3D Printer Advice

At my school we have a 3D printer that is pretty crappy and pretty much useless. Our teacher has applied for a $10,000 grant to put towards new machinery and we were thinking about getting a new 3D printer. Not knowing much about 3D printers I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations? We need one that can print detailed parts that are durable enough to be used on our robot. We would also like one that prints negative space in powder although if you have a suggestion for a different type we are open to other options. We would like the printer to be large enough to print a 1X1X1 foot cube at the minimum, and lastly, we would like to keep it under $10,000.

that particular combination of requirements will be hard to find. $10k is not much for a “commercial” 3D printer. You’ll also spend more on material on the more expensive printers.

2151 in 2012 had 17 3D printed parts on the robot, and none broke during competition, including the custom pulleys. All were printed on my $700 makerbot cupcake, and none were printed with support material. They are published to thingiverse if you want to check them out.

One of the things you can learn from 3d printing is how to design for the manufacturing process. If you have a milling machine, you are constrained to certain rules. If you have a 3D printer, you are constrained to other rules. You need to learn to design within the rules of your process.

What are you planning to print? The newest makerbot machines and some of the other “hobbyist” level machines are capable of dual material (either color or the second one can be dissolved), and has decent accuracy for under $3000. The build area is large enough to print a loaf of bread or a 2012 basketball. Get a large stockpile of material with another $500-$1000 and you can print quite a few things for your robot.

Talk to anybody from 207 Metalcrafters. They always use 3D printing in some shape or form. This thread has both some talk as well as some links to other threads that talk about their robots.

This thread also has some 3D printer recommendations.

I agree with the comments above. It is difficult to get commercial quality for under 10k. I worked with many commercial machines and even with them it takes a good amount of time to dial in the settings. I have spent the take with makerbots and got results comprable to 20k machine I worked with at my university, of course not the same. I don’t know the current machine you have currently but maybe thats something to keep in mind.

Our lab on campus has an HP designjet ($20,000+) that we have used to print a lot of parts this year (such as encoder mounts). It prints nice parts.
Our mentor has a Makerbot that we used to print several parts & mini robot prototypes during the design phase to use on a mini pyramid. It does a decent job of printing.

I would suggest you look into the MakerBot Replicator 2 (or Replicator 2x if you want 2 heads for 2 colors).

Hope this helps you make your decision. Contact CoreyBrown if you have any questions about the MakerBot.

We spring plenty of parts on a Dimension machine that cost $15,000 about 6 or 7 years ago…I can find the exact model number later, but I believe the tray is 8x10x10

The machines with powder in their negative build space are Selective Laser Sintering sytems. A new laser will set you back about $100K, not counting the rest of the machine. Last I looked into it SLS machines were running $500k though there are now some new, smaller machines that are less

It sounds like your existing machine is not properly dialed in. This can be a painstaking process and you need a pretty good understanding of the details of the machine to get it right. If you should happen to move the machine to a different location you might have to redo the settings.

Do you know what a properly built part from your machine should look like? What material and color are you using? Some materials are hydroscopic and that can cause problems if the material has been sitting around for a long time. Different colors may also build differently due to the coloring agents and fillers used

We have a Mendel type with a 16"x16"x 10" build volume which works very well for us, but it took weeks to get it dialed in. We also had the manufacturer send us some parts so we could see what things should look like. Pictures were just not doing it for us. If you post some pictures of those “crappy” parts we might be able to help you figure out what is wrong with your build parameters


We have a Dimension 1200es in our school; I’m not sure about the printer’s price, but I do know that each tray of “ink” (i.e. plastic) costs on the order of $200 apiece.

Unless you go with a RepRap or a MakerBot product, you’re going to be hard-pressed to get a 3D printer and have the funds to stock it, let alone a “professional” one.

FWIW, IMO the only caveats with using hobby 3D printers is that their resolution is comparatively low (I believe .1", but that’s still pretty good). The durability of the final product is dependent on the quality of the material you use.

David, the HP designjet is a plotter. In the lab we have a Fortus 250 and a uPrint Plus on the ABS printing side (what you would use for any robot parts) and a Zprint used for showcasing designs as it prints in a powder base resulting in fragile parts.

All of the machines we use in the lab are expensive commercial machines owned by the university but there are plenty of other avenues to go down. With the funding you are looking at I would suggest a Replicator 2x as an out of the box solution. After purchasing the machine you should still set aside money for plastic and maintaining the machine.

With this option you can allocate around $4-5,000 for this printer and use the remainder of your funds on other equipment.

Alex, Stratsys sold uPrint Plus’s to HP rebranded as HP Designjets, but as far as I can tell it didn’t last long and there is less information readily found about them because they appear to be now defunct.

I like other recommend looking at Makerbots as they are constantly getting more competitive in their capabilities.

I would try to fix up your current printer, and get a laser cutter. They are far more versatile for large objects, much faster than 3D printers, and can cut any material other than metal or glass that comes in flat sheets. A hackerspace near where I lived ordered one direct from China with a 2’ x 3’ cutting area and 80W laser for $5000, as an example of how much you will spend. Ordering from a US based importer will cost you more.

The newly announced CubeX comes close to your build volume at far less than $10k ($2999 for dual head.) That cheaper price is a good thing because the filament is twice the price of printers that take generic filament. That’s clearly the strategy, sell the printer cheap and make money on consumables. I don’t know of anyone who has one yet but if it is trouble free, the higher priced filament might make sense. We often throw away half of the prints coming out of our Afinia.


We have been using 3D parts on our bots since 2011. I have a few posted related to this topic. I am by no means an expert.

We have used these parts on everything from our drive train, (bearing blocks and wheels) to manipulators with great success. If anything it saves us machine time, everything we have printed we had the resources to machine but did not want to dedicate the time.

Designing the parts for your machine is the most important part of this process. We have a a Dimension Uprint with a 6x8x8 build. We fully understand how the part is built in the machine to maximize its capability. We also understand what application the 3d parts are best suited.

All I can say is have realistic expectations for your parts and test them. This is not a save all solution. Be aware that certain chemicals will react with ABS and can and will fail your parts.

I am sure you can use the search function here, many of these topics have been covered.

Good luck

What other machine tools do you have? What are the issues with your current 3D printer? The $10K may well have a better use, depending on what your current capabilities are.

Our team has a Dimension UPrint Plus. We really like it, but it runs around $20,000. We have used it for pulleys, gears to drive potentiometers/encoders, encoder mounts and led ring mounts. I know some teams have used them for wheels etc, but the printing material (ABS) can become prohibitively expensive. The deposition layer thickness is 0.01”.

There is a new 3D printer, the Form1, which will be available this spring. It was a fully funded kickstarter project that shows great promise. Instead of deposition of thermal plastic, it is based on stereo-lithography. It is intriguing, but I cannot give a recommendation on something I haven’t used. Here’s another link to a youtube interviewabout the printer.

I’ve been using 3D printed parts on robots since ~2007/2008 or so and they’re definitely neat. That being said, what you plan on using the printer for will define what kind of printer you’re looking for.

Realistically, if you’re just looking for something that can make light load parts like spacers, sensor mounts and things of that nature, you can get away with just about any ‘Hobbiest +’ level 3D printer like Makerbot’s Replicator2. Most people that 3D print rarely ever need anything more than that, especially if it’s something that’s not being used that often.

If you think that it’s going to see a lot of use in terms of volume (not size of parts, but number of them) it’s worth looking into something like a Dimension Uprint. It’s basically the same technology from Dimension’s Larger Printers in a smaller package. There are some weird quirks to the machine, but all in all, it’s pretty good. It might be a bit out of the price range though, IIRC, the prices went up last fall, so now a Uprint is 12-15k depending on what package you want/need.

Honestly though, considering that you’ve got 10k or so to spend, I’d get a Makerbot and a bunch of material. That’d set you back right around $3k or so, which leaves you $7k to invest elsewhere. The real problem with looking at 3D printers on a limited budget is that you can’t have it all. You’ll either sacrifice reliability, quality or parts throughput to get something in that range.

We used a Makerbot Replicator 2 this year. Its way under your budget, and the material is cheap. The resolution is very good for FRC type stuff. We’ve made fan mounts, encoder brackets, shifter lockouts, timing belt pulleys, hex shaft spacers and even protoyped our climber linear bearings.

I’d go for the Replicator 2x so you can print in PLA and ABS.

The plastic is very strong in compression. It’s pretty strong in tension but a little weaker in the direction of the layers. Consider that when you design parts. You can control the percentage of fill to trade strength for weight and print speed.

PLA plastic has a shelf life (moisture absorbtion). Don’t go too overboard on material if you go that route.

Thanks for all the feedback! Right now we have the Solido 3000 Pro (http://www.solido3d.com/) that the school district bought for many of the schools in the county. It ends up wasting more material than is needed to create the actual object and it is a hassel to remove the objects from the block it produces and even then the pieces tend to break apart in the process. Now that our season is over (sadly didn’t make it to worlds) we have some time to look at some of these different models and find one that’s right for us!

that’s a very interesting printer technology, but I agree that it’s probably not the right printer for robot parts. Would be great for prototyping, though. It looks like another one that requires you to match your design to the technology. Even in the promo video, you can see that he has a few slices through all the waste material so that it will be possible to break the parts out of the block. Properly adding these slices in the right place is critical to this kind of part removal.

I did quite a bit of prototype work on some of the first 3D waterjet parts for the company i worked for, and the waste removal slices were certainly the most interesting part of getting things made.

This was my first thought as well. Does the grant absolutely have to go towards a 3D printer? If not, there are many, many things I could think of devoting 10K in funding towards that would benefit your team more than an expensive (or inexpensive) 3D printer. Honestly you could probably find another team or a mentor that has access to one locally in the off-chance that you need a few parts printed up, or you could have Print To 3D contract print some of your parts for you (ran by 222’s mentor Brad). Just some food for thought; I’m a huge fan of 3D printing and we use it a lot at Boeing so if you think your team would benefit a lot from it then go for it.