Two Months with the E3D ToolChanger – Part 1

It has been a long time since my last article on AllTheNozzles.com but for good reason. I was lucky (and unlucky – more on this later) to be low in the ToolChanger queue and received mine shortly after they started shipping.

E3D, known mostly for their nozzles, announced a new motion system and ToolChanger design in March of 2018. With each trade show and meetup they attended where they showed off the ToolChanger the interest surged. E3D did not invent tool changing, but they managed to reduce the complexity and cost to a point where hobbiests could actually get their hands on one. This isn’t to say the system is inexpensive – it is not. Compared, however, to commercial/industrial system it is inexpensive.

E3D has stated they do not want to be in the business of creating printers. I think if you read this whole post you’ll get the sense that is still true. They want to great a system other manufacturers can adopt so they can sell more nozzles, and more recently, more extruders.

Who is the E3D ToolChanger for?

E3D initially stated that this was going to be bare bones system that would require additional parts to complete, but due to reasons unknown to me, they ended up offering a kit to build a complete printer. Despite this change I still urge people new to 3D Printing to find a more complete and better supported printer than the E3D ToolChanger.

So who should get a ToolChanger? Considering the hefty price tag of $3200+ US and the plethora of high quality printers out there for a lot less money you should only be considering the E3D ToolChanger if you meet many of the needs below:

  • Multi material printing beyond dual extrusion
  • Multi material printing where the materials you want to print with need different extruder settings (TPU + PLA for example)
  • Interest in tool heads that do not just print plastic (laser engraver, pick and place, camera/scanner, etc.)
  • A robust motion system that allows for speed and precision across multiple tool heads

Some of the downsides to getting the E3D ToolChanger right now include:

  • Assembly guide is still a work in progress
  • Despite profiles being available, a lot of tweaking is needed to get good prints
  • E3D continues to innovate so early adopters are not given the chance to select a newly announced Hermes (link goes to 3D Printing Nerd) direct drive solution for their ToolChanger
  • Firmware for the ToolChanger is still a work in progress
  • Some material and design choices could be improved
  • Minimal user base with experience running the ToolChanger

If you like to tinker, have a fair amount of 3D printing knowledge, and are looking to expand your printing capabilities then the ToolChanger might be something to consider.

Building the ToolChanger

Assuming you get the full kit that E3D offers, building the ToolChanger is fairly easy for anyone who has put together a Prusa MK2 or MK3 kit. The documentation has good pictures decent instruction with a few inconsistencies and some assumptions about your printer knowledge. By the time you get your hands on one I think the documentation will be even better.

I mentioned earlier that I was both lucky and unlucky to get the ToolChanger early. Unlucky because the instructions included guidance to use thread lock on almost all bolts, but as it turns out thread lock weakens certain plastics including plexiglas. E3D has updated their instruction and replaced plexiglas panels that were cracked for customers who followed the instructions.

Shows crack on plexiglas
Crack not from tightening but because the thread lock weakened the plastic

Aside from the above issue the rest of the build is fairly straight forward. The aluminum parts were well machined and cut. With the exception of a missing screw and a few confusing instructions I did not find assembly to be difficult. It is important to read the instructions carefully, but also read instructions for individual components like the Duet electronics and Titan extruders.

With the exception of the touch panel, brush, and filament, the final picture above is what you should expect from your ToolChanger complete kit:

  • 4 bowden V6 tools with brass 0.4 nozzles
  • 2 regular Titan extruders, 2 mirrored Titan extruders
  • Frame with plexiglas sides, screws, and misc parts
  • X, Y, and Z motion system that uses linear rails
  • ToolChanger coupler – the thing that makes all of this possible
  • Power supply, motors, wiring, and electronics

You will need to print all plastic parts except the V6 plastic docking part which is included:

  • Spool holders
  • Brush holder & brush
  • Cover for ToolChanger coupler
  • Motor wiring cover
  • Stress relief and wiring guides for all 4 tools plus ToolChanger coupler
  • Plexiglas hole covers and fan airflow guide
  • The 4 part cooling fan adapters
  • 5 frame mounted stress relief and wiring guides

Printing

There seem to be two strong opinions out there about Bowden setups. One is that any Bowden printer can produce quality and consistent results with enough tweaking. The other is Bowden printers are hard to work with and do not produce consistent results.

I know Bowden printers can print well. I’ve seen the results first hand and the reduced weight often means being able to print faster with less motion related artifacts like ghosting. That said the E3D ToolChanger Bowden needs tweaking. The provided profile for Simplify3D (S3D is not required, by the way) is really a starting point. The ToolChanger has long Bowden tubes (790mm) which, from what I’ve read, is close to the max length you want to go. Not only that, but the Bowden tubes are bent more than a typical Bowden setup.

With this Bowden setup I managed to get good simple prints. Others, in the E3D forum, have very good simple and complex prints. People who have had the beta kits the longest have amazing prints with the ToolChanger bowden setup.

I, on the other hand, struggled with complex Bowden prints. I put a lot of time into tweaking and adjusting settings, checking extrusion, and researching other Bowden settings.

I dialed in the standard 10×10 cube which is an easy print, but a good starting point. The first benchy after the cube was mediocre. There is a fair amount of stringing even with high retraction of 4.8 and there are clearly some retraction related issues on the arch and smokestack. The retraction issues largely were a result of the profile setting in Simplify3D set to retract more often than needed.

First benchy print

After more tweaking including reducing how many retraction occurred during the print, I managed to get a decent but not amazing rhino print. Stringing was reduced and small details printed better like the horn and ears. There are clearly still retraction issues however.

Rhino print

I tried a lot of settings to get the prints coming out better including flow rate, adjusting retraction distance, temperature, speed, a brief very unsuccessful attempt at turning on pressure advance, and any other settings I thought could contribute to the print quality. The above Rhino was still about the best I could get.

I decided, begrudgingly, that I am spoiled by my Prusa MK2 and MK3 direct drive printers which produce very good results with minimal tweaking. As my patience was wearing thin and I thought, instead of trying to get the Bowden printer working perfectly, especially knowing that Bowden printers are usually fairly poor at printing flexible filament no matter how well tuned they are, I decided to look into designing a (nearly) direct drive extruder for the ToolChanger.

Check back for part 2 where I design a new extruder and make other modifications to the ToolChanger as well as show some multi-tool prints.

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