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Texas A&M MakerPlace & the Ultimaker S5

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Howdy y'all. ?

I run the Texas A&M University College of Architecture MakerPlace (it's a mouthful... we just call it the MakerPlace) and we bought six Ultimaker S5s to further expand our printing capabilities here. Now we have eighteen UM3s, six S5s, two Fusion3 F400-Ss and three FormLabs Form 2s. There are also two industrial-type machines that I do not directly manage but often have to talk to students/customers about: Stratasys Eden and a 3D Systems Projet 460 Plus.




We're (the MakerPlace) quite new still and the purpose of the space seems to change week by week. When first I started here, the MakerPlace had a FlashForge Dreamer, a MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen, a MakerBot Replicator 2 and a Cube Trio. Half of them were down at any given point and when it was time for finals, we had students wait up to 3 weeks to get their 3D prints because of how backed up we were. Right now, we serve the students of our college and the main way people outside the college hears about us is through word of mouth. We also have a few other services that any maker space should such as vinyl cutting, tool rental and tons of table space to work. In the future, I hope we will have more specialized tools in the space like an Inventables Carvey or similar. The college has two other spaces that encompass the rest of what students need to make projects: the Woodshop and the FabLab (AKA the Ranch). The Woodshop is a large space with hand tools and power tools galore with 7 laser cutters while the Ranch has the huge tools like a new HAAS CNC machining tool, 2 full size CNC routers, CNC plasma cutting, a CNC water jet and a small warehouse that faculty members rent for XL projects. 


Now back to 3D printing... In the Fall of 2017 we printed around 50kg and Spring 2018 we printed closer to 80kg. We mostly print in PLA or PLA blends with the occasional co-polyester or composite blend in there. We get a lot of our filament from a supplier down the street from us, Essentium Materials. They've been a fantastic partner to work with! We use an in-house built queue (the "Dashboard") and 3DPrinterOS internally to manage the 18 UM3s and we're waiting for the S5s to be integrated into their software. Students bring us their STL files that they modeled in Revit, Rhino (most popular), or SketchUp. Then we do a little consultation to make sure their 3D print will come out like they want it and then we queue them up. Most of the time, models fit on the UM3. But last semester (spring 2018) we found that we had a line out the (virtual) door for prints on the Fusion3 printers. Next thing I knew, the S5 was announced and I knew we'd be expanding this summer, so I pitched it. The addition of the six Ultimaker S5 3D printers not only gives us more printers to run more jobs on, but we also have an increased capacity for larger jobs that would normally have to queue for the Fusion3.


We've had the S5s for around 3 weeks now and they've certainly impressed me. Here's some thoughts about a few things...


"What's in the box": The packaging for the S5s was pretty nice, but I think the UM3 did it better with zip tying the linear rods together to prevent shifting that happened to two of the S5s I recieved. I had to realign linear rods on my last two machines which turns out is not that difficult but I still had to do it. The Aluminum plate is not included yet which is fine by me as we primarily print in PLA that only needs some purple glue stick on glass to print well. The Tough PLA that comes with the printer is really easy to print with and comes off the bed nicely. I printed several large things (around 18 hour prints) with no supports to begin testing how well it does for long prints and the material looks great. And it also comes with a 750g spool of PVA. I prefer the 350g spools as we live in central Texas and currently the humidity inside is 47%. (PVA (and PLA for that matter) does not like high-humidity environments.) It regularly goes above 50% and it's just lovely. ? On that note, I store filament in dry-boxes with a bunch of loose silica beads in the bottom which gets down below 15% RH. I don't know specifically how low it goes as the sensors I got on Amazon only go down to 15%! Ha. I also have a PrintDry system which I use to dry out filament that's left out for a few days. 


IMG_20180611_103055.thumb.jpg.7f85548413acfc56273b2e2f6f22bbf8.jpgWorm gear printed with Tough PLA with Breakaway


Print quality: I have seen and expect these to print very similarly to the UM3 on every front and every combination of materials (PLA/PVA/Breakaway/etc). We typically print at 0.2mm layers for speed but go down to 0.1mm layers as needed by the models. The Form2s print at 0.1mm regularly and go down to 0.025mm as needed. About 50% of the architectural models we print are massings printed at 0.2mm layers and around 80mm/s that the students print in white PLA and sometimes go sand/finish in their studios. We have had a small number of failed prints on the S5 so far, several of which were because of the bug in 5.0.13 firmware that caused some false-positives in the flow sensor. I have not had any clogged nozzles yet nor "spaghetti" parts. I do not consider these printers to be "fast" by any means. The Fusion3's default speed in Simplify3D is 100mm/s and I turned up the speed in Cura for the S5 to 70-80mm/s both at 0.2mm layers and turn up the temperature +10-15C. It makes a big difference. I haven't tested how fast they could print if I turned both speed and temp. up a lot, though. The students need consistency and I found that changing a few things in the "Fast" profile and basically renaming it "Super Fast" cuts off a lot of time and some material usage. Saves money and material! 



  • Better bed leveling means the nozzles touch about 12 points on the build plate to get a better "picture" of the levelness of the beds. It does take a lot longer than the UM3. I have not had to manually level them yet, but I also didn't level the UM3s when I got them for several weeks. I anticipate the same for these guys. 
  • Filament flow detection and the new feeder mech. is super awesome so far. It's saved several prints from the end of spools. It's so easy to insert material into the new feeder compared to the UM3! No more hurt fingers due to super-strong springs! Just lift the little lever and slide the filament in. Love it.
  • The Touchscreen and new menus are beautiful. It's like using a smartphone. The new menus have pictures of actions to take during, for example, changing filament and that's fantastic. Also I love the "Printer tasks" alert.




But... we didn't necessarily buy these for any of these features. One of the main reasons we bought them is to keep our process as close to the same to save on time and effort. It is a lot more effort to switch to Simplify3D when we need to print something on the Fusion3 and change materials on it etc etc than to change machines in Cura. Sure we could easily set up Cura to run the Fusion3s but then each student worker will have to make sure we're using the same version of Cura with the same start/stop gcode, and other similar settings to ensure the jobs getting done consistently. It's much easier to not do that and have the "Simplify3D computer" to slice models for the Fusion3s. 


Irks... I've had a few strange things happen that were easily solved.

  1. Linear rods not aligned when 2/6 printers were delivered. This was solved by contacting support and them sending me a link to Ultimaker NA Support's articles (thanks @fbrc8-erin!). I used a set of calipers to align the rods with the frame.
  2. Firmware update bug. The 5.0.19 firmware update just happened and 3/6 of the printers hung on the update process. It had the screen that said "installing update" but stayed there for hours. I was told that this happens sometimes due to a bug and after about 10 minutes of being on that screen to turn off the printer and turn it back on then do the update again. I can confirm this worked and we're all good.
  3. Banding on the Z axis. This is probably due to the location of the printers and the materials being used, but I'm still going to mention it. We printed some really tall buildings with 0% infill and no top layers to save on material when I noticed how much the layer lines were showing. It's probably due to vibrations in the structure and I'm going to add some foam padding underneath the printers to solve this. Also, white PLA is really bad at showing these lines and that's what we mainly print in!



Whew. That said, please let me know if you have questions about the MakerPlace or the Ultimaker S5 or something else in the post or anything that I missed. ?️



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Hi, Adam,


Impressive set-up! I'll share the photos with the rest of the fbrc8 team on Monday. I think rubber/foam feet should help act as dampeners on the Z-issues you're seeing. That many printers on a single rack probably has some cumulative effect. (My racks run with printers on 2 levels currently.)


I did also want to let you know that after your initial feedback about the alignment issue occurring on 2 of you 6 S5s, we got that feedback to Ultimaker straight away, and the S5s are now getting zip-tied the same way the UM3s are. We take the feedback loop pretty seriously and are always looking at ways to improve and make sure the information we see out in the field makes it back to the appropriate departments. 

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@fbrc8-erin: Thanks! I'm 100% sure y'all built these for us. We got them all from Dynamism. We had some extra foam tiles like these that I put under B1-B3 (and I think C1-C3) in the photos. They're around 1/2" thick and pretty cheap. I have a feeling I'll get more of those and run the z-banding test again on the S5. Perhaps if all the printers had it the entire thing would vibrate less. In the future, we're going to build some fixtures in-house to hold these better. These current ones came from Sam's Club! But imagine 2-3x as many printers in like two rows of fixtures... I love dreaming big. ?


We take the feedback loop pretty seriously

That is incredible! Great to hear. I'll holler if I think of anything else like that for sure.


@kmanstudios The Texas A&M University College of Architecture Awesome MakerPlace. Rolls right off the tongue! ?? 

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Nice setup and thanks for the details. Always interesting to read those.


Just a small practical question: How do you change filament on those UM3's in the middle of the rack? With the controls on the front and the feeder on the back this must require teamwork or acrobatics :)

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34 minutes ago, pbackx said:

Nice setup and thanks for the details. Always interesting to read those.


Just a small practical question: How do you change filament on those UM3's in the middle of the rack? With the controls on the front and the feeder on the back this must require teamwork or acrobatics ?


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Hi @starbuck , thank you for this excellent write-up! Very interesting to read about your impressions from unboxing and actual usage! 

And may I compliment you on your set-up, really nice. Sounds like you made quite a turn after you just started. How are the students responding to the availability of all the technology? In general, are they happy with the output, time and quality wise? 

How many students use the MakerPlace approximately?


Regarding the rods, I think we've already improved the packaging regarding this. Probably partially due to your feedback, so thanks ? (and I agree, @fbrc8-erin is amazing!) 


Regarding the banding of the walls, do you see some increase of this after a certain height? Have you made a comparable print of just a wall and a box or something with more stability? Have you tried this on different Ultimakers to see if it is not just 1 Ultimaker which is misbehaving? And the foam should probably help as well, good tips! 


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5 hours ago, pbackx said:

How do you change filament on those UM3's in the middle of the rack?

It almost requires acrobatics! Let me attach a couple of pictures to show that better. In the future, we plan on moving these further from the wall... Hindsight is always 20/20. Also, pardon the mess in the pictures... It's certainly cleanup day.Behind the "wall" of UltimakerShowing that you can indeed walk behind the "wall" and change filament and stuff


Thanks, @SandervG! Yes, before I started, there was another college on campus who had a maker space that fairly closed down to the public and even within the college, so we sought to change that. Also, when I met our Dean for the first time, he showed me Duke's Ultimaker wall and more or less said "Make this happen" so here I am!


How are the students responding to the availability of all the technology?

Previously, when the students had access to the "industrial level" 3D printers, they had to pay for half the cost of materials so as you can imagine they were paying a hefty amount out of pocket. So the #1 thing I hear is "wow, that's way cheaper than I thought it was going to be" and that makes me smile. If the college can absorb the cost of these awesome printers and the students only have to pay for the materials, I've met a goal. Now, from what I understand, they expect to pay a certain amount for supplies like clay, cardboard, wood, etc, and now 3D printing has become one of those things they spend their money on for class. But to really answer your question, everyone loves seeing the printers running and most people seem really interested in how they work. 


In general, are they happy with the output, time and quality wise?

Certainly. If they are not happy with the quality, we will almost always help them reprint it, often for free. They print a lot of massings and fairly "regular" objects which probably helps with the quality and time as those prints are not complicated. Our failure rate is less than 10% overall if you don't count the times where the print fails in the first minute of printing (like if the bed leveling fails or something like that), so the students are fairly understanding when there is something that goes wrong with their print. This past Spring semester, we started nearly every morning with all of our printers available and no jobs waiting to start, and by every evening all 15 (at the time) UM3s would be running through the night. So most people got their jobs the next day. 


How many students use the MakerPlace approximately?

We keep a record of one person's name in any given project (a project is a group/collection of prints), and in their studios, they often have groups of 3-4 students. Spring 2018 we had 265 unique people, 533 projects, and 1110 recorded prints for over 11,000 hours of printing according to 3DPrinterOS. In Fall 2017 we had around 339 people and around 1000 prints. We used a different technique in Fall 2017 to keep track of the prints. 

1 hour ago, SandervG said:

Regarding the banding of the walls,

I'll follow up with this after a little more testing as you suggested! And I need to order those foam tiles now that it's not the weekend anymore... Haha

Thanks for your questions, everyone!

Buddy and Kaldi, two cute dogs!

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