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valcrow

New ultimaker kit review + first samples

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Hello all,

New Ultimaker owner way over here in Canada. So while it’s still fresh(ish) in my memory, I’d like to share with the community my thoughts, troubles and successes in the whole ultimaker experience in hopes that it’ll help out some that are considering taking the plunge as well as providing some feedback for improvements in the future. It’s wonderful to see a great community and dedication to improving the product and experience as evidenced by reading some of the past issues that seem to no longer exist in the current versions of the product.

I placed the order for a kit after much deliberation, there are just so many choices out there, but after reading much documentation/opinions and reviews, I finally decided on the ultimaker which boiled down to a few factors in this order of importance (for me): Print Quality, Support, ease of use, price. Initially I was looking for a pre-assembled machine, but after reading about some opinions about being able to understand and troubleshoot problems better having build the machine yourself, I was sold on the kit (plus it was less expensive). I come from a background of 3D & visual effects, so while comfortable in the virtual realm, I was a little apprehensive about mechanics of building it myself. Luckily the documentation seemed quite comprehensive, and mostly tool-less (with the exception of a hex screw driver) instructions gave me just enough confidence to try it out. And I’m glad I did.

Onto the review:

Service Times...

Most people buying new toys will be anxiously waiting from processing to shipping. I was pleasantly surprised that more often than not Ultimaker was faster than their posted time tables:

Kit ordered: April 22 (They had 15 days lead time listed on website)

Shipped: April 26

Attempted delivery: April 29

Arrived: April 30 (to Canada)

The response for e-mails & questions was also prompt, usually around half a day.

Build:

I cleaned the place up and added an extra fold out table to my workspace in anticipation for a big mess for a couple of days while I put it together. (highly recommended) Fired up the Ultimaker Wiki, and started going through the process.

The wiki:

The instructions are quite clear and concise, and pictures step by step very helpful. The most helpful part of the instructions were at the beginning, where it spells out for you exactly how many of each screw, piece, or nut you need. This allows you to lay them all out beforehand in a dish so you don’t have to fiddle with ziplock bags. Unfortunately, this section became less accurate, and non-existent in later parts of the wiki. Where you would have screws left over after the section, and you would wonder what you did wrong. starting at 1.4 and on in the wiki, detail seems to fall apart a little bit compared to the previous sections which were crystal clear. Parts list became pictures rather than lists which were less helpful in determining the amount and length of screws you needed. I also found it helpful to read all the comments at the bottom FIRST and note the problem areas and solutions before running into them yourself.

The Build:

The two major issues I came across during the build was the very first limit switches. The threads on these things are super weak. Pretty much every one of my limit switches had threading issues on one of the two screw holes. I was very careful, after reading some comments about this issue never to overtighten the switches, but it didn’t matter, half the threads failed to catch the threading on the screws. Luckily the switches seem to be somewhat OK with one screw spinning loose, and the other one somewhat tightened. I dare not tighten it further for fear of stripping.

One of the switches had stripped threads for both screw holes even before I installed them all. I ended up filling the holes with epoxy, screw it into place and clamped down. Luckily, the epoxy doesn’t stick well to the screws, and ended up acting like a squishy threading after hardening. This gave me just enough tension to keep the one limit switch in place. With more than half the threads failing on all the limit switches, it was very close in killing the progress of the build. I would eventually have additional problems with the limit switches later on...

The installation of the limit switches were close the beginning of the process which made me uneasy about the quality of the components. But this was alleviated after the rest of the build, most of the parts seem to be of very high quality and tight tolerances including the wood laser parts.

 

the next major mistake I ran into, (perhaps not the fault of ultimaker, but my reading of instructions) is the belt pullies. The Wiki mentioned not to tighten the retaining hex bolts in the pullies just yet during section 1.2, as they would be tightened later during the installation of the print head and tensioning of motors. I didn’t know at this point that you SHOULD tighten the pullies attached to the thick axis bars and the motors.

pully

These are extremely difficult to get to after you start putting everything else together. by the time I noticed that I should have tightened these, I wasn’t able to access them with the screw driver easily. This lead to problems later on...

The last major problem I had was with the print head fan. The screws were about 4mm further apart than the fan holes... I had to drill a part of the fan plastic out to get the screws to fit in there. Not really sure what went wrong here, but it doesn’t seem to affect performance.

There were a few more minor issues during the build, but nothing too daunting. During the build you get a very good sense of what everything does, and generally get the sense that this thing is well designed, thought out, and uses quality parts. I was skeptical of laser cut wood at first, but having put everything together with near zero tolerance on the mating of metal and wood parts including round linear bearings, I emerge a believer.

With so many parts to account for, and my lack of mechanical experience, I was quite pleasantly surprised how smoothly the build went besides the few things listed above. Almost no additional tools were required, and everything was well documented in the Wiki. The build probably took me around 15-18 hours over 2.5 days, fairly accurately estimated in the wiki.

2 minor hardware issues besides the limit switches:

-The electronics fan randomly causes ‘struggling’ or grinding noises when starting from a cold start. Some oil seemed to have helped a bit and I checked that it wasn’t grinding against the polycarbonate sheet. But it seems to be an issue with the fan itself. Started on day 1. I have to tilt the machine in different directions to get the noise to go away or tap the fan itself.

-The ulticontroller ‘lattice’ was broken when it arrived. Not a huge deal, it’s cosmetic.

Ulticontroller

Neither things seem to impede the function of the machine.

FIRING IT UP!

For the first time... everything seemed cool, fans were spinning, the little blue LED on the printhead provided a comforting signal that It’s connected properly... Ulticontroller stood ready.

I plugged in the USB to my computer, fired up CURA and ran the startup wizard. Upgraded the firmware via one button click (awesome!) and started to run checks. Cura suggested I test the limit switch. So I tapped the appropriate one.. and... nothing. I clicked all other ones incase I wired it wrong... and nothing. I eventually had to skip this step since I had no idea what was going on, Cura wasn’t responding to limit switches, and all connections seemed ok.

The print head seemed to buzz into one side when it was testing the leveling... I figured I might have switched the X axis limit switches by accident in the wiring. I checked that on the electronics board, and true enough, I had wired one of them wrong. Upon fixing that issue, the limit switch wizard still didn’t work, but it started to print the test square properly. Good enough for me.

square

 

Satisfied that everything worked out, I tested the ulticontroller. That worked flawlessly, and I was surpised to learn the amount of control you had with the thing. Highly recommended.

CURA

The software was easy to download, install and run. Cura is just awesome, everything is quite self explanatory and well thought out from the actual usage standpoint which is refreshing to see. I think Cura is one of very few examples of highly efficient software. All the buttons and options are useful that are front and center. It is intuitive (at least to me) and my favorite part... “copy to SD card” and an automatic “safely eject” option. I appreciate very much the efficiency and user orientation. No bloat, and upon turning on full settings, everything is wonderful. The amount of customizable settings is also quite awesome. Thanks for wonderful unbloated design and function. Switching to Full settings mode enabled retraction by default as well, which eliminated almost all of the stringing that was happening in my first test prints.

My only thoughts of improvement are the ability to move objects on the table (so I can utilize areas where my blue tape isn’t ruined.) And add multiple objects. Nothing a few seconds in my 3D app can’t solve... but would be nice in the future.

Printing

So I started printing a gear cube I downloaded from thingieverse. I noticed it was slightly skewed. which was a weird effect. I cancelled the print and started another. It was even MORE skewed than the first. The walls were still straight just skewed on one axis.

skew

This drove me crazy for a while until after reading other peoples experiences, I figured out that I hadn’t tightened the pullies attached to the belt to the motors enough. As mentioned previously this was extremely difficult to get into... Really wish I had done it earlier. It took me a few hours to solve, but after that, everything ran nicely.

pully

I had no issues translating 3D geometry created from 3D studio to STL to Cura. After printing a few gear cubes off, assembling, and figuring out it’s quarks and limitations. I made a bunch more things:

Sew motor

companion cube

balljoint

IMG 00000361 (00011)

IMG 00000356 (00011)

IMG 00000363 (00011)

(pictures from my blackberry)

-The strange looking device is an industrial motor. It's roughly 5cm long. That's a silver maple for scale which is really moot because most people don't know how big they are. :p Still... a very nice coin.

-The companion cube is the only model from thingieverse, though with a modified cap and bottom.

-The printed threads and nuts work, the balljoint doesn't create enough friction to hold. Or I designed it wrong. The ball didn't print so nice.

-The mech is from Mechwarrior online, highly modified roughly 3" tall with articulating arms, torso and legs. Printed in the parts you see there and glued together.

Overview:

Overall, I’m very happy with the result, the process, the quality of the machine and support. There were a few bumps along the way, but nothing that would really jade my experience to not come away with a positive experience and product overall. I would highly recommend the Machine to anyone interested, and if inclined the Kit version. Even with my limited experience in building things, it’s not much more difficult than some toy models. Just requires some patience, research and attention to detail.

I’m sure it’ll take a while still to fine tune the process and get even better results, but looking forward to doing so and creating... well, anything and everything!

Happy ultimaking!

___________________________________

6 months later

__________________________________

 

very cool stuff.

good comments on your first experiences and very nice kick ass first print modells.. really nice stuff !

Ian :smile:

ps. could you post a few of your prints here ?

http://umforum.ultimaker.com/index.php?/topic/467-post-your-latest-print/

 

I've been posting stuff there.

I guess it time for a 6 month review update! What newcomers can expect after you've mostly dialed your machine in, learned it's quarks, and more focused on making stuff than getting the machine to do what you want it to do.

Overview

It's been 6 months, for the most part everything holds up great. The physical precision is just as good as the first print. Cura has much improved, I think we're almost 10 versions newer now... And having time to build a stronger understanding of how things print, trouble shoot, and optimize, there is quite a dramatic overall increase in the quality and complexity in my prints. (not that UM is doing anything different)

After 6 months your mentality shifts from, how do I print? to, what can't I print? and... is that a challenge?

This is my latest print, possibly the most complex I've done since I got the printer with the nicest finish. It has balljoints, pins, freestanding, requires no supports, and basically snaps together. Roughly 40 individual parts. You can read more about the construction here.

Sarah_jenner_-151-1024x682.jpg

On the more practical side of things, here's a You can buy a comparative item for ~$300 retail.

012-Beholder-1024x682.jpg

One really cool thing about having a printer is... you can further make your printer better by printing custom parts for it.

IMG_00001267-1024x576.jpg

The upgrades are endless, some people have replaced entire print-head assemblies. In my case, I designed a fan shroud that's a bit more direct and less clumsy than the original one.

So those are the main things I use it for. Making fun stuff & gifts, Making practical stuff to save money, and making stuff that helps me make other stuff better.

You can find more stuff I make here: redicubricks.com

(this section is more on FDM in general)

Freedom! (with limitations)

I didn't quite understand this when I first bought the printer, and I can imagine a lot of people think it's just magic and you can make ANYTHING. The ultimaker has limitations along with ALL FDM printers, makerbot, UP you name it. Here's what I DIDN'T think about 6 months ago, that I really should have...

-Supports: although cura is getting better at making support structures, you will eventually lean to AVOID printing anything that requires supports due to unclean surfaces, and cleanup time. Trust me, you'll just not use them. This limits your prints to things that don't defy physics, unlike how 3d printing is advertised on the web. basically.. no floating bits in the air. (bigger issue than you think..)

-minimum size: I tried to make table top minis at first. Most people will tout the supernatural abilities of 3d printers to print at 50 microns etc. The ultimaker is quite capable of printing well at 40 microns and even lower. I've done a few at that resolution with really good results stock. The problem is the print nozzle is still .40mm. So while your Y axis resolution is ridiculously fine, your X and Z is still at 400 microns fine. Which is not fine enough for table top type miniatures, even though 40 microns technically should be enough. Don't be fooled by companies throwing microns at you, there is a fundamental technology limit to your resolution, and it's not the micron layers that everyone touts. I'm actually quite glad UM doesn't overtly tout it's layer resolution. Because it's misleading.

-Detail: because of the above mentioned phsyical restrictions, your prints will always be more detailed and smooth on X Z facing surfaces than the Y. (again true for all FDM)

-Modeling abilities: A lot of people focus on the printer stats. But the true barrier for most people is 3d modelling ability. You will be more limited by your abilities to model what you want to make than the printer limitations itself. If you're thinking of getting a printer, download blender and do some modelling first!

Beyond that... you can make ANYTHING*. :)

*that's plastic and under 200cm x 200cm**

**but you can always print parts and assemble

Ok, onto:

HARDWARE:

So as I mentioned everything as a whole holds up pretty well, with the exception of a few things:

The fans: Ultimaker needs to get a new supplier for these guys. There are 2 fans on the ultimaker, one on the motherboard and one on the print head. after 1 month, the motherboard fan started sound like a motorboat. I tried oiling it, seeing if it was touching anything. Basically nothing made it better. It still 'kinda' works now. But sounds like a steam powered nuclear reactor shooting machine-guns into binary explosives.

The fan on the print head buzzes loudly for the first minute and calms itself down. Fans seem like a widespread problem among the ultimaker population. It hasn't affected functionality so far... but it's sure annoying.

The nozzle: I'm unsure if this is my fault or manufacturer defect, or PLA defect. But after about 2 rolls of PLA. This happened.

gallery_7531_65_1168821.jpg

Causing prints to come out really badly. Order an extra nozzle with your printer. I've since tried to repair it and it seems to have worked... but get yourself a spare just in-case.

Other nozzle issues also start to develop after a while. around the 3 month mark, I've started experiencing nozzle overpressure causing other issues. Pressure increases at the tip causing under extrusion, grinding with retraction etc. It can be frustrating to disassemble and clean the nozzle unsure of even after you do that, your print will come out fine.

This MAY be an issue with the PLA i'm using though.

Other than that Hardware seems reliable. It is still precise and I haven't noticed any quality degradations over time.

Ultimaker 2 & upgrades

So, now that Ultimaker 2 is out, dual extrusion kits for UM1. what are my thoughts on those? If UM2 was a straight upgrade, I'd be kinda bummed out having missed it by a few months. But to me it seems more like a side step. The quality seems better but not a huge leap. The build materials seem better but less tinkerable. I would NOT consider upgrading to a UM2 at all at this point as it doesn't really offer anything more than what UM1 already gives me with the exception of ABS printing.

I would STILL recommend people get the KIT UM1 if you aspire to learn how it works and don't care how it looks. It's a lot less expensive, and the output quality is comparable.

The dual extrusion kit is unattractive at the moment as well. The main thing I would want with dual extrusion is to print PVA support so I can print crazy objects. that just doesn't seem practical yet. I print everything in grey or black anyways, paint if I need colour.

The future!

The future is bright with 3d printing. There's a ton of new stuff coming out all the time, it's continuously getting better, quicker, cheaper. I may be biased, but I think UM is still one of the highest quality outputting FDM printers out there. And the support and knowledge base here has been tremendous.

Perhaps a lack of imagination on my part, but I don't think there's that much room for dramatic improvement in quality that can happen with FDM tech, which makes me both happy for my purchase, and sad about it's chances of improvement. But I don't think you'll need to worry about your printer being outdated in a few months after you buy it. That is... as long as you're staying in the FDM class of printers.

So what if you're stuck on the fence with all these new shiny printers and tech on the horizon? Consider one MAJOR thing. PLA costs a comparatively low $40 a KG. I can see an SLA or Powder printer in my future for sure... But I can't see them beating the cost in materials anytime soon. My ultimaker will be happily buzzing like a chainsaw until then.

 

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