Bit Space, working with representatives at Bosch, has recently incorporated into its summer courses, and begun preliminary field-tests on the newest offering from renowned tool maker Dremel. The “Idea Builder” 3D printer, put to an informal battery of tests against MakerBot Industry’s fifth-generation printer, manages to stack up competitively in a surprising and critical number of ways.
First and most importantly, by far the biggest hurdle among all the models currently on the market is speed. So, what the team at Bit Space chose to focus on first is what, if anything, could be done to shave down the process-to-print time for each model. Implied in this is the fact that time is not just in the literal amount of time it takes the machine to print the model, it’s also the amount of time it takes to set up the model, maintain the 3D printer, all of those things included in the “downtime” outside of when the extruder nozzle starts to place filament. The Dremel, a week in, appears faster at build time, model for model. “We don’t have definitive numbers,” explains co-founder and IIT professor Thomas Kearns. “but the MakerBot took roughly 55 minutes—just under an hour—and the Dremel was 10-15 minutes faster. That’s pretty significant.”
What accounts for this advantage? Part of it is the machine itself, explains Kearns. “It could be configuration, perhaps it’s a matter of better configuring or better specifying to change those numbers.” Regardless, while not by any means a scientific study, and viewed completely as just a matter of practical use, when hitting send on both machines at pretty much the same time and then taking a look and asking how long it took and what does it look like, continues Kearns, “not only did the Dremel print faster, but the horizontal surface was much cleaner. The piece felt as though it had better structural integrity, just from the squeeze test. It felt stronger, it looked better and it was faster.”
Then, of course, there’s the question of price, with Dremel coming in at a household price of just over $1,000, compared to the Maker Bot’s $3,000+ price tag. That’s a difference that could point up a shift in consumer market share.
The Idea Builder didn’t exactly come in batting 1000, however. “At the same time,” explains Kearns, “we printed a lot of stuff this week that requires a complex support structure; if you imagine the machines printing something that has an overhang, it can’t print in mid-air, so there’s a tool we use that takes the model we make and then builds tree-like support structures and afterward, like an old airplane model, these snap off because they’re really super thin.” And, in the Maker Bot’s defense, using the pre-determined factory settings for these support structures, there were objects that the Bit Space team wasn’t able to as successfully print on the Dremel that they were, without further input, able to produce utilizing the Maker Bot. As Kearns describes it, the MakerBot was more “resilient to error” when there was structural deficiency.
In the hands of the Bit Space team, these new generations of 3D printing technologies will help spark the imagination of youth makers in Chicago. Ultimately, whatever the direction of the larger consumer market, the Idea Builder provides yet another powerful tool in that arsenal.