Our new 3D printer friend

At the end of last year we realized that our old 3D printer at the office wanted to retire. It made strange noises, heated up in the wrong areas and hadn't had any software updates available for quite some time. So we started our hunt for a new printer that was worthy a place at the office.

In the search for a new 3D printer, we felt that reliability, robustness and precision were the three main qualities that we were looking for. After an extensive investigation with a lot of reading at nerdy forums, supplier visits and test prints, our option stood between an Ultimaker S3 and a MakerBot Method. Both printers with dual extrusion heads,  swappable print cores, automatic calibrations and easy to use touch screens. In the end, our choice fell on the Ultimaker S3. With a larger build volume, better resolution and possibility to print with 3rd party material. It’s also made to be used with Ultimaker Cura, which is the slicing application that we are already using at the office. 

Now after almost 6 months of 3D printing, we can’t say anything else than that it for 100% feels like the right choice for our business. It took a while for our employees to start using the printer, but when they discovered the easiness of printing and good quality of the parts, it has been more and more frequently used up to the point were we are now discussing of implementing a booking system for using the 3D printer.

One of our most frequent users is Panagiotis, and we took the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts of the Ultimaker.

What’s your first impression of the Ultimaker S3?

Having already a 3D printer at home, I couldn’t help but notice the small – yet big – differences that make a professional 3D printer stand out from the rest of the casual home-use printers. My favourite part of the printer is the auto bed-leveling function that makes almost every print start out perfect and ensure a steady, firm base for the rest of the print to continue without fails. I also find it very helpful with the ability to print with two different materials: one being PLA and the other PVA, which acts as support. PVA has excellent adhesive properties and it dissolves in water, which helps create complex geometries. And upon all that, one is able to send prints over the network. If you haven’t used a 3D printer, it seems like a fancy add-on thing. But in reality, it’s not needed to first copy files in a USB drive and then go to the printer, and then start the printing process. This is actually a big time saving feature.

How does it help you in your assignment?

I’m working mostly on prototype projects. These projects are usually time consuming, with a lot of changes on the way. That means that two factors play a major role in the efficiency and reliability of the result: How fast can we manufacture the product and the changes that occur, and how do we make that process cost efficient? Having a 3D printer on the spot, allows printing on demand the different assembly parts which results in a rapid prototyping process. Start the print, and within a few hours you have the part! The materials are lightweight and strong and since we are manufacturing them, the cost is as low as possible. A very important point here is that there is no need for shipping the part to us, so there is no unnecessary packaging waste (cartons, paper, plastic) that would normally come along with an ordered part. So not only is the process faster and cheaper, but it’s also environmentally friendly.

Below are some pictures of the current project that I’m working on, depicting how the 3D printer allowed me to create parts that are custom made to fit exactly the needs of that project.

Rack holder to be printed
inContext has licenses for CREO and Cura Professional
Rack holder variants
With the 3D printer different variants can quickly and easily be tested and evaluated
Rack holder in rigg
The printed parts are used in the final rigg assembly
PCB holder
Different design holding a PCB in the rigg. Printed with PVA support material which is later dissolved in water.

To sum up, I believe that a 3D printer is a must have for any team that works in development and prototypes since – apart from all the benefits mentioned above – it stimulates creativity and grants the satisfaction of tailor made products, manufactured to fit the exact needs of each project.



Mechatronical engineer at inContext

Ultimaker S3 specifications

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