Try before you buy - a 3D printed extruder test

Sometimes it's hard to know if a certain upgrade is worth the investment, especially when you have a bit of a Frankenstein 3D printer (in fact, 'Frankie' is the new nickname for my printer). For a while I was kicking around the idea of buying the rather sleek and beautifully simple Printrbot aluminium extruder that they've been sending out with the new Printrbot Simple Metal models. It was $55 bucks though, and I've sunk a fair bit into my printer over the last 18 months. I love the Printrbot folks though, and thought I'd do a quick 'try before you buy' kinda approach.

So what does this exactly mean? Well, Printrbot are a fabulous company for a number of reasons; one of them being that they release to open source a lot of their design files, and their flavours of Marlin firmware used on the printer controller boards. I thought if I could 3D print their extruder model, I could test out just how good it was.

Why did I think it was better? Just looking at the design I could see that the filament feeding process was a lot easier when changing it out. The previous 2 extruder designs have made it more fiddly to load and unload filament. When you're changing filament mid print, you want to do it as quickly as possible, and without disturbing any alignments of anything. The Printrbot extruder was also comparable in design to others such as the Replicator 2, and Type A Machine Series 1. I'd seen some really nice results come out of those more expensive machines, and was optimistic about Printrbot's minimalistic solution.

After hunting around, I found that gkrangan had already created the extruder model from the plans, ready to download. The other thing I needed was a new base plate to mount the extruder on, as the current holes did not line up to secure everything down. I found that also, from G0ldmember.

There was nothing else to do but start printing!

This is a quick overview of how to process went:

printing piece

printing piece

printing piece

printing piece

The final assembly:

printing piece

A video of the initial test, before securing it down better:

The verdict - it is AMAZING. Well worth the struggle to get it to fit my poor Frankie. My prints are now much better quality. I also got approximately 20 hours out of this extruder before it started biting the dust a little. Printing the parts for it in ABS instead of PLA would have helped it last longer I'm sure.

Based on this feedback, I went ahead and bought the shiny aluminium version from Printrbot. I'm excited to swap it out when it arrives!

Suz Hinton
Hi! I'm a web developer and tech enthusiast living in Brooklyn, NY. I like to work on weird stuff.
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