What 3d printer do you use at work?

Hi everybody,

I’ve been using a Dimension Elite from Statasys for the last decade, and this thing is so freaking unreliable. The extrusion head breaks every 6 months and costs us a few thousand in maintenance each year. Besides the 3rd party company making the maintenance as an abysmal customer service.

Do you have any suggestion for a new professional 3d printer that would follow these guidelines

  • Reliable
  • Quick maintenance and good support in Canada
  • 0.17mm precision by layer or less
  • Ideally not a startup but an established company
  • Budget - Below 30k
  • Material - Ideally real world material like ABS or Nylon
  • Build Size - At least 7x7 inch

Thanks in advance !

We use the Formlabs Form 2 and in a professional environment I will never EVER go back to FDM printing (well, as long as it is my choice). Their pricing also degrades FDM to hobbyist technology almost exclusively (which isn’t a bad thing. Still planning to buy one for my home to tinker around a bit). Just while at work I simply can’t be bothered anymore to worry about overextrusion, jammed nozzles, yadda yadda yadda. I can simply recommend that printer to pretty much any designer/ design studio that has 4000 bucks to spare and wants to upgrade their physical prototyping game a bit.
So far their software was extremely reliable for me and you simply don’t need any knowledge of the process itself because it doesn’t really need troubleshooting (yet).
The downside of the form 2 and probably any other SLA printer (I am only familiar with the form) is that you need a bit of space for the cleaning process of the prints and that every now and then you need to buy replacement parts because they wear out. A hundred bucks for a new container here, 200 bucks for some resin there and 50 bucks for some chemicals there quickly add up and would be a dealbreaker for private use but for business/office use that stuff is still peanuts. But you will be rewarded with a print quality that can even be sanded and painted for final design models and can print wall thicknesses as thin as half a millimeter without being super brittle.

We had a New Matter MOD-t at my old studio. Their online based software is annoying, and it was a little finicky to use at first. It took a few weeks of builds to figure out all of the quirks (e.g. building thin, wide bases into small parts to keep their bottom layers from peeling up from the build table, angling the filament into the machine so it doesn’t break, etc.) Its biggest drawback is probably the incredibly small build size (something like 6"x8"x8"), but for $200 it I got a ton of use out of that thing.

In my last job we had a MakerBot 2 in the design studio. After a couple of weeks of fiddling with it, it collected dust. I was able to convince the engineering department to get an Objet… beautiful prints right out of the machine! Sandable and paintable parts… and since it came out of engineering’s budget they maintained it :wink: I miss that printer! … and it’s magical maintainers …

Thanks guys for the valuable insights !

We 3D print parts every day and have used an expensive zcorp projet for the last 5 years and would also outsource for SLS parts. Earlier this year we bought a markforged printer that can use carbon fiber if needed and this has replaced both our zcorp and SLS outsourcing. The unit itself is well priced, the software is easy to use and a lot more modern than the projet, while it is slower to print it is a lot less effort and mess with post processing, and the consumables are reasonably priced. It is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend.

I agree on SLA for visual models however outsourcing brings us far enough as we only need a handful of purely visual prototypes a year.
For rapid prototyping FDM machines are great and some are almost without issues - we have now a Wanhao Dup. 5s Mini and it’s just awesome. Plus you are closer to the actual product in terms of mechanical qualities, being able to print with PLA, ABS, PET, PETG, PP, flexible TPU and several other materials.

I bought a dimension bst1200 for my office back in 2004 it was $30k and pretty damn amazing for the time, it was a workhorse and we ran that thing daily until the company was sold in 2012 with very little down time. We maintained a service contract on it and knew the local techs well but i have no complaints about the quality of the machine the techs were usually only in our office for scheduled maintenance and upgrades there was very little unexpected downtime with that machine. I later purchased the same machine for a college i was teaching at and advising on the build out of their makerspace… educational pricing was nearly 50% less than retail.

In 2008 i bought an objet eden 350v for the same office. I think after the finance charges the price was close to $250k. the output from that machine was stunning but the service contract and consumables were very incredibly expensive and the machine went down regularly (service contract was $8k a year and didn’t cover parts). The power wash station that was required to clean the parts was a joke and went down as often as the printer.

In 2013 I bought a makerbot rep2x for another office, it was a nightmare and makerbot took it back.
Then I bought a first gen form 1 printer for the same office another disaster that eventually went back to FormLabs.

In 2014 i bought a davinci 1.0 from XYZ for myself, i walked in to a micro center and bought it off the shelf for $400. it had approximately the same quality and build envelope as the first Dimension machine i bought for $30k. I was happy with it for about 6 months, it was not a solid workhorse and became very finicky and prone to problems which might be OK with a hobby level machine but not when you need to depend on it, now it collects dust.

in 2014 I bought the XYZ Nobel for myself, it was terrible and it went back to XYZ.

Early last year i purchased the Form 2 and haven’t had a single problem with it yet, the build volume is only 1/4 the capacity of my old objet and it only prints in a single material so you have support joints to deal with but for the price difference i can accept those things without any complaint, the print resolution is as good as i ever remember the objet being. They now have a pretty broad material line and the accessories they’re adding are nice features to have. I recently received their new enclosed, automated power-wash system and it makes the whole process pretty clean.

I am going to be assembling another team and kitting out a new office in the upcoming year and i will more than likely just go with a form 2 to start and maybe just add more if we need more volume. I’ll probably also ad an FDM system to make more durable models but not sure which one at this point.

I have no relationship with Form and i’m definitely not on here schilling for them but I’ve purchased a pretty broad range of printers and the form2 is easily the most bang for the buck.

Thanks for that dude! That is a great run down of machines!

In my last position we used a Form Labs 2 in the office. Great product. Build time is a little slower than an FDM but I can say everything else is better. They have also come a long way with the materials you can use in them. A lot of pro’s scoff at them , but for in the office small studio use I think they are top notch.

I’ve used a Makerbot 2 for the last few years and over time it just became too finicky to deal with. At times I would produce great parts but inconsistency started to set in the past year and it just became too unreliable. It now collects dust.

We recently purchased a form labs 2 SLA printer and it’s worked out pretty well. We’re still getting used to working with the resin and UV curing the material as opposed to the FDM process. The SLA gives you a great surface finish straight out of the printer, once cleaned up it really does produce a nice part. Currently, we’re seeing about 5% material shrinkage after clean-up and cure, so that’s something to factor. This might also depend on the type of resin you print with.

For smaller budgets, based on what I’ve seen and heard, Form2 is really great aside from the small footprint. Hoping the Form3 is bigger if the tech is that scaleable.

Hi guys,

Sorry for the delay, lots of detailed replies which are really helping.

Michael - Do you think the Objet needs a dedicated team for the maintenance like your previous experience?

BryanBrutherford - Thanks for your very detailed reply ! Another user mentionned the shrinkage on the Form 2, is it a problem for you? Is the Form 2 material comparable to an FDM machine?

bmhdesign - The 5% shrinkage seems like it could be a problem with small assembly details (snaps, etc.) In the end is it problematic

Finally, how’s the speed of the Form 2 printer compared to an FDM machine?

Overall thanks guys with all the great answers !!!

I know you asked Michael but i am going to chime in on the objet machine.
For the cost and complexity of those machines you should plan on a dedicated machine liaison at minimum.
All my designers were trained to load and start the machine and do a basic post build cleanup but the routine maintenance, and parts cleaning are significant jobs that require someone willing to get very familiar with the machine. At first we used one of our designers as the in house tech and later that job transitioned to ambitious interns.

I have had no issues with formlabs shrinkage but i mostly make big fat chunky parts with generous tolerance.
They have more than a dozen material options each compounded for the certain desirable characteristics including durability, precision, FDA compliant, etc.
You should get on their site and see if they have what you need. Form2 is SLA and basically the opposite of FDM, the advantage of working with FDM is that you are using ABS, Nylon, PLA, etc. these are real world, injection molding plastics. Although FDM doesn’t match the flow and structure of molded plastics, they are the same materials so you can make some assumptions when testing durability. There are SLA resins that are billed as “like” PP or “like” ABS but none are actually those materials.

^^^ What he said :slight_smile:

I’m noticing a trend in CAD contractors that have their own machines making it kind of a one-stop thing that has been useful.

All the small consultancies and similar operations in my area have a Formlabs Form 2 and it seems to be ‘near perfect’ aside from the smaller build areas. If I was buying one today I would get that one, hands down.

Wanted to concur with Ryan about the Objet - people can be general all rounders with it, but you’ll need someone dedicated to get intimate with the machine and processes.

Although focusing more on the hobbyist, this reddit 3D printing megathread can be a good resource to ask questions and search for previous answers (make sure to check previous months too):

We have an old Dimension Elite SST1200 that we use a lot, and unlike the OP it’s been quite reliable. We have had the maintenance contract though, and they have done significant work on it to the point of rebuilding major sections. The company we’ve used is Fisher Unitech, and though the contract is expensive it is nice to have a reliable workhorse that we don’t have to fuss with to make work. We also really like the soluble support. After having supports that just dissolve away (we do usually break most of it off to speed it up as well, but that’s easy and quick), cutting supports off an SLA feels like a real pain. Resolution isn’t great, but for most things we don’t actually need super high res unless they’re tiny parts or finish models.

We also have a Form 1 that doesn’t get a ton of use since the FDM machine is easier and more reliable. Not sure if we’d use the SLA more if it was a Form 2. Unfortunately Form has stopped making material for it, which pisses me off a little (it’s not that old, even if it makes economic sense they’ve lost points with me by not supporting their product long term). We did find some third party material from Photocentric, though, which has worked well so far. We’ve only used the clear flexible, but they have a big selection with multiple colors (inc. clear) for each material type. https://photocentricgroup.com/usa/our-shop/?v=7516fd43adaa. The material is cheaper than Form’s as well and I believe it should work with the Form 2.

Photocentric also makes some interesting printers that we might consider if we want to upgrade the SLA. They use LCDs instead of lasers or DLP which allows them to have a relatively large build volume. Their biggest printer has a build volume of 470mm x 240mm x 340mm (18.5 in x 9.4 in x 13.4 in) for about $5k. They also have smaller/cheaper models. The resin for these machines (they call it “daylight” resin) is also pretty cheap with a big selection (more options than for their laser resins, I think). The only issue is that it’s hard to find reviews from people who’ve actually used them. Do any of you have any experience with them?

Thanks guys, much appreciated ! This definitively helps me !

The Objet printers are definitely only suitable for large organizations doing high budgeted projects.
For mechanical models and industrial design in general, FDM is recommended. For the same budget of an SLA printer you can also get a BCN3D Sigma and have great quality dual material prints.
I do a lot of detail work i.e. textures, jewelry so for me it is time to now add an SLA printer to the range.
Once there was a Kickstarter initiative called ONO but they failed to deliver. There still is a budget solution - the SparkMaker.
If you guys know of other SLA machines sub $500, let me know!