Robo 3D is one of the most famous, low-cost 3D printers on the US market. Its story began in February 2013, with a successful Kickstarter campaign, when the company gained a nearly $650,000 grant. From the start, the low price and the original, distinctive, white housing were the 3D printer’s characteristics. It was aimed at home users and small businesses who wanted an easy and simple way to become inducted into the 3D printing technology.

Today, Robo 3D is a recognized brand, present in most large sales network in the US, including Amazon. Brayden Moreno’s devices, next to Printrbot and Lulzbot, are the second best selling group of American low-cost 3D printers (Makerbot and Cubify from 3D Systems rule supreme in the first one). Robo 3D is present in the home but also at schools and universities. In Poland, the company’s 3D printer first appeared in 2014 and, starting this year, they have been distributed by Robo 3D Europe, based in the UK. Recently, the company’s 3D printers have also become part of the ABC Data’s offer – one of the largest electronics distributors in Europe.

One Robo 3D R1 has been in our office since early spring. During this time we have had our ups and downs with the 3D printer, but eventually we found the ideal application for it and can not imagine working without it. However, it is not a 3D printer for everyone… Like any device of this type, it has its own specific limitations, and it is important to be aware of them before a possible purchase. On the other hand, its properties make it easy to turn a blind eye to the various details and use it for the tasks it is most suited for.

Robo 3D R1

The 3D Printer has a relatively large build size, which translates into its big dimensions. Simultaneously, it is very light and handy – the casing is made of plastic, and when it is removed, it turns out that it conceals a fairly traditional RepRap construction. This great advantage of the design (discussed further below) is that it makes Robo 3D a machine which is very easy to service. This also results in another advantage – the 3D printer is very easy to use and does not require special skills to start working.

The automatic build plate calibration is a very useful feature. You do not need to spend hours (days) on mastering the art of the manual calibration “with a business card”. On the other hand, it is an increasingly common functionality among 3D printers, therefore, one might say that Robo 3D simply does not lag behind the others in this respect.

The 3D printer costs 999 € net (1228,77 € gross), which is 4200 PLN net (about 5160 PLN gross).

Technical specifications:

  • build size: 25 x 22 x 20,3 cm
  • acrylic heatbed
  • 3D printing with: ABS, PLA, PLA composites, NinjaFlex, rubber, HIPS, PVA, TPE
  • filament diameter: 1.75 mm
  • nozzle diameter: 0.4 mm
  • software: MatterControl or any other open-source
  • communication: USB
  • operating system: Mac OS X, Windows
  • autocalibration of the build plate
  • lighting of the build plate.

1. Getting started

The 3D Printer arrives in a very neat, colorful box, typical of… 2D printers or game consoles. The device is professionally boxed. It comes with a packet consisting of tools, wiring, a microSD card with a USB reader, a blue filament roll and a “starting guide”. Additionally, the microSD card contains a video tutorial with instructions on how to start working and the most important problem solutions. It is quite useful and I recommend everyone to become familiar with it before printing.

Before connecting the 3D printer to electricity, make sure that the power input switch at the back is on 230V (in Europe) – this way you will avoid a potential accident… When the 3D printer is plugged in, install the software (MatterControl is recommended – a great program, described below) and configure it on your computer. The configuration is simple – give a name to the 3D printer and carry out the installation by clicking on the following steps.

Installing the filament is also very easy: first, the MatterControl warms up the printhead to a certain temperature, then, push the tip of the filament into the hole in the extruder and click EXTRUDE in the program. The material is drawn into the 3D printer’s head and in a moment a thin strand appears at the tip.

An important thing that needs to be set on the computer prior to the print launch: since the communication with the PC takes place via the USB, the computer must be on at all times. Disconnecting the 3D printer from the computer causes its disruption. The same happens if… the computer goes into sleep mode. This is why you need to disable this option in your computer – unless you wish to sit next to it during printing and keep moving the mouse so that it does not go to sleep…

Two useful things you should print out at the beginning of the work:

  • the filament in Robo 3D is mounted on an arm which is fastened at the back of the 3D printer; although this solution is not bad, it is better still to place the filament on top of the 3D printer, by means of two printed arms; they can be downloaded from Thingiverse
  • the 3D printer lies virtually flat on a table (it has really short legs); unfortunately, the screws at the bottom of the casing tend to scratch the surface of your table or desk; therefore, we have printed four special pads that eliminate this problem. Like with the mounting of the filament – it is not essential, but useful, especially if you know that the 3D printer will often be shifted or moved from place to place.

2. Working with the 3D printer

Basically, working with Robo 3D is maintenance free. Run the printout, and it is simply printed. It sounds prosaically, and in fact it is so. From time to time, however, there may be some surprises…

The first problem I encountered, occurred when replacing the filament. After removing the old and installing the new filament, it turned out that it rolled up, and instead towards the head compartment it went sideways, tightening around the extruder wheel. Its removal did not cause me much trouble, but it was not the only time it happened. Therefore, when placing the filaments you should make sure the filament comes out of the head. If not, there is a possibility it rolled up again.

I had more trouble when I tried to add filament during the 3D printing. When the old filament was running out, it was not pulled completely into the head, and when I inserted the new one… I blocked both of them. At this point a screwdriver intervention was necessary. I started with removing the casing, which in fact turned out to be completely unnecessary. All I needed to do was to loosen the screws on the filament knurl’s holdfast and remove both questionable pieces of material. On one hand it proves that filaments should not be mixed during 3D printing, on the other hand – servicing Robo 3D is really trivial.

The next issue is how to keep the knurl clean of filament remains. When the prints no longer come out consistently, remove the holdfast and clean the bolt. It happens rarely, but it is worth remembering before you start writing an email to the customer service.

The final thing that may quite unexpectedly happen is… the 3D printer’s / MatterControl’s crash during printing. It happened to me two or three times. One time, the 3D printer restarted after a long time. It is theoretically possible to insert a micro SD card into Robo3D, but it is very uncomfortable and probably impossible without tweezers (the card opening is hidden deep under the casing), and secondly, it will not do you much good, because it would require an LCD panel which is just not there.

Besides that, there is one more detail that could prove troublesome for novice users… How to activate the automatic calibration. When you resume printing (either a new print or restarting after a failed one), the 3D printer begins working immediately, without checking the plate’s height. To avoid this, before you start working, move the head and the plate in each axis. In other words – raise the head a little in the Z-axis, move it a little to the left or to the right in the X-axis, and then move the plate forward or backward in the Y-axis. After this procedure the auto-calibration should “click”. It is a bit silly and annoying, but such is unfortunately this printer’s quaintness.

Oh, and before you start choosing a model for 3D printing and begin to print, start with heating up the head and the build plate – it takes a terribly long time… just as long as in Zortrax… So, when you turn on the 3D printer, the first thing you should do is turn the heating on, and only later move on to the selection of the model, the print settings etc. In fact, there is a chance that if you do, you still might need to wait a while before printing begins.

3. Printout quality

It varies… At first, the printouts came out very well. However, after a few trips by car to events, the Z axis started to go awry. The edges of the prints became “serrated” and began to resemble the quality of printouts from the first, self-assembled RepRap. A visit to the service solved this problem. Though, in the end we should keep in mind that Robo 3D is not Zortrax, Monkeyfab or Up!…

Robo 3D’s domain are the PLA printouts. For the home or the school it is an optimal solution, for the business – not necessarily so. Of course, companies and professionals would appreciate working with Robo 3D, but there is no denying that there are more interesting solutions on the market – especially if you intend to print mainly from ABS.

4. Software

This is one of Robo 3D’s biggest strengths. The company dedicates MatterControl program for the printer. Although it is open source, it works very well with the device. On one hand MatterControl very easy to use, on the other hand it has a number of additional settings which allow you to configure even the finest print parameters. The whole thing is in Polish.

At first, we can see the print queue, or a list of 3D models which have been recently printed. Each model will be there as long as it is on the disk of your computer (and in the same directory from which it was uploaded). The LIBRARY is a place where you can upload your own 3D models (by default it includes the models provided by Robo 3D), and HISTORY is a list of all the recent prints, along with the time of printing.

The highlighted 3D model appears in the right window. We can resize, rotate, flip, group (if you want to print multiple models simultaneously), and automatically arrange it on the table.

After switching to the ADVANCED SETTINGS, we access the 3D printer’s controls (the CONTROL tab), with a possibility to adjust the “step” by 1/10/100 mm.

The SETTINGS tab enables us to change all the parameters of 3D printing for a given material. The CONFIGURATION tab is only for the settings of the program itself.

5. Summary

Robo 3D is a printer which is very easy to use, meant for home users and schools. We use it for low-volume production of various key chains and gadgets, as well as for all kinds of shows, events, fairs and trainings. It is an ideal 3D printer for mass sales – it has a nice, attractive packaging, it is presentable, it is a cakewalk to install and get started with.

Most users will find it possible to service it on their own – and even if a fault would surpass their capabilities, the company service will solve it efficiently. Besides, Robo 3D’s service is the added value of the product itself, as the people responsible for it are incredibly kind and helpful.

Will Robo 3D be used by professionals and businesses? There is a chance it will, as long as the prints are made from PLA. However, it should be clearly understood that the actual place of the device is in the home or at schools. That was Brayden Moreno’s sales model from the beginning and it is there that most of his devices are shipped to.

Paweł Ślusarczyk
CEO of 3D Printing Center. Has over 15 years' experience in buisiness, gained in IT, advertising and polygraphy. Part of 3D printing industry since 2013.

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