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CEL Robox 3D Printer - Review

Scoring

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 10
Demo Software was of good quality: 10
Product was easy to use: 10
Support materials were available: 10
The price to performance ratio was good: 10
TotalScore: 60 / 60
  • RoadTest: CEL Robox 3D Printer
  • Evaluation Type: Independent Products
  • Was everything in the box required?: No - The power cable was for UK outlets, not North America, but I had an appropriate adapter in my tool box. [update: Cel Robox has now supplied the correct power cable for my area] My video card had to be upgraded to run AutoMaker.
  • Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: Ultimaker 2 - it also gets good reviews, but it cost twice as much.
  • What were the biggest problems encountered?: The software is simple to use compared to competing products, but still not entirely intuitive - more detailed step by step instructions or a more detailed tutorial would help to get first time users up and running. Action icons should have text explanations that pop up when hovering over the icon of what they do when clicked. It would be great if there was a "Feed Error" indicator to flag when the filament is not fully fed in. Clear PLA would be a great addition to the available accessories. [updated comment: Note the software is continually being improved and the manufacturer already seems to have responded with new versions that address all the issues I was having. This printer is more automated and less fuss than most others I have seen.]

  • Detailed Review:

    Mine was one of the lucky proposals selected to participate in the road test of the fantastic Cel Robox 3D Printer.

    I will be documenting my initial experiences here, but I will be using the printer in many future projects and will try to update the links here along with other links associated with this road test.

    Links:

    Cel Robox 3D Printer Road Test page: http://www.element14.com/community/roadTests/1354

    My proposal: http://www.element14.com/community/roadTestApps/14932

    Robox road test discussion group: http://www.element14.com/community/inbox/dm/185299?et=notification.direct.message

    My first attempt at 3D design and printing: Tangible Badges - The 3D Tangible Badge Project

    My Heart Reactor & Crown Tools design challenge project: Sudden Impact - Crown Tools and Heart Reactor - updates 1-39

    My vibration sensor project: Tis The Season For Arduino

    My illuminated star project: Tis the Season for 3D Printing

    My phone rescue mission: Robox to the rescue

    Arc Reactor: Wearable Interactive Arc Reactor

    Trophy: Interactive Trophy

    Maple Leaf: LED Road Test - Maple Leaf Christmas Decoration - Blog 13 Dec 24

    Space Ship: The Starship Enocean Voyager - Pi IoT Blog 4

    Heart Reactor: Sudden Impact - Crown Tools and Heart Reactor - updates 1-39

    Dodecahedron: Dodecahedron Light Fixture

    Phaser: 3D Printed Phaser

     

    Unboxing

    I was a bit clueless when unboxing, which is partly the point of the following video. The value is in the comments and followup video below.

    The package includes a USB memory in a credit card sized USB dongle, where the USB connector flips out on a pivot.

    The USB memory contains the AutoMaker software package, but I had already downloaded the latest version from the Cel Robox web site since it is free.

    AutoMakerUSB1c.pngAutoMakerUSB1o.png

    The AutoMaker software can load .stl files and slice them up into a printer command steam that downloads to the printer, even as the printer is operating. Once the print file is downloaded the USB connection is no longer needed and the printer can complete the job unattended.

    Setup

    It took a couple of hours of messing around trying to figure out what to do before I got my first print underway.

    I had not fed the filament in properly even though the feeder seemed to have gripped the filament and because of this there was no "Print" button. It wasn't obvious to me what was wrong - It took a lot of scouring of the internet to even deduce what the "Print" button looked like and where it should appear. My model was loading fine, but there was no obvious way to proceed - no error flags, no diagnostic menus, nothing in the setup screens to indicate what the problem was. Eventually after a few tries at feeding the filament it properly grabbed the filament and auto-fed in about 10 inches of filament.


    Printing

    Since getting the printer running, it has run essentially non-stop for 20 hours on 7 jobs and it will continue for the whole weekend because I have a long backlog of things I want to print, and I can design them faster than I can print them.

    My first effort was the design challenge "WINNER" badge linked above. It was not able to print the text section of the badge, possibly because the text was too small or possibly because the heat was not optimal. I tried it at both normal and fine resolution with white PLA, but neither worked well. It will take some investigation to see if it is possible to print at that size successfully.

    My third print turned out perfectly, but I was hoping the 2 inch dome I was printing in white PLA would turn out more translucent since it will be illuminated from inside by an LED.

    Since I couldn't get Robox PLA reels in clear, I bought a reel of clear PLA from a third party and rigged it to feed from an external axle (because the hubs are incompatible). This worked well as you can see in the video below.

    Here are some closeups of the filler webbing set to 40% to conserve plastic and the overhang stranding in the interior plus a shot of the exterior finish - this was a normal finish, not fine.

    webbing.jpg

    threads.jpg

    NanoTron1.jpg

    Click image for a demo.

    Note that this material is "clear" PLA which shows a lot more structure than the opaque PLA materials.

    One of the projects I proposed to work on with this printer was enclosures for Enocean sensors:

    ClearCases.jpg

    Click image to view video.

    Note the clear PLA allows light to reach the solar cells while completely enclosing the sensors.

     

    Another project that I proposed was to make a case for the clock version of the Henrietta Project.

    This case took over 8 hours to print because I printed it with a solid 100% fill (I wanted to drill and tap screw holes and that works better in solid fill)

    However, the printer performed flawlessly and you can see the results below.

    HenriettaPlasticCase1.jpg

    Click image to view video.

    HenriettaCase1a.jpg

    Here I replaced the clear acrylic faceplate with a printed PLA faceplate to see if it looked better. It is great to have a 3D printer so things like this can be tried on a whim.

    Conclusions

    The Cel Robox 3D printer is phenomenal. It makes a huge difference in transforming my projects from crude and boring rectangular black boxes into aesthetically attractive and interesting systems. The learning curve is well worthwhile and this machine has been designed to keep it to a minimum. So far I have not had to think about or learn about calibration - I just import an STL file and start printing. As far as cost goes, for most of my work this machine effectively replaces a whole machine shop full of far more expensive equipment. The results are far superior to any other home-made solutions both in aesthetics and functionality, and although the printer can take hours to complete a print, the labour of designing the item is actually less than the labour involved in manually hacking some other enclosure together with appropriate mounting and cutouts (both time-wise and physical effort-wise).

    One general note is that clear PLA is an important material in many applications where lighting effects or internal illumination are desired and it also allows you to see internal hidden fit and tolerance of finished parts.

    If I had known how strong the plastic was and how easy it is to get decent results, a 3D printer would have been much higher on my wishlist. It is already hard to imagine how I could ever get along without a 3D printer. I do dozens of projects every year and this printer will feature in most of them, so stay tuned for future blogs.

     

    Update: The Robox has been running for 2 years now - it runs every week, sometimes several objects per weekend. It has lasted amazingly well - I have been through many kg of pla. I am still extremely happy with the printer and now find it to be an indispensable tool. It has dramatically changed how I do things and greatly improved my performance.


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