About this Ultimaker Review
If you just want to know why I picked the Ultimaker instead of any other 3D printer, just check the overview at the bottom of this blog post.
If you want to know my experience in more detail, go ahead and read from top to bottom. It’s going to be quite a story though…
Order and Delivery
Well I live in the small country next to the Netherlands so shipping wasn’t a real issue for me. I remember they had a page up showing how long it normally takes for an order to get shipped. It was set at 17 days when I ordered and mine was shipped in 10 days. Very well done.
I bought the kit version. Then you had the choice between a laser less and complete kit. The laser less is the version without the laser cut parts. Both kits have to be assembled. Today you can also order an assembled UltiMaker.
My first Impressions
Packaging is very nicely done. You get a big cube like brown box with the UltiMaker logo printed on the side (nice branding!). Opening the box made the surprise even better. The wooden plates were at the bottom all nicely covered and cut. The bigger parts in a seperate box on top of that and on the top side all the small parts were nicely fit in plastic bags in an organizer like top shelve. Check the picture below!
The process of putting it all together
And then it’s time to put it all together. Make sure you have enough time for this since this will need your full attentation and will take around 6 hours to complete.
There is no manual included. All the paperwork you’ll find is an invoice and some information about who prepared shipping and a certificate like document telling you this is a genuine Ultimaker kit. So to get started go to the online documentation at http://wiki.ultimaker.com/Main_Page
The first disappointments
The first step is getting everything out of the box and checking for completeness. This is where I met my first disapointment.
Damaged multiplex parts
Turned out the multiplex parts that were already cut by laser were kept in place with tape. No issues there but the person that packed this box cut the tape on the wood. This leaves marks on the multiplex wood that the Ultimaker is made of. As long as you don’t paint this thing it’s not that clear after all. But as soon as I will put some color to my Ultimaker the color will make those marks clearly visible, too bad. A picture to show you what I’m talking about.
Lack of documentation
Another disappointment was the documentation available online. The first steps were all very clear and extensively documented giving me much hope for a great finish. However near the end the documentation showed a lot of gaps.
Also several parts were upgraded to a second revision (the print head and the extruder clamp mechanism) adding the need for several manuals making it even worse. The previous elements seemed to be documented pretty well, except for the extruder. But the rev 2 elements had minor to no documentation at all. Making it hard and frustrating to put everything together.
Eventually, with some trial and error (more later) and a lot of pictures I managed to get it all assembled.
The struggle to get to my first print
And those initial issues were part of the reason I had some trouble to get the printer working. Don’t expect this to be “a simple unpacking, assembling, software installing followed by printing the first great objects” process. The Ultimaker took me several days of tuning and issue solving to get a first decent print.
If you can I strongly suggest working together with someone who has some experience already. Otherwise this might become a long and frustrating journey;
Anyway I’ll do my best to explain my initial issues here. I’ll be updating this post later on with more detail and link to the threads I started in this progress.
link to googlegroups thread
link to ultimaker forum thread
Extruder jamming and grinding
My first problem was the filament getting jammed in the extrusion mechanism followed by the big wheel starting to grind into the filament, deforming it and making the problem even worse. Final solution to this was in the tension put on the filament. It shouldn’t be too tight but still tight enough so that you can’t pull it back out in the reverse direction.
Below is a picture of a bolt that has been grinding into the filament. Make sure to clean it up everytime before trying again. This kind of dirty bolt will slip right away. Also you can make the black clip on the other side of the wheel a little finer so that more of the good part of the bolt is exposed to the filament. In fact I used a piece of credit card instead of the black clip.
Also note that this is probably only a symptom for the next problem. This can be cause by a jammed hot end and the extruder still trying to get filament in. So make sure to check that also. At a certain point I was confident enough that the tension on the v2 extruder clamping mechanism was OK so I could start focusing on the actual problem.
I’m talking about v2 extruder mechanism here. Indeed there is a v1 also. I had both of the systems in my box. I only used the v2 since I imagined it would be better. And from what I read on the web it’s a better system for variable tension. So in case your filament is deformed.
And that might be something to check also. Measure your filament on several places to check that it’s more ore less equal and just below 3mm. Filament that is unequal or bigger than 3mm can cause too much friction once inserted in the bowden tube (the white teflon tube on top. Just try it without a hot end and by hand to make sure the filament can go through.
One last thing about this extruder. There wasn’t much documentation available but one of the things I found online was that I had to test extrusion with speeds around 2000. That is just wrong. I could run it up to 500 without issues and that is more than enough. Going above 1000 made it jam no matter what the hot end did.
Hot end plugs
So on to my actual problem. The (in)famous hot end plugs. The filament melts because of the heat applied when passing through the hot end. All this is about hot end v2. I don’t have a v1 hot end so I can’t say anything about that.
The filament travels from the slippery bowden teflon tube on to another teflon white part that is inside the PEEK, insulator material (the brown part). From there it goes right into the brass nozzle. All these parts are clamped onto each other by the long screws in the head. The picture below shows all these parts on top of each other.
The teflon parts (bowden tube and white part) are all very slippery so no issues there. The brown PEEK part however will bond extremely well with the melted filament. So it’s very important that the filament should never touch that part (that is the function of the white part).
In my case I had it all to loosely fit so that the pressure could push the parts apart and the molten filament started to go up and touched the PEEK through the gaps causing a plug. Hence the previous problem with the grinding extruder.
In the end a new hot end fixed the problem. In the process of taking everything apart and cleaning it all up I made the mistake to fasten the brass parts into the aluminium block while they were hot and with too much force causing them to break. So I had to get a new head.
So be careful when tightening these v2 hot end parts onto each other. I inserted the bottom nozzle pieced into the aluminium heater block first and then tightened the top brass part against that. If this isn’t tight right away the filament will get through. If you don’t manage to get that properly closed you can always run some ABS filament through the nozzle since that requires more heat then the PLA filament and will close the gaps for you when printing PLA. This won’t help you when you want to print with ABS though.
There are some other tricks, besides tightening. One of them is the small spacing to keep when assembling but that is properly documented so I won’t repeat that here. Just make sure to follow the documentation as precise as possible.
And after all this troubleshooting I finally got it printing properly.
Vulnerability of the cooling fan
Something else I want to warn you for is that the fan on the bottom is exposed so be careful when putting the Ultimaker away. Mine got shortened after one of the wires got loose. You can buy a new one (also from other cheaper sources, just check the product number). It’s a very noisy fan by the way.
You can put them in the wrong without noticing, there is no reverse polarisation protection on these drivers. They are plugged in when you buy the board but if you want to replace one pay extra attention not to turn them around. You can check pictures online to see how they should be seated. There is a difference depending on the side they’re on.
I started my Ultimaker experience with the replicatorG software. Don’t make that mistake. Then that was the official software. Today the much better Cura software is the official recommended companion and it works much better.
Pros and Cons of the Ultimaker
Ultimaker likes (over other 3D printers):
This is a quite a list. The most important reasons for me that I knew before actually buying the thing are:
– speed (check youtube)
– quality results (if you have the time to actual let it print that fine)
– large working area out of the box
– 3mm filament (cheaper and widely available
Note that 2 of the remarks I made here are already solved or in the process of being resolved. Also one is related to the design of the stepper motor drivers, printing circuit which is not specific to Ultimaker. That leaves 2 more points that are still open.
– cutting on the wood for cutting the tape
– no reverse polarisation protection on stepper drivers (issue on several other printers that use the same or similar electronics)
– failing cooling fan, exposed at the bottom
– lack of documentation (especially near the end of the assembly instructions). => They are catching up however!
– replicator G not fool proof => cura now released, big improvement!!