3D printers are amazing tools but like all tools, they have their propose. While the adage holds true “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, it doesn’t mean you get the best results if you always use a hammer.
The cost of a 3D printer can range from a couple of hundred US dollars to several thousand. If the budget is tight, the kit printers look like a compelling option – and they are.
The good: affordable printer with good specs
Kit printers are rarely plug-n-play. Often, they kits use the lowest cost parts.
There are lots of Chinese delta and Cartesian 3D printers. The one pictured here started at about $200.
The print surface was improved with a layer of PEI sheet covering the glass bed. This stuff is amazing – especially when printing ABS.
It received a home-made filament holder the suspends from a custom top cap. This occupies the dead space at the top of all delta printers.
A Beaglebone board running OctoPrint was added so it does not require a laptop to be constantly connected.
The good: lots of room for modifications and additions
This printer also has lots of upgrades – which might be better described as repairs.
The heated bed was a cheap stick-on pad and burned out within a week. It was replaced with a metal heating plate.
The extruder oozed and was replaced – along with the effector.
The hotbed would overload the controller board so a 13V relay was added to enable the bed to run directly from the power supply.
The frame was wobbly. This was mostly because the top and bottom corners were themselves 3D printed. These were replaced by metal corners.
The bad: cheap parts
The controller would randomly reboot. This was ultimately tracked to it over heating so fans were added to cool the controller and to circulate air through the power supply.
The initial prints were poor. There were lots of little reasons for this. Unfortunately, the auto-bed leveling feature was trying to compensate and made diagnostics difficult. Ultimately the auto-bed leveling was disabled.
Performing the old fashioned bed leveling technique exposed lots of tiny assembly error. It took three days to identify everything and get the geometry of the delta frame, the parallel delta arms, and the bed trued.
When the auto-bed leveling was reinstated, it became evident it too was introducing errors because the mechanism used movement of the hotbed as the probe. Think about that – auto-bed leveling was altering the alignment of the print head. Most of the Chinese Delta style printers do this and it’s just a bad idea. Needless to say, the auto-bed level system is disabled permanently now.
The ugly: lots of time spent getting a usable print
Ironically, all the time it took performing print tests, internet searches, recalibrating, and repairs resulted in a very deep knowledge of how the 3D printer works.
The good: learning
The conclusion is that a kit printer can be a good choice if you want to learn about 3D printers; like to tinker and experiment; and want to customize. If you just want to design and print parts, a kit printer will leave you with a bitter taste.