3D Printer Spotlight: Ultimaker


FFWD Panel Discussion

To many, the universe of 3D printing is forever new and fresh (1984!). It’s an exciting time to be interested in how to make things, whether for a hobby or profession. And what makes things even more exciting is the break-neck speed at which new 3D printer models and gadgets arrive on the scene.

It begs the question: how to choose the right 3D printer? There were very few players in the market offering 3D printers five years ago. Now there is a plethora of makes and models to choose from and from around the world – both online and in-store.

If you have been paying attention to the increasing competition in the 3D printer market, you may be able to think back to the last few years of trade shows featuring 3D printers and ask yourself if you recall seeing a machine back then from a company that still sells them today.

BfB 3D Touch Isn't she a beaut?

One such company that passes this test is Ultimaker. They’ve always been present and they’ve always put on great and immersive events with good-looking products. That’s why I was excited to team up with Ultimaker to place three of their printers in Tomorrow (www.TMRW.co) – the best new real-deal tech hub around – to introduce 3D printing to the UK’s fastest growing technology innovation cluster known as Croydon.

Now, I’m “old-school” (whatever that means) when it comes to filament extrusion 3D printing. I fell in love with the Bits From Bytes 3D Touch in 2011 and I’ve since assembled a fleet of them that have served as loyal prototyping and manufacturing warriors. As a progressive designer and maker, there exists a conservative dimension in me. In this case, I’m reluctant to venture beyond what I know to work well and consistently.

The reality is that filament-extruding 3D printers have vastly improved in speed, precision and surface quality since I’ve been in the market for a 3D printer – round about 4 years. So I am on the hunt and burdened with the age-old question: which 3D printer? There are so many to choose from.

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First of all, Ultimaker machines are sexy. They look amazing.

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You may be wondering: did the Ultimaker machines pass muster? To answer that we have to define what “muster” is so we can see if it was indeed passed.

Croydon is a great place to be right now. You may have your founded and unfounded opinions to the contrary, but the magnitude of investment from Croydon Council and giant businesses as well as the soon-to-open Boxpark Croydon (which could cater to exciting small businesses) work in tandem to make for an optimistic view of the future of this strategically-positioned town. Lots of famous contributors to culture like the late Bowie lived and studied in Croydon so it’s hard to argue that Croydon isn’t a place with the potential to inspire.

One of the amenities that sets TMRW above and apart from other tech hubs is its public café pun-ily named Byte Café. Simply put, this means TMRW gets footfall from its members as well as a grab-bag of residents, local employees, commuters and passerby’s. As the resident 3D guru and ambassador at TMRW, I have personally interfaced with all these kinds of people over the last three-and-a-bit months and I can conclude that most people have heard of 3D printing but never been in the same room as one, let alone seen one in action.

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First of all, their packaging is exciting in its own right.You have to give credit to a company that loves their products as much as they hope you like them and design the packaging with the same enthusiasm with which they design their machines.

Second of all, Ultimaker machines are sexy. They look amazing. The logo is great, the name is catchy, the external frosted Perspex case of the 3D printers are internally lit with strip LED lights and the interface is minimal. And of course they make great robot/spaceship sounds. To geekwit, one of my favourite things about the Ultimaker machines is the filament feeder mechanism.

So part of muster is its appearance and robot-soundscape. But does it print well? More specifically, I want to know if it prints well across a variety of designs and durations. TMRW and I put the machines to the test with a variety of outputs to create signage, keychains, loyalty tokens for Byte Café and office supplies. In addition to our 3d printable goals, we also had requests from walk-ins and businesses looking for engaging products for their projects.

I’ll give you a brief visual overview of some of the things we made using the Ultimaker machines at TMRW but I’m going to roll this post out into a few more feature-ettes and a tutorial to showcase some of the products I 3D printed on-site in a better light.

TMRW Sign-In Desk Logo

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As you can see, it's hard to tell you what you can and cannot print on these machines because if you can create it in CAD it's likely the Ultimaker machines can create it form filament.

And before I wrap up, it’s important to point out that passing muster also includes if their branded slicer software (the bit of software that slices objects into layers that create instructions for the 3D printer to do its thing) is easy to use and what features it boasts. Ultimaker’s slicer software Cura is a treat to use. It doesn’t only produce gcode for Ultimaker machines. It also produces gcode for other machines! How’s that for a forward-thinking, inclusive and democratising strategy? With Cura I have control over a couple fill patterns, density percentage, what type of raft if I care to use one, two different modes of support material algorithms and, among other things, black magic which generates gcode that instructs the 3D printer to extrude a continuous thread of filament without stops. To understand better what I’m talking about, go to an Ultimaker machine and give it a go.

And what about tech support from Ultimaker? The team at www.3DGBIRE.com are excellent. I won’t elaborate because it’s that simple. They want to help and they’re great at following up.

My verdict on whether or not Ultimaker machines passed muster is a resounding “yes, but”. If you don’t already know, filament-extruding 3D printers are a slow form of 3D printing. Ultimakers are great for printing parts with 0.1mm or thinner layer thicknesses. This produces less-grainy surface finishes but it means the printing of anything larger than a hollow peach-sized object can take the better part of a day. When it comes to my 3D printed shoe collections, I print with a layer-thickness of 0.5mm, which enables me to print large objects about 5 times faster than the Ultimaker machines would.

I experimented with specifying layer thicknesses greater than 0.1mm such as 0.2-0.3mm layer thicknesses for the Ultimaker machines but their own Cura shows a popup message informing you that larger layer thicknesses are not ideal. The results are not as predictable as printing with 0.1mm or thinner layer thicknesses. This isn’t good or bad. But it’s important to know your tools and their limitations. For objects larger than an apple that require high strength, Ultimakers will do a great job in a lot of hours. But if you’re going for decorations, vessels, Jewellery and the like, get an Ultimaker.

Thinking of buying a 3D printer and want to see the Ultimaker product range in action? Come to TMRW in happening Croydon, get a delicious single-source coffee from Byte Café and I’ll introduce you to the machines. Want to know more about the machine? Go to www.ultimaker.com and enjoy!

More soon,

Bryan

If you would like to discuss how CAD and CAM can improve your ventures as well as solve critical developmental design and manufacturing problems, get in touch by emailing me at mail@bryanoknyansky.com.



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