How can you tell if a 3D printer is reliable before you jump in and purchase one? The short answer is – you can’t. Listen as Tom Hazzard and Tracy Hazzard explain why users have to have higher tolerance for printer quality and reliability at a time when the industry is still at its infancy. Also on this segment, learn about some of the things you can do to at least minimize the risk of buying an unreliable printer.
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How Can I Tell If A 3D Printer Is Reliable?
This is the Ask Us Anything segment.
This episode’s question is, “How can I tell if a printer is reliable?”
I wish that I could give you a definitive answer on that.
I pulled this question out of the archive because we have a long list of questions that we haven’t gotten to. I pulled this one out because we’re talking to XYZprinting. That’s the first question I asked myself when I saw their printer in an event and it wasn’t running. It wasn’t that the printer had a problem, more so was that they didn’t plan enough setup time for their technician for that event. It brings to mind that the problem is reliability. The other thing is we get a lot of wonderful emails from all of you out there saying that you’re happy with the job we’re doing. You ask us nice questions and you’re complementary and we appreciate it. If there’s one thing we get heckled about, it’s the fact that we still use MakerBot.
We do get a lot of flak for that.
Some serious, mad people that theirs doesn’t work like ours works, that we must be making it up. We had somebody who said, “I’ve seen your videos. I know you’re running it, but I don’t understand how you manage to do that because mine doesn’t do it.” That’s the biggest problem. It’s not so much that we can say, “The MakerBot is reliable. The XYZ is reliable,” or “So-and-so isn’t reliable.” It’s not like we can say that because it differs from printer to printer.
I don’t know if that speaks to not great quality control of manufacturing of any of these things or if it speaks more that these printers are not easy to use as maybe some of these companies would want us to believe they are. It takes a user with a lot of initiative, drive, and high tolerance.
That’s what I was thinking in my head, a high tolerance level for the fact that this is still a little bit like hacking. That’s what I keep wanting to say. When you got that first Dutch Builder for the review and it didn’t work out well because the first model had a hardware problem. Most people would get pissed that they would box that thing up, send it back, and give them a bad review. We didn’t do that here because we have a high tolerance level for understanding how difficult it is to make a new product and pull it out. We like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there are a lot of people who don’t. You can see how you can get bad reviews out there. You can get an upset customer.3D printing technology is still in a stage where users have to have a high tolerance for printer reliability. Click To Tweet
A quick note about that Dutch Builder review, that was a demo printer. It wasn’t brand new when we got it. We don’t know who used it before us and what might’ve happened to it. They ended up sending us a brand new one to review and out of the box was perfect. I never had any problems with it. I didn’t want to send the printer back. I wanted to buy it, but the budget wouldn’t allow it. The question of, “How can I tell if a printer is reliable?” I can’t give you anything, in particular, to look at to determine if it’s reliable, but we can make a strong recommendation. I would prefer for my first printer, especially to buy a printer that has a protection plan, an extended warranty, or something like that. We did that with our MakerBot. It’s roughly a $3,000 printer, which was a lot for our first printer but it had a $350 or $300 maintenance extended warranty plan. Did we use it?
We did. We got replacement extruders and other things like that. That is one important way. I have to say this because we’re industry insiders. You cannot rely on online reviews. I hate that I have to say that to people and that they don’t realize it, but 90% of them are bots and it’s terrible that it’s that way. I try to personally review products so that at least the people who follow me know that I did personally use them and I reviewed them when I put something up on Amazon. Not everybody’s that conscientious and the systems are set in such a way that you can’t get your product ranking, get your product sold, and get the sales you need if you don’t fill in the review section. You have to do it. Looking at that is not a sign of reliability, and that’s unfortunate.
However, in the 3D printing world, there are some great indicators. 3D Hubs puts out a monthly report. In the monthly report, they list the number of printers on their hub and the different types of printers. Those printers are running all the time. Those printers I consider to be highly rated. I don’t think that you can look at that list and say, “These guys are professionals. They’re using them all the time. They’re using them for all different purposes because they never know what a client is going to bring to them and it’s working for them.” That’s a good sign there. Take a look at that. That report is free on 3D Hubs. That’s one way to do it and the other way is to go and check out these printers in places. The makerspaces are running them and there are lots of different people running them. Check out what the local makerspace is using because of heavy traffic use.
Those reviews you were mentioning, some are bot but clearly some are not. There are a lot of honest reviews out there, but if someone says, “This printer is lousy or this printer is great,” that doesn’t mean anything to me unless that review gets into some real specificity as to why. Like we always say, it comes down to what you’re printing. Somebody may be printing something fairly simple and say, “The printer is great.” When you go to print something complicated, it may not be. I had this experience with San Diego SD3D. We’re having them “making a couple of our products in larger quantities beyond the capacity of our 3D printers.” We threw them our necktie and our angel ornaments.
When I got the email back from the CEO, because that’s who I was communicating with, he said, “Those are great looking designs.” The next day, there was the email, “We’re going to need to take a day or two to dial in these settings because these are a little more challenging than the typical things we print.” They’re professionals and I know they’re going to figure it out and we’re going to review that quality. We’ll report on that probably in another blog post, but it comes down to what you’re printing.
You can have great printers and then you get something challenging and it doesn’t work. That high tolerance that people have for this hackability, testability, and the things you have to do to make things work, and how much effort you have to put into it. You have to have that high tolerance level at this point in the process.
That MakerBot thing, I remember this Facebook chat back and forth late one night with this guy who was tuning in our podcast. He was like, “I can’t believe you use a MakerBot. How is that? Mine is junk.” I can’t explain why his didn’t work and ours did, but we’ve run the heck out of our MakerBot and we get at least 400 to 500 hours out of a Smart Extruder before we replace it and it’s working. We’re still using it every day. It’s not the only printer we’ve had. I like some of the other printers a whole lot because they have more capabilities, but reliability is hard to ask. Protect yourself. Either buy it from a company that’s going to give you service, like a local distributor who’s going to give you service or buy one from a company that comes with some extended warranty program to give you some peace of mind. That’s the best that we can recommend.
I hope that answers your question. It was a great one. Remember that if you have a question, you can ask us anywhere on social media @HazzDesign. We are located at 3DStartPoint.com, and that’s also another place where you can send us an email and let us know what you think and what you might have as a question.
Thanks for that question.
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