Tripodmaker Review – A Large Delta 3D Printer Put to the Test
Today we are celebrating a first here on the blog: while we have reviewed several 3D printers before, the Tripomaker review is our very first delta 3D printer review. Ever since I started visiting 3D printing fairs a few years ago, I have been intrigued by delta 3D printers. Their architecture looks exotic and they clearly still constitute a minority in the desktop 3D printing market.
That being said, deltas have been gaining in popularity over the past couple of years as can be witnessed by the Kossel 3D printer that has established itself in the top 10 of 3D Hubs' printer ranking. Hence I was more than happy to oblige when approached by Tripodmaker to test their latest machine - the Tripodmaker Black Edition.
Delta 3D Printers
What the heck are delta 3D printers anyway? Delta 3D printers (also called deltabots) use a radically different architecture for their 3D positioning system compared to Cartesian printers. A delta 3D printer uses three control rods, connected to the print head, to control the positioning of the print head. You must see a deltabot in action to fully comprehend how this works and that's why I included this video (skip to minute 4:04 if you want to get straight to the part where the machine is printing):
The advantage of the delta type design is that it allows for big build volumes, especially in the Z direction. Further, deltabots are generally faster than their Cartesian counterparts and the fact that the print bed does not move helps with printing heavier and taller parts. Last but not least, these printers are incredible to watch in action.
On the downside, deltabots suffer from an increased complexity in the driver as the positioning of the print head is not a linear set of steps due to the non-linearity of the motion. The printers are also more difficult to setup and troubleshoot as it is more difficult to isolate problems since all three axes are always moved simultaneously.
The Company - Tripodmaker
Tripodmaker is a Brussels, Belgium based company that was founded in January 2013 by engineer Pieter-Jan Vandendriessche with the aim of developing a delta 3D printer for professionals who needed a machine for their everyday prototyping needs.
Tripodmaker first started getting some press im May 2014 when the company won the first prize of the Bizidee business plan competition. The 25.000 Euro prize money allowed Vandendriessche to commercialize the first version of the Tripodmaker (today known as the Tripodmaker Classic).
But, development didn't stop there and in October 2015, Tripodmaker already launched their next generation printer - the Tripodmaker Black Edition. This new and improved printer sports an automatic bed-leveling system, a bespoke software and an overall more polished design.
Pieter-Jan Vandendriessche - Creator of the Tripodmaker. Photo © zdnet.be
Tripodmaker Black Edition - Specifications
The Tripodmaker Black Edition is an FDM delta 3D printer with a full aluminium frame and super light moving parts geared towards increased printing speed. The delta type design makes for a huge build volume of 32 liters and despite its many lightweight components, the Tripodmaker weighs a whopping 20.3 kgs.
The printer can optionally be fully enclosed but the three plexi-glass doors can be opened from each side, allowing for easy access to the build platform. The Tripodmaker's interior is lit by white LED lighting.
The heated print bed comes with fully automatic leveling and reaches temperatures of up to 95°C allowing the printer to process various material types. The bowden-type extruder feeds 1.75mm filament into the full-metal hot end which is cooled by three cooling fans.
Tripodmaker Black Edition 3D Printer. Photo © Tripodmaker.
An LCD display gives you access to the on-board controls while the integrated SD card slot allows for untethered printing.
The Tripodmaker Black Edition retails for €2.640, a clear indication that this is not your average consumer 3D printer. On the contrary, the Tripodmaker is clearly positioned as a machine geared towards professional users.
Here is an overview of the complete Tripodmaker Black Edition specs:
Price as tested:
Nozzle - Operating Temperature:
Heated Bed - Operating Temperature:
Unboxing & Setup
The TripodMaker ships fully assembled, minus the effector and diagonal rods, in a solid double wall corrugated cardboard box with extra thick cardboard padding at the base and top of the printer.
The Tripodmaker in its shipping carton - this thing is big!
Unfortunately the box arrived with some minor damage to one of the corners. The printer showed no signs of damage from the corner impact to the box but the three plexi doors that were shipped already installed each had cracked under tension. This was mostly cosmetic but it required some packing tape to get the doors back together.
The plexi-glass door were damaged during shipping.
Included in the box is the power supply, a roll of blue painters tape, a microSD card with adapter, two rollers for the filament feed system and a reel of "ICE" filament.
The accessories that come with the Tripodmaker.
Once unboxed, I installed the filament spool holder inside the top frame and connected the filament guidance tube. As a next step I fitted the magnetic rods that connect the print head to the sliding carts. All that remained to be done was to connect the power supply and the Tripodmaker was ready for action.
Getting the Tripodmaker up and running wasn't difficult but it certainly helps if you have someone to assist you since handling the heavy and unwieldy machine all by yourself can be a bit trying. At the time of testing, the user manual was still being finalized but the version provided by Tripodmaker was easy to follow and had me up and printing quickly.
Build Platform Leveling
After applying the provided blue painters tape to the bed I found the auto-leveling option on the control panel. It quickly homes the three towers and then sends the hotend to around 6mm above the build plate. There it pauses and allows you to adjust and fine tune the desired zero height with the knob control. It uses the final height that you set to probe the bed in at least a dozen places creating a height map the printer will use until you run the process again.
The print head during the bed leveling process.
Once leveled, the printer has no problems making perfect first layers. Adhesion for PLA was not a problem at all and I got at least a dozen prints from the first application of blue tape. A well calibrated first layer really takes away a lot of the headaches of print adhesion and the Tripodmaker lets you get printing without having to babysit every single print.
I did find a high area near the perimeter of the bed on some of the larger prints I tried. The prints still came out fine but they could probably add a few more probe points to the leveling routine. One good thing I noticed from this though, was that the extruder recovers quite quickly from stripped filament. As soon as the nozzle was back to its proper print height the filament kept right on flowing.
Loading the Filament
As most delta 3D printers, the Tripodmaker works with a bowden-type extruder. This means that the extruder stepper motor sits on top of the machine just under the top panel, away from the print head. You have to feed the filament into a silicon tube which guides it towards the hot-end.
The spool holder is actually integrated into the printer's frame: the filament spool rests in a slot in the top panel. The on-board controls walk you through the loading or changing procedure. After following the on-screen instructions you are left with a nicely purged and primed hotend. The change filament routine was clean and simple but there were no individual load/unload options which can be useful at times.
As I was to discover later on, the placement of the filament spool is not unimportant; more on that below.
Filament spool installed on the Tripodmaker.
Host Software & Slicer - RepetierHost or Prisma
The customized RepetierHost was easy to install on my host computer and comes with several optimized Cura print setups. Just make sure to uncheck the "overwrite existing configurations" option during installation if you already have another printer running through RepetierHost, though on my computer it installed a second instance of RepetierHost so it is easy to launch the version according to which printer you are using. It will install the necessary drivers and then you can connect to the printer through MiniUSB.
The RepetierHost interface - Click to enlarge
The USB cable is optional as the Tripodmaker works just fine in stand-alone mode from an SD card via the control panel. The menus are pretty straightforward but I missed having a 'cooldown' option instead of having to manually set all of the temperatures to zero after a cancelled print.
Tripodmaker are also working on their own bespoke software called Prisma. While most of this review was done with the above mentioned RepetierHost, I got an early glimpse at Prisma.
Prisma is a browser-based slicer that is configured for the Tripodmaker. In other words, it comes pre-set with the right dimensions of the Tripodmaker's print bed and it includes Tripodmaker specifc settings which allow you to indicate whether you are printing with or without the plexi-covers for example.
The Prisma homepage - Click to enlarge
The slicer settings of Prisma are kept quite simple. For example, in terms of printing speed, you can only choose between normal and high. Infill setting are limited to hollow, normal, strong and solid.
An interesting and useful feature is found in the Library tab. Here the software stores all your previously used 3D models and displays them with a small preview image. This is a lot more practical than browsing tens of cryptically named *.stl files on your hard-drive.
The Library tab in Prisma - Click to enlarge
Overall, Prisma looks to hold some promise. The only drawbacks I could identify so far are that gcode cannot be streamed directly to the printer (requires saving to SD card) and that the slicer is not as fast as some desktop alternatives. That being said, Prisma is certainly more user-friendly than RepetierHost, especially for someone new to slicing and 3D printing.
Tripodmaker - First Impressions
The first thing that one notices about this printer is that it is huge. It is really a monster of a printer standing at a full meter tall with 51cm build height and boasting a 30cm diameter build plate giving a theoretical build volume of 36,000 cm3! (the geometry of delta printers can only reach the max build height at the center of the platform and looses up to a centimeter of height at the circumference).
It is not only massive, it is very solidly built. The base and top are made from 2mm thick steel formed to give rigidity and to incorporate all of the electronics very cleanly. MakerSlides (extruded aluminium rails) connect the base and top firmly while also providing the linear movement making for a simple and efficient design.
The parts of the Tripodmaker are not just well made but also well finished. From the display and control knob built into the base to the black anodized aluminum hardware and the custom dual-ready hotend. The Tripodmaker team also incorporates some rather useful and clever features.
High quality finish - black anodized aluminium surrounds the LCD screen.
Starting from the top; the filament spooling mechanism is built into the frame and feeds the filament very smoothly into the extruder(s) that are also built into the frame. It allows two spools to sit side by side and feed into their respective direct drive extruders.
The one small drawback to this system is that if you were set up with dual extruders, the non-active spool gets spun along with the active spool and could quickly make quite a mess of loose filament. Also, I found that as the spool gets lighter and the filament is more tightly sprung closer to the center of the spool, the pull of the extruder would actually lift the reel off the rollers and pull it right on top of the extruder till it jammed.
This happened even quicker with my cardboard spools as there was a lot more rolling friction involved. If left unattended this would end a print so I took a little time to try to keep it feeding reliably. After a few less than successful ideas I realized I could just flip the reel over so it pulled the filament from the bottom of the spool and the reel would rotate away from the extruder and this worked like a charm. I couldn't find any documentation on the intended setup so I don't know if this is what they already do at their shop, but for me this was not an intuitive or obvious solution.
Best practice: position the spool such that the filament is pulled from the bottom.
The carriages are each crafted from a solid piece of aluminum and then anodized a nice matte black. They use three delrin V-bearings to couple with the MakerSlide, two are fixed and one is cammed to provide adjustable tension. When manually moving the effector (hotend/printhead) it felt rather stiff and heavy but in operation the printer was quick and nimble. Personally, I think they could have made the carriages taller allowing the V-bearings to be spread out more, achieving the same rigidity while using less tension.
The carriages sitting on the MakerSlide.
The diagonal rods on the Black Edition are upgraded from magnets on the Tripodmaker Classic to an aluminum ball and socket system held under spring tension that is easy to assemble/disassemble yet still provides a very positive connection. This provides amazing range of motion and is buttery smooth in operation.
The effector carries a compact heatsink with a pair of bowden fittings making it simple to add a second extruder and hotend, three ducted active cooling fans and the bed leveling probe. The nozzle has a nice high angle which should allow for some clean bridging but the fans, while quiet, are quite slow and don't provide very much cooling in practice. The stainless steel fan ducting doubles as heat shielding to keep the heat of the hotend(s) away from the print. This shielding isn't very user serviceable though. To access the heating block one would have to fold back the ducting to get to the screws holding everything together.
During my initial prints, a problem started to appear: as of a certain height, all prints started to be severely skewed towards one side. As it turned out, the printer I received had a loose connector for the Z stepper motor which caused it to loose steps occasionally in operation. This made some very interesting prints but goes to show that quality control on 3D printers has to be very diligent. It turned out to be a very minor flaw and a very easy fix, but finding the issue was quite tricky. TripodMaker BVBA were quick to help and ready to get us back printing. Thankfully, we weren't out of service for too long.
A loose connector on the Z stepper motor lead to some headaches.
Tripodmaker - Printing Performance
To gauge the Tripodmaker's 3D printing performance, I used the test protocol from the Make 3D Printer Shootout. Printing the same probes on different printers allows me to compare performance between different machines.
All tests were run using PLA, at a print speed of 50mm/sec (they define 40mm/sec as slow and 60mm/sec as fast in their Cura config) and at a layer resolution of 0.2mm. The probes are then evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the maximum score.
Here is how the Tripodmaker performed on these models:
The dimensional accuracy probe measures how much backlash a printer produces. The probe consists of six super-imposed discs, each with a decreasing diameter. Once the print is completed, the diameter of the second disc from the bottom is measured. This has a target diameter of 20 mm, the the Tripod Maker printed the probe on the small side with an average deviation of 0.4 mm. Score: 2/5.
The bridging performance test is designed to probe a 3D printer's ability to surmount distances without support material. The probe has five distances to be bridged, ranging from 20 mm to 60 mm.
The Tripodmaker performed very well on this test, it managed to bridge all the gaps with almost no filament dropping. Score: 4/5.
The overhang performance test simply measures the angle at which the printer starts struggling with completing overhangs. The probe has four angles at 30°, 45°, 60° and 70°. The Tripodmaker managed to print the whole probe without drooping any loops. Score: 4/5.
Negative Space Tolerances
The negative space tolerance test is a measure of a printer's ability to create fine negative (or empty) spaces making sure that two separate parts of a model don't fuse together where they aren't supposed to. The probe is a block with 5 pins, each with a decreasing negative space around it ranging from 0.6 mm to 0.2 mm. The number of pins that can be removed at the end of the print determines the score.
The Tripodmaker performed very well, 5 out of the 5 pins could be removed. Score: 5/5.
Fine Positive Space Features Performance
The fine positive space features test essentially gauges a 3D printer's retraction performance. The probe is a plate with 6 conical spires that thin out towards the top.
The Tripodmaker managed to complete the spires but with some connecting filament strands. The tips of the spires suffered a little due to the firmware option that has the hotend pause off to the side of the print if any layer takes less than five seconds before continuing to the next layer. Score: 3/5.
Mechanical Resonance Test
Two of the test probes measure the mechanical resonance in the XY gantry and the Z axis respectively. As resonance is difficult to measure quantitatively, this is a binary test which means that the test probe is either assigned a „pass“ or „fail“.
Mechanical Resonance in XY
The XY- resonance probe showed signs of resonance: there is noticeable rippling at each of the corners. Score: 0/fail.
Mechanical Resonance in Z
The Tripodmaker mastered the Z-resonance probe beautifully. The result shows a uniform layer pattern that does not change anywhere along the entire height of the probe. Score: 2/pass.
Articulated Makey Robot
The articulated Makey is an extremely challenging print that combines many elements of the above performance tests into a single probe. The articulated limbs have a gap of just over 0.3mm while the arms have overhangs of 65°, a challenging print for any 3D printer.
The robot produced by the Tripodmaker turned out pretty well: the arms and head could be moved as soon as the print was removed from the print bed, the legs, knees and feet took a little work to get to articulate.
The surface of the robot turned out mostly fine but it shows resonance issues around the eyes and as a ripple effect around the "M" on the chest.
Curved head surface: Score: 3/5.
Body surface: Score: 4/5.
Obviously, I printed a lot more than just the Make test probes on the Tripodmaker. I tried to print a mix of practical and decorative prints to learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of the machine.
Click through the below gallery to see some of the results:
Using Materials other than PLA
Printing with ABS
The heated bed had no problems getting up to 90°C in a relatively quick 12 minutes and bed adhesion was pretty good even on simple blue tape. Unfortunately some of the more bulky items I tried printing kept pulling up regardless of what I used on the build platform. The electronics are separated from the heating element by a decent layer of foam but without being able to monitor the temperature at the control board I decided not to exceed the 90° max temperature that is specified for the Black Edition so I never got great adhesion with ABS.
Despicable Me Minion - printed in ABS.
The stock hotend setting for ABS of 230°C was giving me layer splitting on the taller objects I printed but the all-metal hotend let me bump that up to 245°C with no worries and the finish came out notably smoother and the splitting disappeared.
Paper Bag Vase - printed in ABS.
Working with the Tripodmaker was quite an experience. Never having used a delta 3D printer before, it was interesting to see how the delta design operates and what respect it is superior or inferior to cartesian 3D printers. Still, at the end of the day, it all boils down to the same old question: is this a good 3D printer or not?
- Auto leveling print bed: I really appreciated the reliable first layers this printer gave me. The procedure to level the bed was quick and simple and the results spoke for themselves. The printer stores the settings until you decide to run the procedure again if you were to move the printer, change the build surface or notice flatness issues with your prints.
- Extremely sturdy build: This is really a tank of a printer. It is sturdy, rigid and it looks great.
- Print volume: If you want to really print big, this printer can handle it. When you are able to print objects over a half meter tall the question becomes, how large of a reel of filament have you got ready? It can handle prints that could easily take 48 hours to finish and it has the software features to allow you to pause and resume them!
- Bespoke hotend: The business end of the TM is ready for action. All metal construction allows for temps up to 285° which will handle a large range of filaments. Heat shielding helps protect the print from excess heat and also keeps keeps the extrusion temperature more stable. The cooling block is fully ready for a second hotend and the frame comes stock with mounting for a second extruder.
- Noise levels: contrary to many other 3D printers, the Tripodmaker operates relatively silently. One could comfortably watch TV in the same room as the printer. The machine has very little vibration though the long cables that run to the effector do somewhat slap against the MakerSlide.
- User serviceability: The extruder being tucked away in the structure at the top of the Tripodmaker helps keep it looking nice and clean but it also makes maintenance a bit more involved. One must first remove four screws and disconnect the wiring to be able to pull the extruder out. Then one must disassemble the tensioning mechanism to finally access the knurled hob for cleaning every time stripped filament clogs it up. Additionally, on the effector, the screws holding the active cooling fans are completely hidden under the ducting/heat shield. This stainless steel piece would have to be bent out of the way for each of the three fans to access the screws and later bent back into position.
- Active cooling: The three cooling fans really didn't move much air at all and I feel that the bridging abilities of the Tripodmaker would really benefit from higher airflow fans.
- Plexi doors: The plexiglass doors help to regulate the temperature of the print area but the way that they are implemented on the Tripodmaker causes you to loose printing volume if the doors are closed (from 30cm diameter down to 24cm) because the effector would collide with the doors on larger prints. Further, the magnets that were meant to hold the doors closed didn't last through shipping. The adhesive didn't stick well enough to the plexi such that the magnets were all stuck together on the frame.
- Resonance: On the carriages, the vertical distance between the V-bearings is very short and this means you have to apply extra tension on the eccentric bearing to keep the carriages rigid on the MakerSlide. The tension in the linear system makes it very hard to avoid resonance in your prints. Making the carriages taller and spacing out the V-bearings would let the carriages remain nice and rigid with minimal tension on the eccentric bearing. I think the Tripodmaker looses some of the advantage of a Delta type machine with this extra resistance in the system.
Without doubt, the Tripodmaker Black Edition is a very solid 3D printer. And while the machine in its 2nd generation is quite mature, it is the package that goes with it (slicer, user manual etc) that still needs some perfecting. But, knowing the people behind the Tripodmaker, I am confident that it won't be long before they get their ducks in a row.
Who is it for? The Tripodmaker is clearly positioned as a professional 3D printer and I would also not recommend this printer to the average hobbyist. Other than the price tag, this printer is simply not made for someone that just wants to dabble in 3D printing. The average user is unlikely to utilize the machine and its build volume to its full potential.
Should you however be a technically-minded architect, designer or engineer looking for a prototyping machine then I recommend that you check out the Tripodmaker. You'll get a reliable, fast and sturdy delta 3D printer with a huge build volume allowing to do life-sized prototypes. As a professional you'll also appreciate the variety of materials the Tripodmaker can handle just as much as the fact that you can run the printer in your office without major noise disturbance.
If you own a delta 3D printer, I'd love to hear your feedback. Why did you decide to go with a deltabot and you satisfied with the performance? Feel free to leave a comment below!
EDIT: after our review was published, Tripodmaker got back to us on some of the issues that were raised during our testing. More specifically, they have now sorted the issue of the plexi panels being damaged during shipping. Further, the machine's firmware has been improved and the Tripodmaker now looks to perform much better in terms of dimensional accuracy, resonance and stringing. While we have not tested this ourselves, the pictures taken by Tripodmaker show some serious improvements.
Check out the full article over on their blog: http://www.tripodmaker.com/blog/our-news-1/post/tripodmaker-review-by-3d-printing-for-beginners-22