Monday, October 21, 2013

7661 miles in 5 days

As I mentioned earlier, I recently purchased a FlashForge Creator 3D Printer.

I believe this is the most under-reported story in the 3D printing world - a Chinese company picked up an abandoned open source design, made changes, simplifications, and improvements, and their printer has been amongst the best selling 3D Printers on Amazon for months - it's currently ranked #2 (behind the $299 printrbot Simple DIY kit) and is holding a five star review average - out of 81 reviews!

This story's not all sunshine and rainbows - The FlashForge company doesn't appear to respect the original design's Creative Commons Attribution / Share-Alike licensing.  I don't see anything other than a vague "based on open source" mention in their documentation, and there are reports that they consider their design files "confidential." So they're not attributing or sharing alike. This is pretty silly considering that their printer really is a Replicator - the changes they made are pretty easy to spot on a side-by-side comparison, and some branding aside, my printer does look startlingly similar to the original Replicator Dual.

Maybe a year ago this would have bothered me, but a lot has happened since then - MakerBot abandoned this design, chose to go closed source, and join Shapeways.  Now FlashForge is the only company manufacturing this design, so if you want it, they're the only people making it.

Here are my impressions after using the FlashForge for a few days:
So far the experience has been really promising - 5 days after ordering the printer, it was at my house. Compared to most other competing 3D printers, this is amazing - a three+ week lead time is completely normal in this sector of the market.
The printer arrived 99% assembled - all you have to do is attach the print heads (two screws, using the included tools) and install the spool supports (two plastic threaded rods), turn on the printer, level the print bed (follow the printer's interactive bed leveling directions), and feed plastic (it comes with two one-kilo spools of ABS) into the print heads.  This sounds like a lot, but it was about 15 minutes total, following the decently detailed instructions.

I installed ReplicatorG and used it to update the printer's firmware to the latest version.  I then installed MakerBot's MakerWare software and used it to prepare this awesome playable recorder design for printing.  Two hours later, I had a new musical instrument.
My first two prints - a flute/recorder and a 40mm fan adapter

What I'm trying to convey here is that this was all stress and drama-free. Which is pretty amazing for a printer that exceeds the specs per price of pretty much every other fully assembled printer out there.

I've printed a few more things, and they've all been equally easy. I've been using MakerWare - it's decent software, and the slicer is well tuned for the FlashForge.

Bottom line: 
I'm delighted - For less than the price of a good set of RepRap parts I have an assembled, proven printer that is (mostly) open source with a huge user base and it pretty much works right out of the box.  So far I have not had a print fail, and I haven't had to print calibration cube after calibration cube to fine tune settings.  That alone is worth the purchase to me.