Thursday, January 10, 2019

New 3D Printer: Dremel 3D45

Background

For a while I had a 3D printer. Specifically a Printrbot Simple Metal. When it worked, it was a lot of fun. I could start with an idea and turn it into a real physical object without the need for a big workshop, huge mess, or personal injury. When it worked, it was great! But the process of getting it to work and keeping it working took all the joy out of the prospect of desktop fabrication.

Three years later I found myself thinking about getting another 3D printer, hoping that the reliability had improved. I started looking at what was on the market with an emphasis on reliability: I didn't want to tinker with the printer, I just wanted to turn designs into objects. Dremel seemed to have some reliable offerings though a little pricey. I pulled the trigger on the 3D45 and so far I'm very pleased.

Disclaimer

I should be getting compensated for this review. My printer came with a small flyer that said if I post a review of the printer on my blog I would receive two spools of PLA for free. The flyer didn't provide direction on what the review should say.

Initial Impressions

I pulled the printer out of the box and had it set up in about 20 minutes. I was able to start a job for a frog figure from the internal storage. It came out almost perfect with a couple of misaligned layers and some poor adhesion ("springing") at the top.

Overall though I had good luck with the printer initially. I would sometimes have trouble with first layer adhesion which is the most common problem printing. Trying different things to correct it I found that washing the build plate, perform bed leveling, and reapplying glue would almost always correct the issue.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Pros

It just works. I've used an entire spool of ECO-ABS with an overwhelmingly positive success to failure ratio. I've printed in PETG and Nylon as well with no failures there. Nylon is notoriously annoying to print with and it worked on my first try. Note; The ECO-ABS is a proprietary formulation of PLA.

It looks nice. While I don't actually care how it looks, the fact that it's fully self-contained means that the cat, the dog, dust, Dorito crumbs, ejected shell casings, etc won't put my prints a risk.

It has almost all the bells and whistles. As stated, it's fully-enclosed to help keep it work inside and reduce warping. It has a heated bed to help with the same. The build plate is tempered glass in an easy to remove and handle frame. I'm really pleased with how easy it is to work with the build plate. It's got a touch screen that provides helpful information and allows you to perform basic operations and start/pause/cancel prints from onboard storage or a USB drive. It prints "ECO-ABS", PLA, PETG, and Nylon. It has an integrated web cam, runout sensor, yadda-yadda-yadda.

The filament seems really good. The color and performance are consistent throughout the spool. I don't really have problems with first-layer or intra-layer adhesion. The Dremel filament spools have an embedded RFID tag that the printer reads and use to automatically set the temperature for the extruder and bed.

Cons

It's expensive. The printer retails for $1800. I got mine for $1400 on Amazon black Friday. That's fine as a reliable device that lasts years is worth investing in. The filament, however, is also expensive. Common, non-funky filaments run between $15-30 per kg. Dremel filament runs $30-40 per .5kg. This is tempered somewhat by the fact that between the quality of the printer and their filament my prints succeed more so I waste less (save my own design mistakes).

It's something of a walled garden. There's not a lot of room to tinker with the printer. I don't want to tinker with the printer... I don't want to have to. However, should it be necessary it would be nice. I can't complain too much as I made a conscious decision to sacrifice hackability for reliability.

The network features are weak. You can manage and monitor print jobs through their cloud service but you can't do so over the LAN. The frame rate for the video in their cloud service is like 0.1fps. It's difficult to actually understand what's happening.

WTF?

The cloud slicer is garbage. You can upload an STL to the cloud service and have it do the slicing for you. It was easy! I never got a successful print from the cloud slider. Usually there would be a loss of inter-layer adhesion leaving me with a slinky vaguely in the shape of my print. Using the Dremel Cura desktop slicer works extremely well and when I upload the gcode it produces to the cloud service the results are great. Unfortunately they kind of tout the cloud service and using only the cloud service brought me nothing but failure. Luckily I have some printing experience and knew how to troubleshoot this.

"Filament DRM". They strongly encourage you to print using only Dremel filament. It seems to be high quality and the RFID identification feature is definitely neat. However, the state that using non-Dremel filament will void your warranty. This seems insane to me. I get that they wouldn't want to support issues people have using janky filament. I would totally accept that if I use 3rd party filament and my house burns down they shouldn't be held liable. But to say that they are unwilling to support me for using less expensive filament leaves a bad taste.

And the filament cost. I would feel a lot less annoyed about the quasi-restriction of using only Dremel filament if it weren't 2-4 times the cost of other filaments. It is good but the difference in cost is kind of crazy. To some extent they market this product line for education; schools can't afford this. Also, they should encourage other filament vendors to use the same RFID spec. It's a cool feature. Overall, they should make the filament significantly cheaper or penalize their customers less for using third-party filaments.

I'm really disappointed that I can't really use the built-in camera decently. I get that they wouldn't want to stream 720p over the Internet to everyone; they aren't trying to be a video streaming service. There should be a way for me to watch it in full quality over my home network.

Trouble Strikes!

Eventually I had a serious issue that wash/level/glue wouldn't resolve. I wasn't getting a first layer. The extruder would travel around the surface of the bed and yell CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK as though some gears were slipping, like something was stuck. Thinking I had a clog I looked in the manual for their clearing process. The troubleshooting matrix says that if have a clog to contact support. Simultaneously the manual has instructions for clearing a clog. I went through the clog clearing process and found that the extruder could push filament out fine. Attempting another print I got the same symptom. It seemed that the tip of the nozzle was flush with the bed and it was clogged because there was no place to extrude filament to.

I call customer support but it was a Friday afternoon. Wonderfully, they have US-based support. Unfortunately for me they're in Central Time, I'm in Pacific Time and they were already closed. I used their email contact form and received an automated response saying I'd hear back from them in two business days. This being Friday I shouldn't hear back from them until Tuesday or Wednesday. On Monday I got a response with corrective instructions that fixed the issue in a few minutes. It sucks that I was "out of commission" for several days. It's awesome that I had access to people whose job it was to help me. Free input on 3D printing issues will vary far and wide on the nature of your problem and remediation.

Conclusions

I think my money on this printer was well-spent. I've been really enjoying it. I feel like I got the reliability I was looking for. The filament is really expensive which makes me hesitant to experiment.

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