Geek Culture
Published in

Geek Culture

My journey to choose a high end 3D printer (Raise3D E2) — Part 1

Raise3D E2 (credits: the home page for the product)

In the past I’ve made some excellent and some terrible decisions regarding purchasing 3D printers. Unlike normal reviewers, I don’t YouTube (as of yet) and I pay for these all out of my own pocket for my own personal use. With the exception of the occasional $2 payments from Medium for article reads, I make no profits from what I review at all. My simple goal is to find the perfect 3D printer.

A little about the process

My last expensive printer purchase was the FlashForge Creator 3. I bought it just before Corona hit and before ever getting the support I required to get it operating properly (which is still doesn’t) I had to pause my endeavors and I ended up running out the warranty and support on this printer and was left with a very expensive boat anchor… let’s be fair, it probably operates as well as a boat anchor as it does a 3D printer… which means not at all.

Let me summarize very briefly what was wrong with the FlashForge Creator 3 and why I’m taking a journey to buy a new 3D printer rather than simply buying it and making do with what works and what doesn’t. Sadly, I think Raise3D is paying the price for all of FlashForge’s screwups.

The FlashForge Creator 3

You may be tempted to consider a FlashForge Creator 3 as it’s a less expensive product which touts nearly exactly the same features as the Raise3D E2. If you don’t want to read the details, let me summarize the summarization… don’t buy the Creator 3. It’s possibly the greatest example of every possible “what not to do” in a 3D printer… except for the marketing which is amazing.

FlashForge Creator 3 (credit: The product homepage from FlashForge)

Noise

The FlashForge Creator 3 is the loudest 3D printer I’ve ever encountered by a LONG SHOT. It can be heard through walls and rooms away. I didn’t measure the sound, but whatever their website says it is, that’s the noise when it’s idle. Add more… a lot more.

Silent Steppers

The FFC3 uses NEMA23 without silent steppers which causes tables and floors to vibrate. It also has a very bad effect on printing.

Spool holders

The FFC3 has enclosed chambers for holding filament which would be very helpful for keeping moisture out. Sadly, they spool holders (which are molded in and not removable) are enormous and I haven’t found any brand of filament except for FlashForge’s own which mounts properly on the holders. The rest either don’t fit, get stuck, or wobble so much the eventually jam.

Filament path

The bowden tubes transporting filament from the spools to the print heads rub against the roof of the printer and actually damage the roof of the printer.

Thermal Protection

The printer didn’t have any for over a year. As such, I’ve experience some of the worst over-temp problems I’ve ever encountered on any printer. It even started smoking at one time.

Software updates

The software updates on this printer often break more than they fix. They are also unreliable. When they fail during update, you’re left with a brick while waiting a week for a file to be provided by support from FlashForge from a personal user’s Google drive account… which is really fishy. Been through this 3 times.

Leveling and alignment

The printer won’t let you level or align unless the heads and bed are cool. So if you align your X axis and then want to align your Y axis, you’ll have to wait 10 minutes or more while the heads cool down to 50c before it heats them up again. Worse yet, you can’t even queue the job. So it takes up to 2 hours to properly level and align a new Creator 3 printer. This is still true on their latest firmwares.

Alignment

After over 50 attempts, I’ve never managed to properly align the dual independent extruders. This is because their interface and the process is so impressively unintuitive, unless you completely reset the settings between each attempt, you’ll likely never find the right setting.

Dual extruder printing

Unless you print an enormous raft, any mirror or duplicate mode printing is a waste of time.

Water soluble support is out as well since they are terribly aligned and also their wall printing and nozzle cleaning is a mess. Printing towers helps, but not much.

Software

Wow, you’re stuck with their custom software if you want to generate properly compatible files. They don’t document their g-code and they haven’t made a profile for Cura. They have Simplify3D support which works sporadically. Their software is possibly the crappiest slicing software in the business outside of Creality’s own or worse, XYZ Printing. The software is more than a good enough reason to never own this printer.

Support!!!!

FlashForge support should receive awards for “Worst in Class”. All their support is form based or e-mail based and unless you write very very simple sentences and keep your report down to one or two sentences, you won’t get a response other than “What do you want me to do?” where your reply is generally “Help me with my problem as documented” or “Read the original message and please advise”. You are always supported by someone named “Sunshine” or “Happy” and they make it painfully clear they did not read anything you wrote. If you buy this printer, you need support and FlashForge doesn’t have it.

Updates

When you buy a multi-thousand dollar printer, unlike a cheapy like a Creality Ender 5 Plus, you want to know you can get the latest and greatest features without buying yet another printer. So, upgrade parts and kits are really important. FlashForge doesn’t do this. I’ve looked for upgrades for the Creator 3 to let me hopefully fix the printer. But since this wasn’t an option, I ended up just giving it away to a friend who likes to tinker.

Done bitching at FlashForge

I can go one for some time, but I’ve highlighted the key points I want to use as a benchmark to measure Raise3D against from the low end.

What about from the other end of the spectrum?

Ultimaker S5 (credits Ultimaker’s homepage)

I’ve borrowed and used Ultimakers over the years and I’ll be entirely honest. I’m totally biased towards this printer. Everything works. Ultimaker has never made a bum product except for maybe their new cloud connected Ultimaker 2 which I’m sure they’ll eventually get right. The reason I know they’ll get it right is because they’re Ultimaker and everything they do takes time, but when they get there… they define where there is.

There are only two reasons I’m considering a printer other than this one. The first is that it’s about twice the price of the Raise3D E2. So borrowing an S5 sometimes or even renting one is entirely rational, but for personal ownership, it’s borderline impossible to justify the extra cost. That said, if the Raise3D E2 doesn’t get me close enough, I’ll consider the S5. I have the money in the budget… but it’s really hard to pay double the price if I can get everything I want in something cheaper.

Ultimaker S5’s clean air hat (credit Ultimaker’s home page)

The second reason is that to enclose the chamber requires a very very very bulky plastic hat that is extremely useful but would require me to remodel the room I intend to put it in to fit it.

The Cons of the S5

Yeh, price, the hat, let’s move to the pros. Oh… it also looks like a toy… when something costs that much, I want something that looks sleek. The S5 has the Ultimaker toy look which reminds me of JD Robot from EZ Robot

JD Robot from EZ-Robot (I have one and LOVE HIM!!!)

The Pros of the S5

Software

Take every other feature of the printer and ignore all the pros and then just last on the software aspect and you’ve got a good enough reason to buy the S5. Everyone in the whole 3D printing world uses it sometimes or more often and if you haven’t tried Cura in combination with an actual Ultimaker, you’re really missing out. It’s truly a drag and drop print to perfection experience. I think the thing which makes Cura really most amazing is their filament support. When you use Cura with an Ultimaker, they provide tuned profiles which have been thoroughly tested for most every major brand of filament. And unlike most other cases, they are tweaked really well.

Build quality

Ultimaker has a balance between build quality and maintainability which is great. By making use of 2.85 mm filament rather than going 1.75 like everyone else, they eliminate the need for fancy bowden or direct drive extruders. When the filament is so large, it is a much cleaner experience than 1.75 in bowden configuration. This makes it also possible to keep the printer simple. Anyone who has ever repaired an Ultimaker knows that it’s really a pleasure to do so compared to most others.

Noise

Ultimaker is ultiquiet. It makes it quite the pleasure to print on.

Build plate

The build plate moves up and down not forward and back. This makes a huge difference on big prints. As prints get heavier, a moving y-axis (as is present on the E2) is generally a terrible thing. The reason is that you’re swinging the whole print around as it prints which requires either slowing down the print by a lot, sorting out a really good acceleration algorithm that will slow down and speed up adaptively… or you can find your print just flying across the printer (I have done this before). The beauty of the S5 and even the Ender 5 Plus is that the friction, weight, etc… is constant for the printing process all through the print. I’m extremely skeptical of the E2 because of their choice to move the build plate along the Y.

Print quality

The S5 is possibly the highest quality print output of any Bowden extruder printer on the market for single extrusion. But then there’s dual extrusion. The S5 is a beast, a monster, a king, queen, bishop and pope all wrapped up into one when it comes to dual extrusion. It’s the only printer on the market I’ve ever gotten close to which can cleanly and accurately print water soluble supports absolutely flawlessly without the need for a purge block, bucket, wall, etc… they just come out perfect every time.

Support!!!!

If you ever need support on Ultimaker, the answer you might get is “ask anyone” as the Ultimaker has an incredible professional customer community. There are also a pile of respectable distributors who can offer support locally. And then finally, there’s their support options. As with anything that costs this much to buy… and mind you the entire bill of materials on an Ultimaker is probably about 10% of what they sell the printer for… it’s paying for the ecosystem which includes incredible support options.

I’ve never heard of anyone who has had problems with the Ultimakers that they couldn’t get resolved pretty quickly.

3D printing has come a long way, but remember, we’re still at a kind of starting point. Any printer on the market will require some tinkering or even major surgery to keep running properly. Ultimaker is probably best in class for support at this time.

Oh… how about market compatible support.

Ultimaker is an American company which means that they have fluent English (and likely Spanish) speaking employees. Through their distributor network, they’ve covered most other languages at least in Europe as well. FlashForge really chapped my hide because their 1st line support wasn’t capable of communicating in English.

The process I’m following

Vendor

I’ve asked a local Ultimaker vendor to consider the Raise3D product line and they’ve contacted Raise3D and ordered an E2 for us to evaluate. When I “bless it and deem it worthy” and the vendor “blesses it and deems it supportable” then I’ll take the printer home and pay the invoice.

If the printer isn’t good enough, then I’ll say “Thanks for trying” or they’ll say “We can’t sell this to you because we don’t believe we can justify supporting it”.

It’s as simple as that.

I may name the vendor after they read this. They are my favorite 3D printer company. They have built a warehouse sized operation over the 4 years I’ve been visiting them and I don’t think I’d trust anyone more in this business at this time. They’d actually rather lose a sale then sell you a piece of crap they won’t support.

Support

I have already found two problems in the E2, I’ll be submitting a tickets to them this afternoon and I’ll be able to properly review their support system. If they are responsive enough and they solve my problems with either a good explanation, a good work around or best yet, a good solution, I’ll consider their support worthy.

Thermal runaway

Using freeze spray and heat shielding, I intend to force both an under heating and an overheating condition. I expect the E2 to properly handle this. I look forward to seeing how it work

Software

So far, I am impressed and disappointed by their software, I’ll make a full writeup on the software once I’m more experienced with it. I’ll just say that I like that the software is feature rich like Simplify3D, in fact, there are some aspects which feel like a rip-off of Simplify3D… so be it, Simplify3D seems to be out of the business anyway. But there’s some really crumby aspects to it to. I am hoping to find work arounds for them. I think they really need an easy mode.

Cura compatibility would be nice to. For special print modes, I don’t expect the software to be Cura friendly since Cura isn’t really made of dual independent extruders. However I believe all non-IDEX modes should operate smoothly with Cura G-Code files.

Online software

All my other printers that I use… except for Form2 have incredible online support. This is simply because I hook up a Raspberry Pi and put them online. I expect a printer in 2021 to allow me to remote monitor and with limited functionality to do things like cancel prints or even alter print speeds and such. This printer is not made for connecting a Raspberry Pi to it. It’s internal computer should be more than capable enough. I look forward to comparing their system against a Octoprint or Fluidd solution. For that price, they certainly should be capable of that.

Print Quality

Ringing… ringing… is that ringing in my ears… or my print? Currently my Ender 5 Plus (which I’ve temporarily setup as single extruder) is printing better than any other printer I’ve put it up against… including the S5 on single extrusion.

Howl’s moving castle (credits: Howl’s Moving Castle by Mag-net — Thingiverse)

I have started a 5-day print at 0.05mm per layer of the top part of Howl’s Moving Castle from Mag-net on Thingiverse. I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll cover this in detail on the print quality part. And I want to give Raise3D a chance to provide some support before I go into detail. Let’s just say… it does look go so far… with a glitch or two… still looks good.

The only thing my Ender 5 Plus has a little problem with is ringing. This is generally fixable by adding a proper accelerometer to the print nozzle and adjusting print speed appropriately in real time. I’ll experiment with this before going back to making the Ender 5 Plus dual nozzle.

I’m very curious to see whether the Raise3D with the enormous sliding Y bed can manage ringing properly. Ultimaker is close, but it’s probably the only think that Stratasys really wins out on against them (high temp materials aside).

Levelling and alignment

The vendor has already aligned and levelled the printer, so I’ve missed out on the “Out of Box experience”, but I’ll wipe all the configuration and start over again once we go further. I’m extremely interested in this aspect because Flashforge got this part so horribly wrong and Ultimaker got this one so incredibly right.

See, for dual extrusion printing to work, you need the nozzles to not interfere with each other. This means that tool changers, IDEX, and raised nozzle configurations can work very well. While I’d like a tool changer, the only tool changers at this time are hack and slash solutions. I can make one myself if I want that. Raised nozzles like on the S5 and the Raise3D Pro2 are amazing because they have very easy to calibrate differences. You know for a fact that the nozzles are X millimeters from one another. Then you really only have to calibrate Z offset. And while it’s tough to get it perfect, at least Ultimaker has that nailed. I haven’t tried Raise3D’s solution as of yet.

Then there’s IDEX. IDEX is a punishment waiting to happen. When printing each head has to be able to move all across the print bed many many times and even problems with anti-backlash is enough to screw the entire calibration up. FlashForge failed so incredibly bad at their IDEX solution that I’m terrified at dual extruder printing even if it’s from a company with a reputation like Raise’s. Raise earned their dual extrusion reputation on raised nozzle designs, I’m hoping their IDEX solution is something worth bragging about.

Materials

Raise3D brags and brags and brags about open filament. They talk about community contributed print profiles for different materials.

I’m not overly excited about community contributed in this case. The truth is that I’m spending all this money on a commercial printer because I want at least one printer which works as documented rather than as I make it work after hundreds of hours of work.

After spending $4000 US on a printer, I’m willing to pay a little extra to get filament that is tested and supported by the supplier of the printer. If they don’t test and support Proto-Pasta sparkly colors, I’d be sad, and I might even experiment enough to get it working, but I’m honestly perfectly happy spending a pile of money for Polymaker PC and PolyDissolve to get a high quality functional material combination that just works every single time.

So, I’ll experiment with different materials for the review, but I’m going to stick to materials they provide profiles for themselves or through their open filament program and I’ll compare the output to hand tuned options for the same filaments on my Ender 5 Plus of doom.

High End Test

I’ll borrow or rent time on an Ultimaker S5 to verify how it compares. I’ll use a rating system of 0–10 with 0.1 precision to compare the output of both printers. I’ll stick to Benchy and I have no interest at all in testing anything worse than 0.1mm per layer. I’ll test dual extrusion exclusively since there’s no point wasting money on a high end printer for single extrusion. If you want that, but a Prusa, I’d be utterly amazed if there’s anything left on the market that can compare to Prusa for single extrusion anymore.

That’s all for now. The first print should be done in an hour or two and I’ll get some support tickets into Raise3D about the problems I’ve found.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
ITGuyTurnedBad

ITGuyTurnedBad

42 Followers

IT can’t solve business problems. I have decided to turn traitor and focus on business information systems instead.