Bake Off Between Home and Pro 3D Printers
I recently got into a fairly heated conversation with a fellow 3D printing enthusiast regarding the pros and cons of professional 3D printers. Generally speaking I tend to stay out of this type of "no win" discussion and rarely get baited into a conversation with no upside or obvious chance to have a civil conversation. After a few exchanges between the two primary contributors in this conversation (myself and the other guy) it became quite clear that this was not going to end without a lengthy debate.
To be fair and to protect his ego let's call this guy "Bob". Some background and a few things you should know about Bob.
Bob is a 50-something year old that has been a maker for most of his adult life.
He has several 3D printers, some of them are 1st generation RepRap printers that he got while traveling abroad.
Bob and I both subscribe to the idea that conflict is collaboration and is always healthy and necessary as long as it is done with respect.
If I am being completely honest I probably forced the conversation by childishly bragging about my 3D prints that had been printed on a professional 3D printer.
Despite Bob's best intentions to try to educate a much younger and somewhat newer member of the 3D printing community he quickly became very emotional and defensive. I see this quite often when I engage in any online discussion with desktop 3D printer users. I completely understand their passion, commitment, and to some extent their disdain for commercial or professional 3D printers. Especially those who have failed at making a home-based business out of their 3D printer due to being excluded by the behemoths like 3D Hubs and All3DP who have single handedly destroyed the desktop 3D printing as a service industry to make way for large commercial printers.
But, regardless of my own biases and personal feelings I tried to make it about the technology, the experience, and rapidly expanding needs of the rapid prototype user. So, after a respectable amount of time and a few reminders that this was not personal, I offered a challenge. At the core of the issue was whether or not a professional 3D printer actually produces better prints. We covered all the basics like size limitations of desktop printers and the cost of 3D print technology beyond fused filament but the debate raged on about quality. I must admit that I enjoyed the spirited conversation and the history lesson regarding the original inventions and subsequent improvements since the patents expired. Since we were now 30+ minutes into this conversation I knew we all needed a solution to impasse that we had reached. My idea? A bake off!
In my time as an engineer and later as a consultant I had become familiar with the term bake off as a way to test two or more seemingly similar tools, applications, or vendors to determine which was the better option. This seemed like a brilliant way to prove once and for all that professional 3D printers were superior. Our next step was to establish some parameters and guidelines to keep the competition fair.
Must use FDM printer
Must use same material (we settled on ABS)
Must print the same model at scale
Cannot use post-production finishing (sanding, solvent, patching, etc.)
Best of 5 prints - total
Must keep all failed prints
Choose the print resolution that will produce the best print with the lowest failure rate
We agreed to three weeks for the total time to produce the prints and would have the judged by our shared acquaintances in a blind quality control test.
At the end of the bake off it was clear that the professional 3D printer was capable of higher quality prints and had a much lower failure rate but you can get similar prints if you have A LOT of time to tweak and monitor your prints. Eventually, Bob agreed that professional 3D printers were ideal in most scenarios and acknowledged that it is not practical or cost effective to print your own models if you are doing any kind of volume beyond a single print. The failure rate, cost of materials, and cost of your time make desktop 3D printing cost prohibitive in the end.