I believe that anyone who has worked with a consumer-level 3D printer would tell you that 3D printing is not easy. Having worked with a variety of desktop 3D printers ranging in price and quality, including building a couple of my own kits, I would definitely agree. 3D printing as it currently exists for at-home users and hobbyists has a learning curve, and despite many companies claiming to offer plug-and-play solutions, can be very challenging if not frustrating at times.
I think it’s important to quickly touch a little more on my previous experience, and the common 3D printing headaches that came along with it. As an undergraduate, I helped launch a makerspace at my University and ran it for over a year. I visited and worked in makerspaces across the Midwest with members of Maker Society, a non-profit student organization I started. I built two 3D printers from kits that I ran for over a year and ran both for fun, and as a 3D printing service business. I helped friends, family, and a handful of schools and libraries solve problems and get up and running with their 3D printers. During all these experiences, I feel like I’ve personally encountered nearly every issue possible:
- Why isn’t the filament coming out?
- Why isn’t it heating up?
- What’s that sound/smell?
- I’ve leveled the build plate 9 times, why is it STILL not printing?
- My prints are stringy/melty/warped.
- “I don’t know… it just stopped printing for no reason”.
That’s not to mention, I would argue everyone who has used a 3D printer at the consumer level has walked away from their printer, only to come back later to something that looks like this:
During my short time with CADimensions, I have had the opportunity to get a healthy amount of experience printing with Stratasys machines, and am nothing short of amazed at the difference in using a Stratasys 3D printer vs. a consumer-level 3D printer. The difference is far more than anything I expected, producing beautiful prints over and over, and eliminating issues I saw every day working on the hobby-grade 3D printers.
While some knowledge of 3D printing would definitely be helpful to get the best results from a Stratasys 3D printer, the user experience is pretty close to “just press go” and wait for your object to be done. Models can be easily processed in a few clicks with GrabCAD Print, sent wirelessly to the printer, and started by pressing a button.
There’s a lot to love about using a Stratasys machine compared to using a consumer-level printer. One of those is the build platform. Whether the printer is using a build tray or a vacuumed down foundation sheet, prints stick every time. In a month of printing on a handful of different machines, I only experienced two issues with anything related to part warping or prints failing – both of which could have been easily avoided had the settings been tweaked from the beginning. I never had to level a build plate, tighten a screw, or adjust a nozzle. Because the build surface is so perfect for 3D printing, it really allows you to use the entire build plate and feel comfortable walking away with a tray full of parts for a weekend. At home, I tend to try to run one part at a time whenever possible, to decrease the likelihood of anything going wrong and ruining the whole batch.
The Stratasys machines create precise, reliable results, even between different machines. This became really clear to me when trying to print threaded and snap-fit parts. Whenever I’ve tried modeling and 3D printing threaded parts that work together, I had never been successful until using SolidWorks and a Stratasys machine. Threads can be difficult to model and get all the tolerances perfect for 3D printing, but it worked on my first attempt on Stratasys 3D printers, and I was able to print the inner and outer threads on separate machines and still have them mesh perfectly. When creating snap-fit parts at home, or parts that print in place and then move, I would normally allow for 0.3mm in tolerance. On Stratasys machines, parts that snap-fit together can be as close as 0.15mm. At measurements that small, it’s hard to believe that small a difference makes an impact, but when the tolerance is twice as small, it allows for much tighter and more secure movements and snap-fits between parts.
Soluble support material is another Stratasys feature that really sets them above run-of-the-mill consumer 3D printers. Dual extrusion is slowly becoming more and more accessible in the consumer arena, but its adoption has been slow and often difficult to use. The way Stratasys has implemented dual extrusion with support material is incredible, and makes 3D printing easier, rather than more difficult. It has never carried bits of the wrong material where is shouldn’t be or been impossible to get out of a small area on the model. It enables designers to add more possibilities to their designs with moving assemblies, round surfaces or complex geometries. Printing something like a quadcopter propeller can be done on a desktop, but can be a nightmare because of needing to clean off support material, leaving a result that is unbalanced. With reliable support material extrusion, designs have far more freedom than when printing on the common single-extruder desktop machine.
Getting hands-on experience with Stratasys machines has really changed the way I see 3D printing. Even when using higher-end consumer-targeted 3D printers, nothing I have used has been able to match the consistent quality and ease of use of Stratasys machines. I’ve met many people over the years that claim their 3D printer (with modifications) can blow more expensive systems out of the water on cost versus price, which is proving to not be true. I still love and use my 3D printers at home, and will continue to tinker, modify, and enjoy them for what they are – a hobby. However, Stratasys 3D printers are tools, not toys. They are meant to produce high quality parts, using industrial-grade plastics, reliably and easily without causing user headaches.