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.

Please see my about page for information about reviews on this site.

Mosaic Palette 2 – a Second Look

I had an early pre-order for the Mosaic Palette 2 and now six months later I think I have a much better idea of what the Palette 2 can do and what it cannot do.

Mosaic’s Canvas Slicer

A quick diversion first. I have been trying out Mosaic’s online Canvas slicer specifically designed to work with the Palette series hardware. They just released an update that allows directly painting models which means you can take single material objects and add color to them. Below you will see what can be achieved with this new feature. It is a Flexi Rex single color that I added multicolor to not only the links but the individual spikes on the Rex’s back in addition to the insides of his eyes, eyebrows, and mouth.

Flexi Rex model single color that has been colorized
Single Color Flexi Rex colorized with Mosaic’s Canvas

The Canvas slicer still has a ways to go in my opinion. With a little manipulation you can quickly get yourself into a situation where the slicing results in errors when it comes to finally printing.

Hardware and experience

Back to the Palette 2 (not pro) hardware. The Palette 2 is an amazing piece of engineering. Clearly a lot of time went into perfecting the mechanical functionality. When it is working well it is quite an interesting thing to watch considering they put the mechanical workings under a clear cover (I really appreciate this). Once you understand how it functions it is fairly easy to spot problems early which helps with troubleshooting.

So how is it working? For multicolor prints it works decently well. That said, even after a large number of prints I still occasionally see issues where color change is missed for a few layers as seen below. I’ve found more success using an external slicer, but this adds quite a few steps to the process.

Flexi Rex showing incorrect layer colors
White and black incorrect layer colors

When the Palette 2 is working well, however, you get some great prints like the sheep below (note the black and white color changes resulted in some slightly off white where the head of the sheep started. To fix this you probably would need to lengthen the transition amount between colors – I chalk this up to the huge contrast different between white and black filaments).

Multicolor sheep
Bahhh

Other modes like gradient and random work as expected. I do not find the graphical interface very intuitive for setting these up, but it does work. Some guess work goes into figuring out when to make changes from one color to the next with these modes. I have not tried using the continuous spool mode where it will switch inputs when one input runs out of filament, but I’ve read it does work once setup correctly. This mode could prove useful for advanced and pro printers who go through a lot of filament and don’t or can’t monitor the filament left on large prints.

Palette 2’s Flaws

First, and most importantly, the Palette 2 cannot make multi-material prints. I am talking about something like PLA mixed with TPU. The Palette 2 is simply not designed to properly handle two different materials that differ drastically in physical properties. This is disappointing because some of the early promotional materials show TPU mixed with PLA or PET. Maybe a team of engineers can get this working, but even advanced hobbyists are not going to have success.

What that means is the Palette 2 is really a single material multicolor machine except for maybe the most expert persons.

Like the Prusa Multi-Material add-on, the Palette 2 also wastes a huge amount of filament. The transitions between one color and the next require a purge block of plastic that is nearly the same size and weight of your original model. You can see with the sheep above that even the standard purge block may not be enough in some cases to clear the color. The only good news here is whether I print 1 sheep or 7 only one purge block is needed. It is possible in the future slicers will be able to purge as infill, but I think this is a ways off.

The third biggest issue I have with the Palette 2 is how sensitive it is to filament. If you have brittle filament or filament that is too soft it will snap or clog and your entire print must be canceled. I found transparent PLA can be quite brittle for the angles that the Palette 2 demands as it pushes filament through. I have had to disassemble a number of parts to get the shattered PLA bits out before it would work again. The good news here is PET bends much easier and is known for coming in transparent colors so this is a good option if the PLA you are using breaks too easily.

Finally the Palette 2 has many ways to fail due to its complexity. If a motor or sensor is slightly off, or the cutting wheel dulls, or the splicer core fails it will not be an easy or cheap fix. Luckily Mosaic sells all the parts you need to get your Palette 2 working again, but with the engineering feat they’ve performed with this device, they have also introduced a lot of complexity to an already complex overall 3D printing experience.

What’s improved

A number of firmware and software updates have eliminated launch glitches. This includes the Octopi plugins which work much better than the first version that shipped. The Canvas3D.io Slicer has also been improved. As I mentioned above you can now paint single-color models, but also the interface has improved. Some firmware changes to the Palette 2 itself allow for better filament movement detection. I’ve also seen improvements in the communication to the enduser in terms of sync between the Palette and your printer, notification messages, and connectivity. These are all great steps towards improving the product for non-expert users.

Conclusion

The Palette 2 is a really interesting device that costs as much as lower tier decent printers. If you want multi-material this is simply not the device for you. If you must have multicolor prints and you don’t own a Prusa MK2.5 or MK3 this is your only option short of buying a multi-head printer.

I think the Palette 2 is a clever device that comes up a bit short as a valuable add-on for your 3D printer. It is a fun device that niche 3D printing hobbyists will find value in. Everyone else should stick to their single color/material printers because there is a lot of fun and creativity to be had without an expensive add-on like the Palette 2.

Please see my about page for information about reviews on this site.

Mosaic Palette 2 Frist Look

First successful print with Palette 2

The Palette 2 is an appealing device for multi-material printing if it works like Mosaic says it should which is splicing filament changes and queueing up those splices to match layers and sections of layers that use different materials.

For this first look my setup consists of a Palette 2 (not pro), Canvas Hub, and I used Canvas exclusively for slicing. All of this was connected to a Prusa MK2S.

Install

Setting up the hardware is fairly simple. Nothing to build. You will be picking the right PTFE tube length for your printer and either using the included velcro PTFE tube adapter or you will need to print out an adapter for some printers. If you get the Canvas Hub you will hook up USB connections to the Palette 2 and your printer.

If you are using the Canvas hub or are using Canvas to slice models you will need an account at Canvas3d.io. If you have a Raspberry Pi with Octopi you do not need to buy a Canvas hub because Mosaic just adds their own plugins to the existing Octopi software. If you do not have either the Canvas Hub or a Raspberry Pi with Octopi you can still slice and download files to print with the Palette 2 and your 3D printer. My understanding is Palette 2 works better with Octopi because there is communication between the printer and the Palette 2 handled by Mosaic’s Octopi plugins. At this time I’m not sure exactly what that communication involves.

Canvas Hub

Setup

I highly recommend watching the setup videos online for Palette 2 and Canvas Hub. I would also check Mosaic’s website for updated information before relying on the included setup guide. Mosaic also has information on using Canvas (the web based slicing tool) which you should watch as well.

Once you’ve plugged in your Palette 2 and send your first print the Palette 2 should go through first-time printer setup. My Palette 2 did not seem to respond when the first print was sent and after some basic troubleshooting and disconnecting and reconnecting the Canvas Hub connection in software to the Palette 2 it finally started the first-time setup.

This was a fairly easy to follow process that involved:

  • Inserting the correct color filament into the Palette
  • Wait for it to create filament by splicing the filament together within the Palette 2 device
  • Feed clear filament into your printer (or really just a different filament color than what your Palette 2 will be sending)
  • Teaching the Palette 2 how much filament it takes to get the new color out of your nozzle by slowly feeding the Palette 2 output filament through your extruder until it appears out of your nozzle
  • Starting your first print

Printing

Once the print starts you will see your 3D printer output filament based on your model and in between each filament splice it will print to a purge block to ensure you are printing fully with the correct color.

Purge block changing from Black to Silver

This, of course, means printing significantly more filament than you would for a single material print. This also means drastically long print times in some cases.

My first print was not the Mosaic keychain test print. I should have started with that, but I wanted something more interesting. The result was starting a 6 hour print that showed some errors either with slicing or calculating the amount of filament needed. 

Squirtle with stripes where there shouldn’t be stripes

I stopped the print and tried another model. The two-color casino chip was far less ambitious and came out quite well.

Two color casino chip and purge block

With a success I then tried again to print a more complicated model (two color Flexi Rex). The print started great with the two colors switching for the first few layers.

Unfortunately the silver and the brown slowly swapped resulting in the incorrect color and I canceled the print.

I reluctantly downloaded the Mosaic logo keychain to print. On the surface it looks like it could be a very long print, but it was clearly designed to print fast which I appreciate. The keychain printed the colors correctly with some slight issues with either under extrusion or slicing.

Mosaic keychain logo

You can see some of the brown in the green and purple but that is because the filaments I used were clear and the way this prints fast is by only changing colors on the top few layers. Despite the under extrusion or slicing issue I rated this a 4 as recommended by the Mosaic forums. The rating system helps the Palette 2 determine good prints from bad and in this case it was good in terms of getting the color down correctly.

Issues and Observations

I have been using 1.0.1 firmware and so I expect some of these issues will be fixed in time. The Palette 2 never missed a splice over the few things I printed. The touch screen interface responds quickly and is easy to use.

While using the Palette 2 with Canvas hub I found that after a failed or successful print I had to disconnect and reconnect the Palette 2 every time within the Octopi plugin or the Palette 2 would never respond to a command to start a new print.

At some point the Canvas Hub with Octopi stopped being able to connect to the Canvas cloud. I could never get it to reconnect so I ended up downloading the files from Canvas and uploading them onto the Canvas Hub which kind of defeats the purpose of the connected ecosystem.

At the time I was testing there were limited printer profiles in Canvas. You can upload your own, but you at least have to have a little knowledge of GCode to check and make sure what Canvas is using for your printer is acceptable. I hope they can work on adding more printers to their official supported list.

In my experience the Palette 2 never missed loading and unloading filament from the four inputs. The Palette 2 also was able to predict how much filament needed to be extruded before the start of second and later prints based on previous prints which is quite clever.

The  Palette 2 hardware looks to be well designed. I love that you can open up the case and see exactly what is happening on the inside. There are a lot of moving parts, and while I did not have any issues with splicing or loading/unloading, I suspect something like this is more susceptible to issues down the road. This isn’t a knock on their design, but more that something like the Palette 2 is more complicated than just a standard extruder.

In terms of noise the Palette 2 fan is louder than a MK3 but quieter than a MK2S. The device makes  a lot small noises as the filament is moved through the hardware, but the loudest noise is when it cuts the filament. That said, it isn’t terribly annoying.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

Overall I am excited to see what I can do with the Palette 2. A 50% success rate isn’t a great start, but I am the first to admit I did attempt more complex models to begin with. I think printing a number of easy prints, like the Mosaic keychain, and rating them makes sense before moving on to more complicated models. I encourage new owners to follow this path.

Once the PLA multicolor prints working reliably I intend to try soluble supports and different materials including PET and flexible filaments. Multiple colors is nice, but ultimately that is just the start of what you should be able to do with a multi-material device for your printer.

I am hoping Mosaic continues to refine their firmware and the Canvas system. I imagine all the issues I’ve run into are things that can be addressed in software or slicing.

Please see my about page for information about reviews on this site.

Prusa i3 MK3 Review

Prusa started the i3 style printers but the printing industry has expanded well beyond the original Prusa i3 to include many i3 clones. These clones are often cheaper and many print quite good. With these readily available clones, should you still be buying Prusa brand printers?

Image of prusa i3 mk3
Image Credit: Prusa3D

I bought the kit version of the Prusa i3 MK3 printer in early March and received it early May (note: mine came with B2 parts). My MK3 was not a review unit so I did not get the fancy powder coated PEI spring steel sheet that showed up with reviewer models. I still don’t think they are shipping the powder coated PEI sheets in any kind of volume so my recommendation is base your purchase on the performance of the double sided PEI sheet instead (spoilers: it works fine).

So what does the Prusa i3 MK3 have that the Prusa i3 MK2S (and older) doesn’t have?

Continue reading “Prusa i3 MK3 Review”

MatterHackers Pulse Review

The MatterHackers Pulse is a Prusa i3 style printer with the base model including a BLTouch and heated bed with BuildTak starting at $799. The Pulse printer also comes pre-assembled and tested, and is customizable with typically one week lead time before shipping. Speaking of shipping, it ships in the USA for free which is a great deal considering the size of the box. The printer has a generous 45 day return window, and a 1 year repair-or-replace warranty.

Some nice upgrades are available including an Olsson Ruby Nozzle, garolite bed, LCD screen, and a Bondtech Extruder with E3D all metal V6 Hotend (this is a must have in my opinion). The printer has a 250x220x215 build area.

The printer I purchased came with the Garolite Bed, LCD screen, Filament Runout Sensor, Bondtech Extruder with E3D V6 Hotend, and Ruby Nozzle.

One thing to note is, while this is a Prusa i3 style printer, it uses a Bowden configuration instead of direct drive. A lot of printers use Bowden (Ultimaker, CR-10, etc) so this is not out of the ordinary. The biggest things to look out for is setting retraction correctly and handling materials traditionally harder to print with a Bowden printer like flexibles. The Pulse is configurable with a Bondtech extruder and this upgrade would help when printing flexible materials.

Continue reading “MatterHackers Pulse Review”