As a product development consultancy, we’ve been using 3D printers and rapid prototyping processes for many years now. We’ve typically used external prototyping vendors, such as our friends at Forecast3D, but we’ve always wanted to bring some of that capability in-house. Having a 3D printer in-house will make us much better at our jobs as it allows us to quickly validate designs much faster than sending the CAD files out, getting a quote, placing the order, waiting for the fabrication and then shipment to us. This process can take up to two weeks, depending on how busy our vendor is, but with our own printer, we can validate designs in a day.
We spent over 2 years evaluating various 3D professional printers, from the Stratasys UPrint and Mojo printers, to the 3D Systems Projet 1500, to the Objet24. All of which were plug-and-play and easy to use. However, the price always made it a difficult proposition to justify as we aren’t a prototyping shop and the machines would not be used 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. We looked at consumer and pro-sumer machines but they too had their drawbacks (unreliable, slow, temperamental and needed a lot of attention). Only in in the past few months have consumer and pro-sumer models been more reliable and had the feature set we wanted. After a few more months of research, we decided to go with the Airwolf 3D HD2x (I know, a bit of a mouthful!).
The HD2x has many things we’re really pleased about: large heated build plate (11x8x12in), dual extrusion heads, prints in a variety of materials (ABS, PLA, Nylon, PC, TPU, HIPS, PVA), great resolution and is very fast. To be perfectly honest, we were extremely skeptical because it all sounded too good to be true. We may be a professional design firm but we’re not professional prototypers so I was dreading having to spend too much time tweaking the machine. Regardless, we held our breath and placed an order. Two weeks later, it arrived in a very nicely packaged box.
Setup was pretty easy although loading the filaments for the first time was an exercise in patience. A couple of skinned knuckles and curse words in numerous languages later, we got the filament loaded properly. After the initial start-up program and calibration, we decided to run our first test part, a cat, that was included in the SD card with the machine. More breath holding ensued as we hit ‘Print’ and watched the machine start. All three of us huddled around the machine for about 30 minutes, anticipating that it would fail at any moment. After an hour, and probably unhealthy levels of plastic fumes inhalation, we walked away and went on with the rest of our day. The following morning, we gingerly walked over to the machine and to our surprise, there was a 6in 3D printed model of a cat sitting on the bed!
We have since been running test parts to fully understand the software and the parameters and after 5 print runs, we feel like we have a good handle on things. We’ve had ZERO failures on any of the parts we’ve run and each time, the quality gets better and better as we figure out the feed and speed rates. We run all our parts in ABS because we need the material strength to be reflective of a molded part (no PLA in this company!). Tolerances has been very good. We printed two mating parts that were designed to be machined out of aluminum in production and there’s a 0.004in clearance between them. They fit well with very little hand working required.
All in all, we’re very pleased with our new purchase and will give us an added service and capability we didn’t have a month ago. In terms of quality, the parts are probably 90% of what you would get out of a professional printer but at less than 1/3 of the cost, we feel it’s an acceptable compromise. The photos attached are of the latest parts we’ve run to show the quality. If we need highly cosmetic parts, we still have the professional prototyping bureaus to call on but for engineering validation, we have a great tool at our disposal!
Note: This is an unbiased review by a professional design firm and in no way were we compensated for this by Airwolf3D. This may not be the right machine for everyone but it is for us….at least until we need another one to double our capacity!