to know that you can get help and support if there is a problem. Many commercial 3D printer companies offer some sort of warranty, and will have extend options as well. Look online to see how others review the warranties of different companies.

Score: 1 point for every 6 months coverage.

5th Gen: Limited 6 month warranty from time of purchase. The MakerCare plan is a separate purchase. 1 point

Taz 5: One year warranty. 2 points

Mojo: As a leased printer system, maintenance services are provided as part of the lease, but will required a service call from a field provider. 1 point


  8. Special Equipment or Perks

For this category, you should look any other equipment required to run your printer. Some printers also offer perks to make your printing experience better. While not essential to the printers operation, these perks may be useful if you run a 3D printing service.

Score: Subtract 1 point for any special equipment; add 1 point for any perk.

5th Gen: This printer requires that you have many smart extruders on hand to change out when they frequently jam. – 1 pointThe 5th Gen does offer a web cam to take pictures of your print, and can connect to your mobile device to print. 2 points

Total: 1 point

waveWash 55
WaveWash 55 system required to dissolve HIPS filament from Mojo prints

Taz 5: The Taz does not have the bells and whistles of MakerBot, which is a good thing. The Taz 5 offers options for printing with flexible and dual materials by changing out the heads. Every Lulzbot printer comes with a complete tool set. 3 points for the different tool heads, 1 point for tool. 4 total.

Mojo: This printer requires a separate system (WaveWash 55) to dissolve the SR-30 (HIPS) support filament. You have to use their detergent tablets (made of D-Limonine) to dissolve the HIPS support filament. The Mojo also uses cheap disposable recyclable build plates which are expensive. I found you could get 2-3 uses out of the plates by covering them with blue painters tape. – 3 points.


9. Printable Filaments

Any 3D printer should look at what material they can print with on their printer. Beginning 3D printers may want to focus on PLA and ABS while advanced 3D printers may want a machine that can handle Nylon and other high temperature filaments. This is based on the temperature the hot end can safely maintain through a print. The score is based on the filaments listed on the company site.

Score. 1 point each filament listed.

5th Gen: Rated for PLA only. 1 point

Taz 5: 17 filaments listed on site, with the capability for more. 17 points

Mojo: ABS primary and SR-30 (HIPS) support material only. 2 points.


Conclusion

MakerBot 5Th Gen Replicator

Build Volume: 25.2 L x 19.9 W x 15.0 H cm,   7,522 cubic centimeters

The 5th gen is a hobby level printer for the occasional 3D printer. Given that it is closed to maintenance and filament, it can lock you into more expensive maintenance cost. A lack of a heated build plate can also cause problems with large prints in PLA.

FINAL SCORE: 10 points

LulzBot Taz 5

Lulzbot Taz 5
Lulzbot Taz 5, the best printer rated here.

Build Volume: 298mm x 275mm x 250mm, 20,487.5 cubic centimeters

A great open source printer for intermediate and advanced printers. The Taz 5 is a forgiving machine that can print with a wide range of filaments. Easy to maintain and upgrade as well. The large build volume also appeals to commercial and industrial printers.

FINAL SCORE: 33 points

Stratays Mojo

Build Volume:12.7 x 12.7 x 12.7 cm, 2,048.4 cubic centimeters

This is an industrial quality 3D printer that is leased from Stratays. The prints are good quality, but the total cost of a print is higher than other ABS prints.

Being closed in every way possible, this printer is more expensive to run. Dissolving the SR-30 (HIPS) support filament takes additional time (24 - 48 hours). The disposable build plates and filament cartage turns the Mojo into a money vacuum among 3D printers.

FINAL SCORE: 5 points


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Written by 

3D-PT is a small 3D printing company started by a science teacher with autism. He has a background in CAD and science education, and believes that 3D printing can be used to help the world. 3D-PT develops products for people with autism and other disabilities. 3D-PT is also developing 3D printable products for education. 3D-PT is online at 3dpt.club Twitter: @3dfidgets

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