3D Printer Review: E3D Bigbox 3D
Having been released to the market through a Kickstarter campaign project, 3D printer enthusiast really placed high expectations on this printer. So does it really deliver?
This Review Covers…
- Behold the BigBox
- BigBox review: Acrylic Frame and Set-up Problems
- BigBox Review: The Printer Quality
- BigBox Review: A look at the Bed Probe and the Click-Wheel
- BigBox Review: The Special Heated Bed
- BigBox Review: Do the Electronics measure up to the standards?
- Conclusion and Recommendation
Behold, the BigBox is here
The BigBox E3D printer that was announced back in mid-2015 is finally here. And it has come in a variety of options to choose from. There are two frame types to choose from; Acrylic and Plywood. And these come in a variety of color combinations. You also have the option of choosing from a heated bed and a full E3D v6, or no heated bed and an E3D lite6. Then there’s the choice for a single or a dual extruder, and finally the option for adding a Raspberry Pi with an improved PiCam for Octoprint on unboxing.
Any of these combinations will still give you the BigBox in its entirety. And it actually lives up to its name, it’s really big. It has a tall build space, and it is more wide than deep, plus it uses a box frame. In the bottom area you find a very spacious electronics compartment, and then there’s the large free space around the actual print are. All of these make it somewhat more massive the other printers with a similar build space of 300 X 200 X 280mm. So yeah, you will need extra space for this one.
BigBox review: Acrylic Frame and Set-up Problems
So in this review, our combination for the test machine had an acrylic frame and OctoPrint upgrades but with a single extruder, and it comes with a heated bed and a full E3D v6 hotend.
To begin with, I love the original Ultimaker machines that are made of plywood. I think plywood is an excellent material and I’d choose it any time over acrylic, which tends to crack although it prevents the other parts from warping.
I appreciate that E3D has used genius inserts to create joints between two acrylic parts. This initial step is an excellent idea for a technical solution but it still doesn’t alleviate the fact that any carelessness when tightening the screws that hold all other parts together will lead to some broken parts. I thought using my usual cordless drills, and limiting this to the lowest torque setting (about 1Nm) would help. But as it turns out, this only prevented the screws from coming loose, but even a simple action like pulling off the protective film led to a crack.
And I know I said that the inserts are a genius idea. However, there are so many of them and it takes a whole lot of time and patience to put them together. Plus there is the fact that they are designed with a plastic spacer and a square nut, a combination that’s vulnerable to falling apart easily. There are also other inserts that are so difficult to hold in place that it forces you to tap them into place instead. And have I mentioned the screws that leak their oil coating into the surrounding surface of the matter acrylic? Yeah, there’s that too.
So yes, the big box, after a successful build, is a stunning beauty. But prepare yourself for the challenges of setting up.
BigBox Review: The Printer Quality
I’m aware, as you should be too, that my test BigBox printer is amongst the early bird machines and the ones that are currently being shipped are more revamped. So perhaps some of the design choices that I’m complaining about like the over-constrained bed assembly, have probably been improved by now or on their way to improvement for future printers. All the same, after our build up pain, we were so happy and relieved to find out that the printer works perfectly.
Overall, the quality of the print was impressive. And, after installing the latest version of the Z-axis parts, the consistency and reliability of printing was out of the norm. There are one or two artifacts, but this is definitely caused by the way the Simplify 3D slices the files.
I was somehow tempted to standardize my testing with MAKE magazine’s test parts. However, after doing my research, I found out that the problem with this is, like most of the other “objective” measuring methods, 90% of the quality they’re measuring is totally dependent on your slicer settings. So well, this is something you can easily tweak; besides, most manufacturers do updates on these as the machine gets more stable.
The most important things to take notice of for a good performance by the printer are the correct slicer settings, a solid hotend, motion platform, electronics and heated bed. The slicer profile is easy to update over air, but not so much the printer hardware, so if there’s really no need of stressing on this.
Looking at my checklist, the BigBox is up to standard. Its simple direct-drive spring-loaded extruder with an E3D HobbGoblin filament drive, combined with the v6 hotend give consistent and trustable filament-extruding performance. The v6 actually replaces the widely denounced thermistor solution with a drop-in PT100 thermoresistor. The thermoresistor not only expand the usable temperature range to about 400 degrees Celsius, it is also a more robust solution.
Therefore, not only can you melt the aluminum heater block itself, with such a wide range you can even print the most demanding materials like polycarbonate or even PEEK used by other non-all-metal hotends as a heat insulator.
BigBox Review: A look at the Bed Probe and the Click-Wheel
The BigBox has a very interesting setup of the bed probe and the hotend; they are located next to each other. It also uses a custom reflection-based optical sensor instead of an inductive sensor or a mechanical switch. This is not an entirely comfortable design for use. First, it relies deeply on your bed surface. This means that even if you make a quick switch from plain glass to a transparent hairspray-esque coating, you still need to completely readjust the offset. The LCD controller on this printer is also not very comfortable, being that it’s a completely standard Marlin interface.
Still on the controller, two other things are also just not right according to me. The first one is the click-wheel that uses every increment between physical clicks as one input step. Controllers that work in this design make inputting values more complicated than necessary. Previously the click-wheel had its rotating direction set in the opposite way, but luckily the E3D BigBox team updated the firmware and it’s now moving in the right direction and it’s less sensitive.
The second thing that’s a tick-off is the extremely narrow SD slot. You basically have to use a pair of pliers to pull out your SD cards which is very inconveniencing. The acrylic part should have just been made with a bigger cutout. I believe that an improved revised hardware will have a solution to this.
BigBox Review: The Special Heated Bed
So what’s special about the heated bed? Well, it features a standard sheet of borosilicate glass that’s clipped to the bed with fancy clips instead of the ordinary binder clips. The Clips have been made in such a way that they don’t extend so much above the bed, yet they are still flexible enough that you can easily remove the glass plate. Fancy uh?
Well, take a seat. Let me now give you the real highlight. The bed itself is actually the most amazing part. This produces more heat towards the edges of the bed and consequently evens out heat on the entire print surface. And this concept is a truly clever idea because when you look at thermal images of a “classic” heated bed with a glass surface, you’ll notice that there’s a drop-off in temperature towards the edges.
There are other very intricate details that are found on the entire BigBox printer. One of these is the “cable spine” that goes from the extruder to the electronics compartment. Another one is the “dump bucket” that serves as the parking, priming, and wiping place for the hotend before every print. There are also the drag chains for both the Y and the X axis.
To give this printer an improved positioning resolution without having it depend on micro-stepping, stepper motors for the extruder, and for the Y and X axis are of fine 0.9 degrees as opposed to the traditional 1.8 degree motors. At the back of this printer you will also find a ball-bearing supported spool mount, and although this is not perfect for every spool, you can work around that and have fun with it.
BigBox Review: Do the Electronics measure up to the standards?
The subject on the electronics in the BigBox should be made in a dark, quiet room (pun intended). Honestly, both the linear motion platform and the electronics are nothing to write home about. E3D chose to use a Geeetech Rumba as the control board, and perhaps this was the floppiest choice they could ever make. In one word, the Geeetech Rumba is simply a combination of an Arduino Mega and an ancient RAMBO that has been squeezed into one single board with one or two Allegro drivers plugged in. Overall, this works. And in fact, if you plug in an extra stepper driver it will support up to a maximum of three extruders. However, it still uses the same distasteful polyfuses from the RAMPS.
When it comes to the linear guides, they are all based on the common 8mm rods and LM8UU and the longer LM8LUU. These are worth every penny, but these still don’t fit the “Hi-Spec” tagline and there are still stiffer ones that could have been used. For the price of the BigBox, I think the components are a real value for money. Perhaps if high-end ones would have been used we would have to chuck more cash for this machine.
Conclusion and Recommendation
The BigBox goes for £750, inclusive of shipping and tax. And I would say this is a pretty good offer, especially for 3D printer enthusiasts who love the thrill of building a printer from scratch and won’t mind spending 10-15 hours on assembly of this one.
However, some of the components on this machine weigh is down and keep it from competing against other more professional machines. Add-ons like a Simplify 3D license, the acrylic frame and the OctoPi could really make you question the value in your bucks.
I would recommend the 3D enthusiast especially those who are more on printing with PLA. Apart from the already active and continually thriving community even with the few machines that have been shipped so far, this printer basically provides everything anyone would need.
Please not however that as per the time of this review, only Kickstarter backers have access to the source files of the BigBox, and therefore I’m not allowed to re-share them. But these will soon be released under a Creative Commons license as the machine will soon be fully open source.