For the last few months I have been using a BeeTheFirst 3D Printer to produce cases for publications (above) that accompanied my last exhibition Dead Cat Bounce. I have been using the machine fairly intensively during this time and wanted to share some user feedback on the printer and the merits of 3D printing as a whole.
The home 3D printing movement is taking a while to get going, but after having one in the house I can safely say that it is very useful tool to replace things that break and design custom items like brackets, hoover nozzles, containers and stands for electronics. I think at the moment the main factors halting the exponential rise of consumer grade 3D printers are the cost of the initial unit (which will almost undoubtedly come down dramatically over the next few years), the fact that the user needs to be competent in 3D Design software (otherwise you are pretty much limited to other people’s designs) and thirdly filament limitations. In terms of 3D design skills, there are some great apps in development which make designing in 3D more intuitive and natural, so hopefully they will help to address this issue if learning to 3D model using software like Rhino, Sketchup or Solidworks isn’t your thing, and filament wise there is now food safe filament from ColorFabb which will make producing safe kitchen items possible. In the future I am hoping for filaments that are completely water tight without the need for any extra treatments or processes as at the moment everything I have tried has been slightly porous, making it OK for objects that just interact with liquids but not suitable for actual water containers such as vases or cups.
The BeeTheFirst 3D Printer
The printer has a slick compact look and fits on a desk without being intrusive. It is very easy to unbox (included is a free BEE t-shirt) and set-up, possibly my favourite feature of the machine is the magnetic spool holder and magnetic print bed design. The means removing the print bed to access your prints and changing spools is no hassle and very swift. The prints are great quality even on the low quality setting, which is probably the one I use the most for general day-to-day prints. It also stays calibrated for a surprisingly long time, so you don’t need to faff on with levelling the bed very often, I regularly go 15-20 prints with no problems. Below are some images of items I have printed out of need rather than novelty. From left to right, there is a vacuum cleaner nozzle (as my flat came with a vacuum but no nozzles), a gravel guard with a fish motif for my aquaponics system, an pad stand and various desk tidies. All these items were printed at 300 microns as I was looking was mainly for functionality and speed, but as you can see they still came out with a nice finish. The header photo (above) features a custom box created for Private Deck and was printed at 100 microns and provides a smoother edge.
The printer’s accompanying software ‘BEESOFT’ which can be downloaded from their website (I am currently using the 3.12.0 BETA version) is pretty straightforward to use. You can now print autonomously and can disconnect the printer after the initial ‘transfer’ time, which is a major plus as previously my printer nozzle would slow down if I had lots of programs running on my computer at once causing the filament to blob. Luckily this is no longer an issue and you can print with the knowledge that if you computer decides to give up, you will still get your 3D print.
There are plenty of print adjustment options to experiment with, you can select from a few different layer heights between 50 – 300 microns and the density of the print is fully adjustable from 0 – 100. I tend to stick on the low quality micron setting if I am making functional objects as the printing time in much reduced, however if I want to achieve a more polished look I tend to plump for 100 microns. At present I find the very fine setting (50 microns) is just too slow to make it practical for larger prints or multiples.
One thing to note is that the BeeTheFirst only takes the 1.75mm BEEVERYCREATIVE PLA filament. Spool size is smaller than average but also a bit cheaper. You get 330 grams of the filament, which as it’s PLA based is biodegradable, a plus point compared to ABS. At the moment you can get yellow, turquoise, white, orange, black, transparent, neon green, red, silver, blue, fuchsia and olive green which should cover most printing needs. If like me you are printing lots of multiples, you might find yourself changing the spools quite regularly, this is very easy and quick (you can also change spools mid print) due to the magnetic design and easy loading. It would be nice however in the future if BEEVERYCREATIVE decided to sell bigger spools perhaps on future models (especially if the print bed was larger).
Commons Problems I Have Experienced
Tangled Filament: A number of times my print has stalled due to the filament being tangled. As it is coming off the spool, overlapping winds mean the filament can no longer load. I can see on the BEEVERYCREATIVE website that they have released lots of new filaments so perhaps this was a problem of the original filaments which I am mostly using.
Snapping Filament: In a few rare cases the filament has snapped whilst coming off the spool and entering the body of the printer, I am not sure why as the filament has not been under excessive tension when this has occurred. When this happens you just have to manually thread the filament in until it rejoins the heated nozzle.
It is worth saying that I have had VERY FEW nozzle blockages during day-to-day usage. If you do get a blockage (mostly caused by not unloading the filament straightaway after you’ve finished printing) you have to unscrew the top section of the printer and free the filament using the ‘Unblock’ function in the maintenance menu on BEESOFT. This is not a big deal, and only made slightly laborious by the fact that unscrewing everything takes a little time.
BeeThe First Key Tech Specs
Max. Printing Volume:
190mm x 135mm x 125mm
50 – 300 microns
100 – 120 VAC 3.0A 50 – 60 Hz
200 – 240 VAC 2.0A 50 – 60 Hz
All in all, the BeeTheFirst is a straightforward and easy-to-use 3D printer that produces great prints without much hassle. It is great for a casual user who wants to print household items and experiment with what this medium has to offer. I am looking forward to seeing the evolution of the company and what the future holds in terms of software and hardware improvements and other machines that they release. If you want to see some time lapse footage of the printer in action please visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glcqiFI3nLM
BeeTheFirst 3D Printers can be purchased in the UK from Hawk 3D Proto