My thoughts drifted to my three-D printers I have in my office. They need to be making something.
This is just my observation and experience. I am not promoting any particular brand of 3D printer. User experience depends on, well… user experience and the ability to recognize problems and make corrections. Mostly an ability to realize that about half of all beginner 3D printer “problems” are self-inflicted by the users lack of experience and inability to admit or realize their own mistakes. A tool is only as good as the user.
I purchased a Kilo of dark brown PLA with the brand name of AMZ3D. I have no idea who they are, but the product is clearly marked as “Made in China”. Someone in China is running this product on their line. I don’t have any problem with that.
It is obviously a brand created for Amazon. The AMZ in the brand name is the first clue. I did a web search and everything I found indicates it is an Amazon branded product.
I have purchased three spools of 3D Solutech PLA 3D printing filament. Primarily I picked the brand because the Hatchbox brand I have been using was unable to supply white PLA filament. It’s now available from some suppliers at over four times the usual price. Well over $90 for a kilogram spool. A case of supply and demand I assume.
I discovered the 3D Solutech brand at a normal, around $20.00+ per kilogram price. Back in the affordable ballpark. So I bought three colors, white, black and yellow PLA filament. Reviews* give the PLA a good experience rating, but their ABS product gets poor ratings and a note (review by others) to stay away from their ABS. * Search the Internet for 3D Solutech reviews. Read my update below.
Place of Origin
The company claims to use only (at least for PLA) U.S.A. produced materials and the product is made in the U.S.A. They talk about the ABS material as a mostly Asian product and no direct statement that their ABS is made in the U.S.A. with U.S.A. materials.
All their written statements and websites are written in Chinglish. Very much as if they have been translated from Chinese (or other Asian dialect) to English. This makes me wonder who are they? Really?
At this point I will assume they are who they say they are. Americans like myself like to give the benefit of the doubt. But just having an office in the United States doesn’t make one a “Made in the U.S.A." brand.
3D Solutech says the material to make PLA (corn starch) is produced from corn grown (made) in the U.S.A. I am sure we export a huge amount of that material. Maybe to China?
The 3D Solutech product is packaged similar to Hatchbox, a brand which clearly states it is made in China. It’s OK to borrow a good packaging method. It is very common, within U.S.A. manufacturing, to run several different product names down the same assembly line. It’s a good cost saving manufacturing method. I have personally seen this in the appliance industry. No reason not to suspect this could be the case with Solutech. It’s certainly cheaper than setting up and operating a new process plant in the U.S.A. to maintain a competitive product price.
But until 3D Solutech becomes much more transparent and discloses their actual U.S.A. production facilities, I will have to personally assume for now, it MAY not be a “made in the U.S.A.” product. Note: I am not saying they are not. They just make the statement without any solid proof that I have discovered. So I raise the question. It could be they ARE partnering with some undisclosed U.S.A. manufacturer and don’t want to disclose the fact.
I have bought a lot of Hatchbox, a Chinese made material. So the point is not where it is made. It is the possibility of deceit and the “Made in the U.S.A.” is strictly marketing hyperbole. Business ethics are not the same in all countries. I’ll leave it at that.
We live in a world economy. I totally understand and can work with that fact. But I do like to promote U.S.A. made when I can be absolutely sure...
With identity left as a bit of a concern, the real question remaining is if the product quality is worth the investment.
It will take some time working with the material to be sure. I have read product reviews from others and most are favorable. So far it has been certainly usable material for most users including myself.
The only details of real concern is consistency of size and material blend components. It’s the same as for any mass produced material from roofing shingles to knitting yarn. There will be small manufacturing variances for which the user will need to make adjustments.
A skilled operator understands the limitations of his tools and material and can produce good results without blaming either for failures. 3D FFF printers are extremely adjustable for manufacturing variance. A few amateur reviewers sometimes are not. Ha! Of course, any product that exceeds physical adjustment limits or user skill is certainly not useful.
The bobbin tray shown was produced with 3D Solutech white PLA and is excellent in all respects. The white color is completely satisfactory.
The 3D Solutech PLA I have used is well within specifications and will produce satisfactory to excellent results for a knowledgeable user. Your experience may vary.
I received a spool of ABS when Amazon made a mistake in fulfilling my order for three spools of PLA. The yellow they delivered is ABS. I gave fulfillment a one star for that. I am sure it was not 3D Solutech fault, but it is the only way to rate a botched delivery. I opened the package assuming it was PLA and had a heck of a struggle with bad printing. Once I recognized the odor, I realized it was ABS. The box and spool are labeled ABS. Someone at Amazon just filled the order with the wrong product. Yellow PLA is now marked out of stock at Amazon.
I can find a use for yellow ABS and this is a good opportunity to test the product. With usual ABS temperature settings the printing started working.
I discovered, at least with this first sample, that temperature is VERY critical with 3D Solutech ABS. I was experiencing extreme warping to the point the print would come loose from the bed. I experimented with many settings and bed materials. Even tried a glue stick for the first time. I thought the product might be unusable.
Then I found the ABS sweet spot for my printer at 225C/80C for the head/bed. Absolutely gorgeous prints. Negligible warping, great surface finish and layer adhesion. I will classify the product as having a very narrow temperature band for good results. Excellent results once the printer is dialed in for the material. I am very pleased with the product. I will buy more ABS when I need it.
There may have been product material quality issue with earlier batches of ABS, but the material I have is definitely good. One additional comment. The spool was completely wound full of filament. I didn't weigh it as I have no idea the weight of an empty spool. It seemed like more than usual amount. The problem was that loops kept falling off the side of spool when trying to install it into the printer feed. Almost too much of a good thing. A little finessing avoided a tangle. I use off center hanging of the spool, so once installed excessive spool-off is not a problem.
Three days later and a lot more prints using both 3D Solutech PLA and ABS. PLA is on my delta printer and the ABS is printing on the Cartesian. There is no doubt in my mind that the 3D Solutech PLA materials are good to excellent products. If the pricing remains in line with MY reality and the supply time is reasonable (no long term shortages) it will remain on my preference list. Probably at the top.
However, the ABS remains very finicky and subject to warping, especially the larger the print size. Excellent prints are followed by some very bad ones (extreme warping). As I said earlier, this is very critical narrow range material. I have used only yellow. When the prints are good, they are very good but I can't give it first choice preference as I am confused by this mixed performance. Not sure if the problem is my technique or Solutech material.
I didn’t impress any manufacturers or vendors with my request for sponsorship. No disappointment by me. It’s the same as playing the lottery and the chances for a win are probably even lower. It didn’t hurt a bit to give it a try.
It was an attempt to obtain top quality 3D printing equipment and perhaps supplies. The market is very price driven at the moment and I have no identity or money vested as a vendor or dealer myself. I am an unknown. The product marketing I have seen is simplistic in most cases, especially on the lower cost hobby printers.
That’s the problem with a price driven market. The manufacturer must do all the marketing of features and benefits and the low-end dealers duke it out among themselves with price.
The micro machine tools I offer are sold that way and so are the low-end 3D printers. There just isn’t any business reason for a lone dealer to invest money to create market demand for a product offered by many other dealers. Dealers know the customer will browse the internet for the lowest available (best?) price for a standard product.
It’s how consumer automobiles are sold. The dealers sell on price alone. The vast majority of “feature marketing” the dealer uses in advertising is produced by the manufacturer and the cost is co-opted by all the dealers as part of their brand franchise. That type of product marketing benefits the manufacture and All dealers offering the product. Then the dealers still duke it out with each other on price and availability. I was a marketing advisor for many years with a brand name HVAC manufacturer. I know the game and the rules.
I now have what I want and need as far as 3D printing equipment. Purchased with my own funds. Not top of the line, but fully functional and capable machines. I owe allegiance to no brand and can say and do whatever I want about what I own and use. The only loss is opportunity for the manufacturer, having a real live outside user who can do a professional level internet presentation; Showing their product in real world use. Better "P.R." than what is currently available.
Maybe a flub-a-dub hobbyist, shakily filming with a vertical format hand held cellphone is the desired low end public image? Yeah, cause it is free…
Admittedly, my presentation and sponsor request were weak. My ocasional machine tool equipment sponsors in the past were not funding TV programs or You Tube., but saw some value in giving me their products to show in use, in my web presentations.
3D printing is a totally raw beginning for me. I am a newbie, but can tell a story the same as I have done with machine tools. Just not well enough I assume for this new industry to pay notice.
No need now to go “prosumer” as I would have done with a sponsor. It would require a dedicated effort helping the sponsor brand get noticed. I continue to run at my own speed as an independent, with far less stress.
The business of low end consumer 3D plastic filament printers is selling the printer. Getting them out the door. What can be done with them is fascinating at first, but in my experience, of limited practical and long term application. Several good web sites have grown for sharing design files.
Some 3D “print shops” are on the low end of the industry and their rapid proliferation can only drive down an already price driven market.
A low-end filament printer will not make me wealthy. The output is inferior and too slow for large volume manufacturing. The makers of Rep-Rap machines have moved to injection molded parts for accuracy and repeatability.
Rapid prototyping is a 3D printer industry strength. Some parts directly off the machine may be useable. I have made some. But long production runs are not in the realm of low end machines. An excellent play-tool for hobbyists and small prototype look-and-feel presentation.
As the machine price goes up and the automation improves and the printing processes vary, industrial application is absolutely where serious 3D printing resides. Still priced out of most hobbyist reach, it is very attractive to industry
Low end plastic filament printers are a toy. High cost filament printers and printers using exotic materials can become good prototype machines. Commercial, high end applications and manufacturing are expanding, saving time and justifying the high cost.
I have discovered it is absolutely a wonderful start to go in low-end and explore the possibilities of 3D printing. No sponsors are required as the cost is low. It is a real-life experience of the process. I don’t kid myself. Low end plastic filament is NOT the realm of a professional. It’s one heck of a good start to explore the possibilities.