So You Think You Want to Buy a 3D Printer for Yourself and/or Others

There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about buying 3D printers for the first time. The who, what, when, where, and why were important things to consider. Click here for the post about buying one for yourself.

  • Who. I know you’re awesome and that you will devote an awesome amount of time towards making this work. Be realistic about time commitments with regards to the following answers.
    • Who are you? How much money do you plan to spend? How much is in the budget for repairs?
    • How tech savvy are you and others using the printers as well? What is your experience with 3D printing? How well can you Google answers to your questions? Do you have a supportive IT department?
  • What. So many choices. What to buy? Below are some questions to consider before having your heart set on what someone else bought.
    • What are you going to do with the 3D printer(s)? Look at the materials, level of detail you want, and how big are the things you want to build. Can they be pieced together if too big?
    • Will this machine fit all your needs? If not, are you considering an ecosystem?
  • When. When will you need them?
    • With some brands of 3D printers, do not expect them to work out of the box.
    • If you have never worked with 3D printers, expect at least 10 hours (not including print time) worth of work before you decide to take on printing orders from others. Expect additional time investment with MakerBots.
  • Where. These machines take space. They also take workspace. Be realistic about the amount of use you want out of them.
    • Where do you want to put it while you use it?
    • Where will it be stored if not where it is used? If you store it somewhere not where it is used, it might not be used as often as you would like.
    • Is there a general area where all others have access to it as well?
  • Why. Yes, let’s all agree that these little additive manufacturing machines are cool. Other than that, why are you buying these?

For example:

1. I’m pretty tech savvy. I can maintain the FF Creator Pro on my own. Maintain 4-6 of them and be IT for them? No. My colleagues can call MakerBot and talk to their customer support whenever they need to. I did not want them to have to troubleshoot anything if it came to that, but if they needed to, there’s customer support. MakerBot has a purchasable 3 year all inclusive warranty and is easier to approach with a use friendly interface.

2. PLA will serve most of our needs. For the finer prints, the Form 1+ will print with resin.

3. I needed it sooner, and they may or may not want to use them later. I did most of the setup. The point for me is to get them on board and using the technology.

4. These take room. If they were just for me, piling them into my office was fine. There were some noise complaints, but the printers finally found a home on counters in a dedicated classroom with lab hours.

5. Other professors in the the team teach physics, mathematics, and sciences. They eventually want to use these for their purposes too. So far, there is no need to stray from PLA or resin.

My simplified spreadsheet:

Company Pro Con Choice(s)
MakerBot – crowd funded backed by Stratasys Longest established company. 3-year warranty available for purchase. Minis can be portable. Bad reputation for putting things out before they’re ready. Extruder* problems. Only prints PLA. 4 minis and 2 replicators to buy. 4 minis to take out to schools if need be. X2 and Z18 currently not worth the investment. 3D Scanner.
Cubify – crowd funded backed by 3D Systems Second longest established company. Fewer complaints about extruders. Made a mini to compete with MakerBot, but had to pull it due to failure. None. The max warranty was 1 year and limited online support.
FlashForge, PrintrBot, AirWolf..etc Cheaper than MakerBot, less problems (after initial setup), and better prints. Prints ABS. I would be your technician. ABS needs venting when printing. None. After looking into all these companies, decided that we needed another material.
FormLabs Form 1+ prints complicated things and uses resin so it is more sturdy. Resin left in resin tank needs to be used within 2 months. Need to measure amount of resin carefully. Form 1+ resin printer with extra accessories. There is a extended warranty that you can buy. The other resin company only had 1 year warranty.

*Extruder: print nozzle on a 3D printer for filaments (plastic in a roll like PLA and ABS)

Verdict: see the Ecosystem Post

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