The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is underway, so you can expect to see a number of consumer based 3D printing introductions. Would you consider using a consumer style 3D printer? Perhaps as a tool to experiment with, checking the look and feel of your designs, or just to teach yourself more about the capabilities and limitations of 3D printing? If so, what would you spend on one? $600 or less? $3000 or less?
The number of companies developing 3D printers for the consumer market continues to grow. According to the Wohlers Report 2014, sales of under $5000 3D printers will be a major factor in the forecast growth of $12.8 billion by 2018. That’s a lot of 3d printer sales.
Developers of these desktop sized units have improved accuracy and resolution, and several offer leading edge features wanted by users of 3D printers targeted at the professional user.
But which ones offer the best value for the money? Which ones would be really useful for the design engineer?
More than 60 consumer style 3DPs are available, with new ones entering and leaving the market all the time. The latest issue of MAKE magazine (Dec 2014/Jan 2015) recently evaluated a number of them. According to their tests, a few consumer style 3D printers stand out as potential tools for the design engineer.
At $2,499, the Ultimaker 2 from Ultimaker was evaluated as the best by the MAKE team. It has a print speed of up to 300 mm/s and 0.02mm layer resolution.
For slightly less, $2200, the Taz 4 was viewed as a useful printer. Noted the evaluator, this printer would be a good choice for engineers since it was designed with you in mind. Built by Lulzbot, its top print speed is 200 mm/sec, with an XY print tolerance of 0.1 mm. The Z axis print tolerance depends on layer thickness, which can range from 0.075 mm to 0.35 mm (0.003 in. – 0.0138 in.). It prints with ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, and wood filaments.
The Airwolf printers, HD, HDX, and HD2X, did not fare as well. Prices range from $2995 to $3995. The MAKE evaluators felt these units did not deliver good accuracy and features for the price. They have a 60-micron minimum layer height, and an X, Y resolution of 20 microns.
The 5th generation Replicator, from MakerBot is $2899. Its layer resolution is 100 microns. The surface finish was not as desirable as the evaluators thought it could be, and the system was a bit noisy. But it has the benefit of being a networked appliance.
The Form 1+ from Formlabs is priced at $3299. The main stereolithography (SL) entrant, it can deliver 0.1, 0.05, and 0.025 mm layer heights. Minimum feature size is 0.3 mm.
The Projet 1200 is $4900 SL unit from 3D Systems. Its Z resolution is 30 microns, and its XY resolution is 56 microns. It uses an LED Digital Light Processing light source and is being targeted at the jeweler and dentistry markets.
And one 3D printer that is around $600 that the MAKE evaluators thought well of was the Printrbot, from Printrbot. Its 150 x 150 x 150 build volume has a print speed of 80 mm/sec, with a 100 micron resolution.
The MAKE group evaluated more 3D printers, but the printers listed here seem to be the most useful to the engineer looking for a low-cost printer for more than just hobby use.