Just when you think you finally found the right filament for your 3D print product, you reorder it and found a disaster. Many of you who are in this industry may find this situation familiar. Sharing their own experience with it, Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard take us through how they managed to pull themselves out of these 3D print filament reorder problems. Follow along in this episode to learn more.
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3D Print Filament Reorder Problems
This is the Ask Us Anything segment.
It’s anything filament. This question is not a question. It’s our issue that we’ve had and we should talk about it.
A lot of other people have the same problem.
The question was posed by Amazon as I went to return a roll of filament and it says, “What is your problem with it?” Obviously, we had a reorder problem with the filament. During the holiday season, we make white angels ornament. Our 2015 harmony angel, we’ve been making them for a long time and they run so well on the machine.
We’ve dialed it in even much better than the year before that. We made an older version for some guests for other people in 2014. We’ve got the settings right. We found the material that works the best and it runs.
You take it off the machine, pop off the bottom, and put it in a box. We put a ribbon on it and we put it in a box. That’s how easy it is. It’s simple. We can run 3 or 4 a day.
It takes about six hours.
We can run four a day. We’ve been running it since well before Thanksgiving.
We got over 30 in stock. We tried to get to 35 to have everything we need but we ran out of filament.
We’ve been using MakerBot white filament for a long time. It’s called True White. It has this beautiful pure white color to it. It’s nice because a lot of the whites out there can be either milky clear and not opaque. True White is opaque. Also, some of them can be a little on the off-white side. They’re a little creamier colored. That would be the best way to describe it. They look a little yellowed.
This is a preference thing. There’s nothing wrong with it. There are some that are a more glossy appearance when the light shines on it. There are others that are more of a matte appearance.The quality of your 3D print product should be more important than the price. Click To Tweet
This one’s a little glossy and we like that. It has a luster to it. It’s pure white, has a luster, and runs consistently.
I want to put it out there that if you haven’t followed our show much, if you’re a relatively new follower, we don’t care. We’re printing this on a MakerBot machine most of the time. I don’t care if you use a MakerBot filament or not. I’ve got a rack above the machine and I’ve run everything through this machine.
We ran this new filament from a field color that was awesome but we didn’t have white. It was a test sample and it was an awesome one. We definitely want to get more. It had a beautiful luster. It was great. It was a teal color.
It flowed beautifully and had no issues.
There are lots of filaments that we’ve tried, but we were trying to keep consistent with what we’d run before and what we knew was working well in the machine because we wanted it to run for a day. Why mess with that? Anyway, I go to reorder. I simply go through Amazon, clicked on it, and reorder. It was one of those things. It comes in and we’re all ready to do it. We pop it in the machine and it’s a disaster.
The results were not what we expected. We had problems with the quality of the print itself. It wasn’t extruding consistently and smoothly. We were getting a lot more little hairs and strings generated, which is never a good thing. The color was ivory.
It was a little more ivory. The package said True White. It said everything exactly as the previous one said.
We didn’t finish the previous spool at the end of print.
We didn’t have enough for a whole print.
We had a little bit left on the spool. I compared the two spools. They had the same manufacturer, SKU, and color name. When you look at the actual filament, there was a significant difference. The old one we used was smooth and a little bit glossy on the filament. The new one was a little more matte and more textured on the filament, and the color was different. Clearly, these were not the same materials and probably did not come from the same supplier.
We know this happens.
When you’re trying to feed a monster like Amazon and they’re taking up enough volume of filament, you need to have one supplier dedicated to feed that beast.
We’ve had that happen. We have one manufacturer that’s feeding particularly Costco and another one that’s feeding Sam’s Club and Walmart.
Even with the same exact item, there may be two different factories. When you do that, there needs to be a level of consistency and quality control. We’re disappointed to say that it seems to not be here. After this happened, I remembered that the previous spools of filament we bought we didn’t buy from Amazon. We got it from a local source.
The white we had previously bought, we’ve had for quite some time because it lasts a while. The white we had bought from Amazon, I have no record of it being bought from anywhere else. I keep records of all that we use. We had bought other filaments with good quality from Fry’s. It was out of stock on Amazon so we went to the local Fry’s to buy it.
We needed to be able to find the right material. I went out to Fry’s to see if their supply of True White is the same as what’s on Amazon or if it’s more like what we had. I had a little bit of it and I had the spool so we went into Fry’s. I opened the box right on the floor, figuring out if I was going to buy it. I opened it up and compared. It was identical to the original first spools we had that worked well in appearance and color. We thought, “Chances are it’s going to run better like the other material.”
It did. We bought it. It ran much better. It ran exactly like the original. It looks like the original. In fact, it may even be running a little bit better, which I’m surprised at. Sometimes when we get down to the end of a roll, there is always a little more issue when you get down to the end of a roll because it’s been there a while.
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’ve had some that work all the way to the end.
Keep in mind that I have a big background in color so I know what happens here. It is hard to have the consistent quality from color batch to color batch with materials in general. It happens all the time with paint finishes. It happens with all types of plastics. It’s always difficult. Your supplier has to keep extreme control over that.
It’s not so difficult that it can’t be done.
It can be done but it has to happen and it has to be controlled. If you’re putting your own branded filament out there and someone is putting that out, that has to be maintained. It’s not acceptable at this level of market, especially the market that MakerBot is playing in for it to happen. A couple of things could have happened in that either that Amazon stock is extremely old.
Maybe it’s changed.It's much better to use a 3D print material that's going to get you what you want the first time and what you expect consistently. Click To Tweet
What concerns me more is that the Fry’s stock is extremely old. If the Fry’s stock is extremely old, then that Amazon stock is the newest stuff because it’s rolling through there faster and on a more consistent basis. You have a hit of a quality problem that’s new. That’s where somebody has to look at when you get returns on materials and when you get returns on your products, you have to pay attention to where those returns came from. There are no lot numbers. Without a lot number, it makes it extremely difficult for you to track down.
I noticed that on the MakerBot spools, they do have a lot number on their spools. That doesn’t mean anything to us as the consumer, it doesn’t tell you anything. We’re speculating here as to why that would happen if it’s old or new or whatever. What’s more likely, from what we know of manufacturing distribution, is that Amazon requires a much larger volume. They’ve got one factory focused on doing that and they’re feeding Amazon. Another factory is feeding smaller accounts. There’s not as many Fry’s stores and they’re probably not moving as much filament. The effect of that makes the one that we happen to like or works well for us doesn’t have as much capacity or it’s feeding a lot of these different retailers. It also has a different retail packaging when you buy it at Fry’s.
It does. It’s much more expensive retail packaging. You have to look at it from a perspective of readers who are running businesses or relying on being able to make the same design printed out again and again. You’re going to have reorders from your clients. Somebody might buy, in our cases if we had sold it, an angel in October to see the quality of it. They’ll say, “This is good. I’m going to buy 30 of them for the holidays,” and then place a bigger order for them as it gets closer. If you can’t match that quality from time to time, you’re in trouble. That is where you have to get into a situation in which either you buy enough of one lot and you know that ahead of time if this is going to be a consistent product for you. Maybe you are getting into a supply situation in which you have a supplier you can rely on and you can get matched lot numbers.
As this desktop 3D printing industry matures, I can understand years ago that mostly it’s been the early adopters. They call it the hacker community or much more the engineering community than the design and consumer community. Filament manufacturers or distributors didn’t have to worry about this issue. I can tell you that those days are coming to an end rapidly.
If you are a manufacturer, this is the problem you have to think about. If you aren’t smart, willing, resourceful, and persistent enough to go out there and try to find the right thing, you give up. You say, “MakerBot makes crap filament.” That’s what you might say to yourself. You’re going to find a whole new source for filament. Now, you’ve lost a customer. That’s one of the risks of doing these kinds of things. I see it happen all the time. We know that it happens in all kinds of products where they start to take off. They get to a certain level of sales where things are plugging away and going too fast for their capabilities. They start saying, “I’ve got to save money. Let me second source this. Let me find a cheaper source. Let me cut costs out of it.” If you do not have the quality control processes in place, especially with something color related because it is critical, it could blow up on you. We’ve had it happen where someone decided they were going to save a few pennies off of chair casters.
They changed the sub-supplier for casters for a chair without telling the customer. Several months later when those products get into the customers’ hands through the distribution channel, casters we’re breaking left and right. They didn’t understand, “Why all of a sudden our quality on casters has gone way down and our customer service calls have gone way up?”
There’s a protocol when you change any part in a machine, especially a part that’s critical. Casters are critical in terms of weight limits. There’s a whole bunch of safety reasons why the casters have to be tested completely. This is the same thing that goes on in 3D printing. You don’t necessarily understand your test protocols. If you were MakerBot in this situation and, all of a sudden, you have a filament problem, people are having extruder problems. That’s what naturally happens when you have a filament problem. You’re replacing a bunch of extruders. You also get filament returned to Amazon, which is exactly what I did. I returned it with an explanation of what was wrong with it.
It was an appropriate and fair explanation.
“This doesn’t match. It’s not what I ordered last time. It’s not a true reorder.” There’s that return that is an issue. Your return rate is going up at any Amazon level. If you hit a certain return rate, you get downgraded there as well and it starts to cost you points. There are lots of issues that cascade from this problem. You have to keep control of that. It’s not us saying this from the designer side. We want this. It’s critical to the growth in the market that you maintain this.
I want to put a footnote out there to say that I’m the more heavy technical user of the 3D printers here out of the two of us. MakerBot filament is not a crap filament.
Someone might write it off and not be willing to try it out. It’s a great filament.
I can definitely see how a customer might make that determination once they get the filament that is not consistent with what they’ve had before. It’s causing extrusion problems or quality problems in the print. In general, it’s a good quality filament. I’ve been happy with it. It is a lot more expensive than others that are out there. We don’t care about that as much because it’s about the color that we want. The quality is more important than the price per print as well.
As we pointed out frequently on our show, time is money. When we’ve used cheaper filament, we get a lot of hairs and a lot of cleanups. That cleanup requires our time and our skill to clean up. That’s a waste of money. If I can pay a little more fulfillment and have it come out cleanly off the machine, I’d much rather do that.
It’s much better to use a material that’s going to get you what you want the first time and what you expect, consistency.
Be thinking about this if you’re a designer at the beginning of a project. Be thinking about making sure that you order enough filament to make sure to cover what you anticipate for a whole job, especially a job that’s critical in color matching. If you’re on the filament or printer side of things, you seriously need a bout of process controls to ensure quality. Express that to us as consumers so I know that I’m getting this from a consistent lot or it’s changed. One of the ways you can do that is by changing its SKU number. Don’t cram it into the same SKU on Amazon. Anyway, if you have any questions about filament or anything else 3D printer related, you can find us anywhere on social media @HazzDesign.
Thanks again for reading.
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