ISTE 2015: 3D Printing Vendors

ISTE 2015 is one of the biggest EdTech showcases of the year with hundred of companies showing their wares to over 14,000 attendees. 2015 saw a horde of 3D printing vendors in Philadelphia to showcase the latest in plastic printing tech. I was on the floor of the vendor expo looking for the latest in 3D printing and MakerEd tech for schools.

The following is NOT a review or endorsement of any of these products. These are impressions from the floor of a vendor expo and based on materials at the booth and conversations with the booth staff.

XYZprinting: Right out the gate, the first 3D printer booth I saw was XYZprinting with their Da Vinci Jr. 1.0 priced at $349. While the entry price is very attractive, the use of proprietary chipped cartridges raises the true cost of the printer. This is the cheap razor and expensive razor blade model. The Da Vinci Jr. internal hardware appears to be upgraded from a previous low cost printer from the company but the print quality of the models on the display table were below average. The sales rep said that they have super users that get excellent print quality out of the printers but again that was not reflected by the models on the booth table. One interesting item at the booth was a pre-release version of an SLA printer.  SLA printers use lasers to harden resin. (I wouldn’t recommend SLA printers for most schools because uncured resin can pose health and disposal issues.) Be careful that you don’t confuse the print examples of the unreleased and much more expensive SLA printer with the Da Vinci Jr. which creates models by FDM aka melted plastic.

M3D Micro: M3D was showing off the Micro 3D printer at a price of $349 with a small show discount. (Unfortunately, I checked the website and the $349 price appears to be for a limited time.) The compact size and low price makes for a great demo printer or for a mobile 3D printing lab that could be easily moved into the classroom. I’d seen a non-functional version at the USA Science Festival in 2014 and was skeptical of this little printer. Watching the printer in action and seeing the print quality of the models on the table, I was impressed. I would certainly like to get my hands on one of these as a possible addition to my 3D printer demonstration gear. At $350 this seems like a low risk way for schools to try 3D printing. I might even consider this as an option for an updated version of my $500 3D Printer grant article. Hopefully, the pricing on this printer will stay low after the limited time offer ends.

Polar 3D: A big surprise was the Polar 3D printer at a price of $599 for educators and $799 for consumers. I was initially lumping this into the category of printers that are different just to be different but the Polar3D staff had good answers for every design decision. Most 3D printers operate on a Cartesian coordinate system while the Polar 3D works on polar coordinates meaning the print bed rotates and the print bed is round rather than square. The volume of cylinders printed on this printer was impressive vs. the size of this printer. I questioned some design features like the use of tubing to connect the z-axis rod to the z-motor and the size of the z-smooth rods. The engineer on hand addressed every point and was clearly passionate about providing a great product. I noticed some variation in the printed models on the table ranging from a little below average average to good. Polar 3D had a whole print farm going and not every printer had been dialed in. They were also showing a cloud based printing solution but I’m not sold on this type of feature being a differentiator at the moment. I would certainly like to try this printer as a candidate for a mobile/demo 3D printer. It seems like a simple solid design that could hold up to classroom use.

3D Systems: 3D Systems was showing off the Cube printer at $999 but really has a whole ecosystem of 3D printing products including a range of 3D printers, 3D scanners and even a 3D touch stylus. I was impressed by the dual color extrusion architectural model on display from one of their more expensive models. 3D Systems is a corporation with a well established line of 3D printer technologies and availability at a local big box store or through regular school purchasing channels may be appealing. The Cube does come with proprietary print cartridges and there is an attempt to keep you in the 3D systems ecosystems in terms of hardware, software and supplies. I have and use the Sense 3D scanner and get good quality scans of people out of it. I would really like to try the new iSense scanner for iPhone and iPad. The 3D touch stylus was interesting but I would need more hands on to really figure out how it would work in schools. Certainly art students might be interested in trying it for sculptures.

Afinia: Afinia continues to sell the Afinia H480 at $1,299 which is a reliable workhorse with great print quality that I reviewed for issue 42 of Make magazine. While a great printer, it is lagging behind newer printers in terms of build size and features. The newly released Afinia H800 has a much larger build volume and sells for $1,899. An interesting feature is the enclosed print chamber with a recirculating HEPA filter. For schools that may be concerned about the long term health impact of ultra-fine particles on students, especially students with compromised respiratory systems, the filtration may be a key feature. Afinia has a strong academic reseller network and may be distributed by a reseller that already works with your school system. That reseller relationship could be a deciding factor in terms of support/training/maintenance. Afinia also had a new 3D scanner on display. The test scan showed good detail but the image output didn’t contain color data. The scanner comes with a turn table but also appears to be able to be used in hand held mode for larger scans.

Tinkerine: Tinkerine had the Ditto Pro on display at $1,899. The Ditto Pro is based on the open source Ultimaker 2 design but at $1,000 less. The booth staff say that the control issues mentioned in the Make magazine review have been resolved. The print quality is very good on this printer. There were some familiar faces at the Tinkerine booth with the super smart Liz Arum and Todd Blatt fielding questions. These two definitely know their 3D printing with Liz especially having a strong reputation as an educator. The focus of discussions were on the education curriculum and projects and not the hardware. The projects were interesting as they incorporated hardware to make functioning devices rather than just 3d models.

Makerbot: Makerbot had a bank of Makerbot 5th Generation Replicators $2,899 on display along with a large format Z18 $6,499. They had an especially impressive 3D printed skeleton on display but unfortunately the stl files for the entire model aren’t available. I did notice stringing on an in process print in the booth. Makerbot has a new curriculum and has recently been pushing out education focused content. The booth staff said that education has always been a focus at Makerbot but there has definitely been an uptick in content being released that is aimed at the education community. Makerbot has been plagued by problems with the most recent generation of printers but claims that they are continually improving. Unfortunately, many reviewers still have the current Makerbot printers as a don’t buy despite the many features offered such as wireless, color screen, front usb port, remote monitoring and software ecosystem. The earlier generation Replicator 2X is still available, though the well respected Replicator 2 is not. 3D printing repository Thingiverse is owned by Makerbot and has been expanding features recently. I received a survey on my return from ISTE asking about possible new education focused features. There are multiple design challenges on Thingiverse this summer with a 3D printer as a prize.

Form 1: Formlabs had the Form 1+ SLA printer on display at $3,299. The resolution of these models compared to FDM are super impressive. Formlabs seems to be just testing out the K12 market. The booth guy said they were at ISTE more in an exploratory capacity. I certainly want a Form 1+ for personal use and some of my science academy student could find uses for their research projects. For most education users, there will be a host of concerns. Uncured resin can cause health issues and requires careful handling. The printing process is more expensive than FDM 3D printers. Cost of printing includes $150 per liter of resin, $59 replacement tanks every two liters, alcohol for post-process curing of the prints and waste disposal of the used alcohol with uncured resin. While the final models are very impressive with a variety of different resins available, the Form 1+ is definitely for a very specialized environment.

Remember that these are just my on the fly impressions, I would like to hear from fellow educators that have used them in the classroom. Leave a comment or contact me on Twitter @DesignMakeTeach