By PowerBuy // 11 February 2014 // Related Categories: Tips

3D printers – Worth the money?

We sat down with someone who bought a Cubify CubeX 3D printer and asked them what they thought…

How was delivery? The wait certainly tested our patience. The order was placed in September and after three missed delivery estimates we finally received the 40KG unit late November. When you contact the customer service teams of these 3D manufacturers and you quickly realise you are dealing with a start-up business that is struggling to keep up with production volumes.

What was the price like? The CubeX (one colour model) was expensive. $2,900 including delivery plus $150 per cartridge. I bought it directly from the UK online store because local suppliers were even more expensive. With the exchange rate set to drop against the dollar/pound I can only see prices going up in the short term.

What was the product like? When we opened the box it became clear that these products are all hand-made. The blobs of slightly misaligned glue and the rough-edged perspex chassis were not created by a robot-driven production line. Assembling the printer takes about an hour and it is clearly not for the novice. We had to tighten belts, align the print head using an unintuitive LCD interface and copy files from the Internet onto the printer via a USB key.

How did it print? Our early print attempts failed. 3D printers work by melting a thin plastic wire (imagine the wire on an edge trimmer) and each droplet released then cools and sets in position. First we discovered the PBA plastic line had not been fed far enough into the print head. Then we failed to apply enough roll-on glue to the base plate which meant our print was stuck to the machine. Clearly these machines are very temperamental.

Finally we managed to print a little pencil holder and it was impressive. If you haven’t watched a 3D printer before then check it out on youtube. It’s a surprisingly simple concept. The print head moves left, right, up and down to print a 3D object. It’s also very slow. Our little pencil box took hours to print. The printer prints one droplet at a time. The end product looks impressive but I wouldn’t ask the printer to deliver me a product that relied in structural integrity.

What’s your conclusion? I think the concept of 3D printing is impressive and one day soon we will be able to create complex products in our very own home. But 3D printing has a long way to go and our experience reminded me of the early days of buying PCs in the 80s. 3D printers are expensive and clunky so unless you are overly eager to get your hands on one now my advice is to wait for the technology to mature and for prices to drop.

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