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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Multicolor, Multi-Material, and more!

There are a lot of exciting innovations coming to the consumer/prosumer 3D printing world surrounding multicolor and multi-material prints. Lets look at some of the upcoming options.

E3D Tool-Changer

Image copyright E3D

We previously covered the announcement of the E3D’s Tool-Changer which looks to have a great motion system and integrated tool-changer. E3D has an updated blog post with some additional details including some information on assembly, updates on build changes, and other minor technical details.

One of the most significant changes is with the frame to allow bigger tool heads. They’ve started manufacturing 30 to send to beta testers. Finally, there is some suggested pricing information depending on how manufacturing goes. Expect to pay at least $1800 for a full system (some of which will not come from E3D, like electronics).

Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 Kit

Image copyright Prusa3D

Prusa announced Multi-Material 2.0 kit a while ago and has been working on improving the design getting ready for shipment in what appears to be November now.

This kit allows up to 5 different materials to be printed in a single print. This means either multicolor prints or different materials like flexible mixed with PLA or dissolvable material mixed with non-dissolvable.

The Multi-Material 2.0 kit takes five filament feeds and, along with Prusa software, determines when filament needs to be changed. So a red, green, blue print would physically move the feeder to the current needed color. When the next color is required the Multi-Material 2.0 will cut the current color and move to the next needed color, feed it, and start printing.

The Prusa team is taking their time with this new product which I think is great. The previous multi-material kit had some frustrations for end users that look to be addressed with this update.

Pricing is $299.

Mosaic Palette 2 and Palette 2 Pro

Image copyright Mosaic Manufacturing

Mosaic’s take on multicolor and multi-material involves figuring out how much of each filament type is needed throughout the entire print and then fusing different kinds of filament together to deliver a single line of filament to your printer.

Basic example: Say you have a model with red bottom and blue top. The Mosaic figures out how much red it needs then when the time comes for blue it fuses blue filament to the red all while continuously feeding your printer.

For more advanced model coloring or multi-material the Mosaic Palette does the same thing except multiple times depending on what color is needed in each part of the model. This could mean slicing red, green, blue, and yellow hundreds of times over the course of a multicolor print.

Mosaic has announced the Palette 2 series along with two other products to improve the user experience.

The Palette 2 is cheaper than the previous Palette+, and appears it is easier to access internals. With the newly added filament queue the Palette 2 can deliver filament faster than the previous Palette models.

Also announced from Mosaic was the Palette 2 Pro, designed for more demanding professional print situations. The CANVAS Hub which allows communication between the Palette 2 and your printer with the help of a Raspberry Pi. Finally they have created an online slicer called Canvas which currently makes coloring multi-part 3D models easy and provides slicing that is designed to work with the Palette series of accessories. In the future Mosaic has promised the ability to color 3D models that are not already split into parts.

Pricing starts at $499

Which one makes the most sense?

For multicolor prints, all three will get the job done (note the Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 Kit needs a Prusa MK2.5 or MK3 printer). I have not tried any of these (none are actually shipping yet) but on paper it looks like the Mosaic Palette 2 would provide the fastest multicolor solution because filament being supplied to the printer is continuous.

For multi-material prints, on paper, the E3D Tool-Changer would be the best option. You could have wildly different materials like Nylon and PVA because each material gets its own dedicated tool head. This means the Nylon head can maintain the desired temperature without adversely affecting the PVA.

The next best option, on paper, is probably the Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 kit if you have a Prusa printer. The direct feeding of five different materials allows for the tool head to change temperature as needed although with a delay compared to the E3D Tool-Changer.

Finally the Mosaic Palette 2 will be able to print multi-material as long as the two materials are within 10 to 15 degrees Celsius of each other’s preferred printing temperature. This rules out some combinations of materials people might like to use.

For Prusa MK2.5 and MK3 owners, on paper, the Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 kit gives you multicolor and multi-material printing for the lowest price. If the kit turns out to be well designed and it performs as expected, it will be the go-to choice for owners of Prusa printers. As a runner up, the Mosaic Palette 2, would also work on a Prusa printer.

For the future and crazy ideas, on paper, the E3D Tool-Changer is the only option. Keep in mind this involves building a whole new printer that, in total, will cost at least 3 times a Prusa MK3. That said, if you want to have a fine print .25 nozzle combined with a volcano that does .8mm infill, or a pick-in-place tool head, laser engraving integrated into your work flow, or some other crazy idea for a tool-head, your only option is the E3D Tool-Changer.

When can I get it?

The Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 Kit is shipping very soon. Probably in September. The Mosaic Palette 2.0 is expected to start shipping in October. The E3D Tool-Changer will ship when it’s done, which I suspect will be November-December or later.

What do I need to know?

  • The Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 Kit and the Mosaic Palette 2 will require purge towers. This allows the printer to get the next color or material ready when there are changes during a print. On paper the Mosaic Palette 2 might have a smaller purge block, but we will know more once it comes out.
  • The E3D Tool-Changer will not have purge towers but it will have to purge and wipe the nozzle before and after printing each color or material type. This is done at the sides where filament is pushed out then the nozzle is wiped across a brush. This will slow down prints and waste filament just like the two products above.
  • The Mosaic Palette 2 will only work with 1.75 filament.
  • The Prusa Multi-Material 2.0 Kit is the cheapest option by at least $200.
  • The E3D Tool-Changer will require some advanced knowledge and experience with 3D printers, firmware, and tweaking to get running. Your costs will be at least $1800 since it does not include required electronics.

The E3D Tool-Changer

How fitting for the first article on a site named “All the Nozzles” to be about the E3D Tool-Changer and motion system.

E3D, the company famous for their high quality hotends, has decided they didn’t have enough to work on, and as a result has come up with a new multi-head 3D Printer design (it is important to note this is not a complete printer – electronics, hotends, etc are not included).

The product includes an improved motion system which has its roots in CoreXY and features a single plate of aluminum with a moving cross-bar, currently made of carbon fiber to reduce weight but keep stiffness and strength. The Z-axis has a single thick Hiwin rail and single high-quality leadscrew motor screwed directly to the above mentioned aluminum plate.

The star of the show, however, is the tool-changing system where a single XY head mount picks tool heads (up to four) and returns them to storage incredibly quickly. This allows printing with multi-color, multi-material, and even use of non-hotend heads.

E3D made a kinematic coupling system that uses a servo to turn a cam-shaft that locks the head into place with better than 5um accuracy. Unused heads are held in place with a magnetic dock.

Right now this system is expected to cost between £1000 and £2000 ($1350-$2700), however, in more recent videos, Sanjay from E3D has said they hope to get the price down as much as possible. They are taking a quasi crowdfunding approach to this product where they hope to get enough £100 ($135) orders, that buy you a place in the queue, to show them this is worth the time to develop into a real product.

As this system does not come with electronics you will have to purchase a compatible board(s) which, at this time, only include Duet3D. In the future, however, it sounds like there will be options from other electronics manufacturers. At minimum expect to pay $275 for the Duet Wifi and Duex5 Expansion boards. You will also need hotends and extruders for as many tool heads as you want to use, up to four. I have yet to find out if the power supply and heated bed are included so keep that in mind as well when calculating costs.

Do you feel comfortable building a custom printer based off this base system and aren’t scared away by the price? Go to E3D’s Tool-Changer blog entry for in-depth information, fill out the survey, and purchase a place in line here!

I have purchased my place in line and will continue to post updates on this site of my progress building a tool-changer printer once I get a hold of one of these E3D systems.

More information:

Tool-Changing 3D Printer innovation: an E3D talk by Sanjay – MRRF 56min presentation on the tool-changing system.

The E3D MegaVolcano, Toolchanger and other shenanigans #MRRF2018 – Thomas Sanlanderer’s video covering the tool-changer.

E3D Toolchanger updates at #3DMS2018 – Thomas Sanlanderer checks in with E3D on the tool-changer and Sanjay gives some updates on what they’ve done since MRRF.