Machine profile #1

A tale of two 3D printers: The Ultimaker 2 vs the MakerBot Replicator 2

FAB9
Jan 10 · 7 min read

An excellent makerspace needs excellent machines. At FAB9, we’ve been rigorously researching and comparing different machines and models so we can choose the one that best suit our members’ needs.

But before we get into the why, what and how of the Ultimaker 2 vs the MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printers, here’s a bit of background on 3D printing generally.

What is 3D printing?
3D printing (sometimes referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’) is a method of adding successive layers of a material to itself to create an object. Whatever material is used for the print — be it plastic, metal, concrete, or even human tissue — the final product is always derived from the data of a digital design.

Compared to traditional manufacturing, 3D printing can give makers:
· more design freedom
· cost-effective processes
· greater ease in customising products
· optimised workflow
· increased productivity and
· shorter lead times

What are the most common 3D printing technologies?
Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) are the three most common type of 3D printing technologies. Each process uses different materials, and is best suited to different applications.

Commercialised in 1987, stereolithography (SLA) uses light to solidify, or ‘cure’, liquid resin. The light — a UV laser — is used in a vat of photoreactive, liquid resin. When the resin touches the laser, it reacts by becoming solid.

Stereolithography (SLA) 3D print rising out of resin

Selective Laser Sintering was first commercialised in 1992. It works by using heat to compact and solidify nylon, and sometimes even metal. Like stereolithography, it also involves a laser, but instead of using UV, it’s the laser’s heat which fuses, or ‘sinters’ the powdered material (usually powdered nylon, polymer or metal). Once the material cools, it solidifies, producing the 3D print.

Diamond chair by Nendo is printed using SLS
SLS printed Diamond chair by Nendo

Fused Filament Fabrication
Fused Filament Fabrication (or FFF) works by dispensing, or ‘extruding’ material through a nozzle (also called a ‘print head’) — much like icing through an icing piper, or toothpaste squeezing from a tube. FFF forces thermoplastic material through the print head layer by layer, and after a layer is completed, the build platform moves down, and the next layer is extruded, adhering to the previous layer.

FFF is the most common, widely used kind of 3D printing technology and is ideal for beginners because it is affordable, simple to use, reliable and accurate. It is also, incidentally, the same as Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), but the name FDM is trademarked by Stratasys, who invented the technology decades ago.

FMD 3D printed model of Melbourne CBD

Two of the most popular FFF 3D printers on the market are the Makerbot Replicator 2 and the Ultimaker 2. After a lot of researching, evaluating, and comparing, we have chosen the Ultimaker 2 for FAB9 — and here’s why:

Ultimaker 2 specs at a glance:
1. it produces high-quality prints
2. it has a tall build area
3. it uses multiple filaments — PLA, ABS and U-PET (we’ll explain what these are in just a moment)
4. it’s open-source

Ultimaker 2 specs in detail:

It produces high-quality prints
In this age of instant gratification, there are still plenty of things that are worth a good old-fashioned wait — and at FAB9, we think getting a high-resolution 3D print is one of them.

Compared with the Ultimaker 2, the MakerBot Replicator 2 is faster at printing — but it only prints at a resolution of 100 microns.

Micron is the unit of measurement used in 3D printing to measure the print resolution and usually refer to the layer height, or ‘Z height’ of the print (called the ‘Z height’ because 3D printers operate on an XYZ axis). The lower the micron count, the higher the resolution — FFF 3D printers generally print between 10 microns to 300 microns in layer heights.

Comparison between 50, 200 and 300 microns

At a resolution of 20 microns, the Ultimaker 2 produces a much more detailed print than the MakerBot Replicator 2 which means more accurate prints that require less post production. Since FAB9 will host a diverse group of members with a wide range of needs, from artists to designers, architects to engineers, hobbyists to hardware startups, we need a flexible 3D printer — one with a good build volume size and a clean finish for architects, and clear resolution for jewellery makers. The quality and detail of the Ultimaker 2’s print capability won out over the MakerBot’s speed.

It has a heat printed bed with fan-assist
One of the most common defects in FFF printing is warping, which is caused when different sections of the print cool at different rates during solidification. The process builds up internal stresses that pull the underlying layer upwards, causing the piece to warp.

Example of warping in 3D printing

Some ways to prevent warping is to closely monitor the temperature of the FFF system, and increase the adhesion between the part and the build platform.

Compared with MakerBot’s unheated acrylic print bed, Ultimaker 2’s heated print bed print bed — made of hard, smooth, rigid glass — lessens the chance of warping by allowing the first layer of your 3D print to stick better to the build platform.

The fan-assist then helps the print to retain its intended shape by cooling it down as soon as it’s formed.

It has a tall build area
A taller build area in a 3D printer means — you guessed it — taller prints.

Even though the MakerBot Replicator’s build area (246w x 152d x 155h mm) is longer, the Ultimaker 2’s build area (223w x 223d x 205h mm) is taller. At FAB9, we’re most interested in height, because a longer build area would require printing taller objects on their side. Printing objects from the base-up is preferable, because the surface that makes contact with the print bed is usually rougher, or less refined, than the rest of the print.

It uses multiple filaments
In catering for a broad range of makers, the 3D printer at FAB9 needs to be flexible in the materials they use. Different materials will yield different results for particular prints, so it’s useful to have 3D printers that can print in multiple filaments (printer materials).

The Ultimaker 2 suits this flexibility criteria because it uses:

· ABS: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, a thermoplastic commonly used for injection moulding, which is a process where melted material is injected into a mould to create a huge range of things like LEGO, the housings of electronic components and the bumper parts on cars

· PLA: Polylactic Acid, a biodegradable thermoplastic made from renewables like corn starch and sugarcane, which can be used for everything from plastic cups to medical implants

· U-PET: a thermoplastic polymer resin that is lightweight and strong, most suited for making things like vessels and models.

Since the MakerBot Replicator 2 prints with just ABS and PLA, Ultimaker 2 was the winner again.

3D printer filament

It’s open source
At FAB9, we are love all things community-minded, and open source.

Like open source software, open source hardware means the design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design.

Prior to the release of their Replicator 2 model, all MakerBot products met the purest definition of open source hardware. But now, MakerBot has moved to a closed source business model in an effort to prevent ‘clones’ of their products being released on the market.

As a brand, Ultimaker is deeply rooted in the open source community — all of its hardware, firmware and software designs are available for anyone to download online. Because you can engage with Ultimaker’s global network of users via the company’s website at any time, it’s also much easier to learn all the functions, uses and troubleshooting processes of an Ultimaker machine.

Ultimaker 2 for the win!
After comparing all of their features, it was clear that the Ultimaker 2 was the better FFF 3D printer for FAB9 than the Makerbot Replicator 2. It’s a wonderfully capable machine that is going to meet a nice, broad range of our members’ needs. But don’t just take our word for it — come and check out the Ultimaker 2 for yourself.

Tours are the best way to experience FAB9. FAB9 will be running tours. Book a tour today

Article authored by Genevieve Callaghan from research conducted by Ying Zhang, for FAB9.

What did you think of it? Got anything to add? We’d love to hear from you. Send us your thoughts, questions, facts, frustrations, feelings and / or anything else — hello@fab9.com.au

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