Over the years readers of my articles on 3D printing have occasionally asked me for a recommendation of a 3D printer that their child could build and use. In most cases the youth in question is tech savvy and has been asking for a 3D printer. My typical response to this question has been that they would be better off buying a pre-assembled 3D printer from a manufacturer known for making quality printers. Sadly this puts the price outside of the budget for many parents.
If you have assembled 3D printer kits -- or if you have read my previous article "DIY 3D Printer Kits -- Woes and Wonders" you will understand this advice. Most of the DIY or budget 3D printer kits are difficult to assemble and to get working properly. Some like the He3D DLT-600 that I purchased have turned out to be worthless after investing nearly $1000 US. Others like the JG Aurora Z 605 S have remained in use to this day, but as the previous article details, took substantial effort to get working right the first time.
The folks at GearBest recently sent me their new Anet E10 3D printer kit. I'm pleased to say that this kit wasn't like the others. Though it is not perfect as you will see, the problems were very minor and the assembly was simple enough that an 8-year-old could do it with a bit of adult help. Assembly took about 2 hours - but part of that time was spent visiting the hardware store to purchase a set of inexpensive screws and knurled nuts to replace the ones on the rear of the printbed, used for leveling it. All in all, in a very short amount of time I was able to make my first test print with the Anet E10, which was successful using the sample PLA filament included with the kit. I was impressed - a kit that took only a few hours to assemble and that printed properly on the first try! A few hours later I made a print using Nylon 3D filament. That also worked on the very first try, showing that this printer is capable of printing a variety of different types of filament. (Nylon is one of my favorites filaments because of the characteristics it imparts to the things you make -- nylon is strong, can be dyed, and is suitable for numerous applications where PLA or ABS might fail.)
It is important to point out that "your mileage may vary". In fact, in the following steps of the article I will show you the couple of snags that I hit in the assemble and how they were overcome. Chinese made 3D printer kits seems to have a degree of variability in how parts are sourced and supplied. And because this kit comes partially assembled, there will undoubtedly be some variety in assembly issues. Again, I will show you how my kit came and what I had to do to fix the minor problems. Hopefully future shipments have all of those problems fixed. If not, I hope this guide will help you in having a successful experience with a DIY 3D printer on a budget.
Please share in the comment section your experiences with other budget / DIY 3D printer kits that are simple and suitable for use by youngsters with adult supervision.
Step 1: Simple Assembly, No Exposure to Electronics...
First, I'm not going to provide detailed assembly instructions for this printer. The manufacturer has links to videos and ships a small booklet with instructions that were more than sufficient for me. If you are new to building 3d printers, watch the videos others have made and which are supplied on the flash drive provided with the printer.
Instead, as previously mentioned I will talk about how this printer could be built by a child with adult assistance and supervision. And since I'm not in the business of endorsing products or companies, I request that you add your comments about similar printers that are easy to assemble and use, and which might be suitable for youngster with a modest amount of adult help.
The first thing you will notice is that this printer comes partially assembled. That is why it can be easily built within an hour or two instead of becoming a full or multi-day project. Instead of page after page of instructions there is a small booklet with 8 steps. In the attached photos you will see what it looks like in the box all the way through to complete construction. The photos are annotated with details.
One more thing you will notice that makes this machine a bit more suitable for youngster - or for use around youngsters: The electronics are all nicely contained in a steel box, and the wires are all well labeled and enclosed. It doesn't look like the spaghetti wire mess of my other Prusa i3 clone.
Step 2: Fixing the Minor Problems...
As previously mentioned, there were a few minor problems. In case you have the same problems, I will list the ones I experienced and how I worked around them. In each case the fix was simple and either cost-free or very inexpensive. (Unlike my experience with the JG Aurora Z 605 S, which was missing substantial amounts of metric hardware that is hard to find in the United States , and which required making new wiring harnesses...)
- The Z-axis stepper motors were turned so that the wire connector faced inside (towards the printbed). They protruded enough that they blocked the printbed from moving properly. The wire harness could not be connected with the connectors in this position.
- The Z-axis stepper motors were loose.
- The knurled knobs underneath of the heatbed, which allow you to level the printbed scrape against one of the plastic pieces that holds the frame together in the rear -- this would keep the printbed from its full range of motion.
- The supplied power cable was not meant for use in the United States.
- By removing the 2 screws holding the Z-axis stepper motors to the frame, the motors can be rotated until the wire connector faces outward. This makes it easy to connect the wires and allows the bed to move freely as was intended. (Simple, cost free fix.)
- With the stepper motor screws disconnected it is possible to access the screw that holds the motor mounting bracket to the frame, to tighten it up. (Simple, cost free fix.)
- I replaced the knurled knobs and the screws on the back side of the printbed with inexpensive 1" long, 4-40 screws and brass knurled knobs available at a local hardware store. This allowed the bed to move without jamming or binding against the frame.
- Fortunately the power-supply uses standard cables like those that ship with most desktop computers and monitors in the United States. I always have spares, but if you don't I'd recommend checking first with a thrift store. If they don't have one, you should be able to buy one at almost any computer store and probably even at Walmart.
See the attached photos and videos to see how I worked around each of these minor problems.
Step 3: Add Your Experiences to the Comments...
That's really about it. Other tutorials and even Instructables.com classes can teach you more about 3D printing, but what will make this article complete is your feedback.
Please share your experiences with this printer and with other budget 3D printer that YOU have found to be simple to construct and use -- simple enough that a child could do it with some parental guidance!
Finally, thank you to the folks at GearBest.com who sent this unit to me. They know that my articles are not flattering -- I don't hide the problems, but I always try to offer working solutions. If you happen to be interested in the Anet E10, you may use the following link to view it on their website, and they have offered a coupon code of "GBTE" for a 10% discount. Having said that, please note that other than giving them recognition for supplying this printer, I am not a GearBest employee, I have purchased from them in the past with reasonable results, but I am not endorsing their site or products. Though I was pleased with how this one worked, I can't represent them in anyway.