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For several years, supporters of the 3D printing industry have been very vocal in proclaiming 3D printing will soon catch on with average consumers and there will be a unit in every home. However, the reality so far has fallen quite a bit short of those predictions. 3D printing hasn’t caught on as some expected not because it isn’t exciting, quite the contrary.
The real challenge up to this point is it still takes several key factors to even become involved with 3D printing, at least involved at a level where a consumer might want to purchase a unit.
- First, 3D printing still requires a relatively “tech sophisticated” level of knowledge to have any chance of effectively operating and maintaining a 3D printer of your own.
- Second, while almost anyone that took the time to observe 3D printers in action would be amazed, many would probably be just as intimidated by the learning curve.
Finally, the reality is consumers want to push a single button or perhaps two buttons and receive an immediate result. The 3D printer world is much closer to this level of simplicity than ever before, but still a few steps away.
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Will The Solidoodle Make The Big Connection with Consumers?
However, with that being said the Solidoodle 4 certainly moves the 3D printing industry a step or two forward in its quest to connect with consumers on a broad scale. The unit is a little larger than an oversized microwave and is designed for home use. You might even consider it a desktop model. It sells for right around $800, which makes it significantly more expensive than your average computer printer.
I think the cost is close enough to the range of most tech products that it does not pose a huge barrier as long as consumers can see the real benefits of ownership. Besides, consumers have no issue spending higher dollar amounts on tech products they fall in love with. So the unit has the right size and most likely is in the right price range for most consumers.
But can it offer everything else needed to finally bring 3D printers into every home? Let’s have a closer look at the unit and find out exactly what it does well and perhaps not so well.
The unit is relatively simple when it comes to the initial set up of getting it connected to your computer, turning on the power supply and even threading the filament. Almost anyone that has a smartphone would be very capable of getting the unit to this point.
However, once you have it connected and fired up ready to go, things get a little, or maybe even a lot, more complex. Once you complete the initial software download for the program that controls the unit, you are faced with having to decipher on screen command functions that most people would have no idea what they meant. The user interface presents several functions with choices such as “Go-Dump Area” and “Kill Slicer” which obviously would leave most people wondering what to do next.
I do have to give the Solidoodle 4 credit though, as the setup process all the way up to the point where you need to choose how to operate the machine is very easy. Certainly one of the better configurations I have seen among 3D printers intended for home use.
Customer Service Level: A Huge Step Forward
Another plus for Solidoodle is their customer service. Calling their tech assistance line for help with how to get started with the machine resulted in a very quick answer from a real human being, if you can believe it. Tech support quickly and easily led me through the initial tasks of preparing the machine for duty and downloading a sample design to use as a test project.
If they could provide this level of customer service on a wide scale and keep the quality of service consistent, there is a lot of potential for a big breakthrough in connecting consumers and the 3D printing universe.
Functionality and Printing
It does not take much to get your first print job up and running, especially with the help of the tech support hotline. However, the first several tries will most likely not produce a recognizable product. It takes multiple attempts to set the bed properly, adjust the extruder and make all types of small tweaks in order for the printing to become effective resulting in a product that looks similar to your design.
I think this is the part where most consumers would be quick to lose interest. If you are not a “techie” and enjoy working with this type of equipment, then spending 30 minutes making adjustments with the hope of producing a plastic pencil holder begins to lose value quickly.
However, the machine performed well and without error. Once the settings are starting to get within range of what will produce an accurate print of your design, the print quality is actually very good. In fact, the print quality is noticeably good for a 3D printer that is priced at only $800.
The Downsides of The Solidoodle 4
The unit does have a few downsides to contend with that could be significant issues, especially for home users. The machine is very loud and operates at a noise level that would for certain be distracting if not outright disturbing for most households. In fact, it is loud enough it could be an issue for neighbors as well if they are not too far away.
Additionally, it prints very slowly and requires patience for sure. While that is not a problem for hobbyists or 3D printer fans, average consumers probably don’t have the level of patience to tolerate this machine quite yet. Finally, a relatively minor issue, the printing process does create an odor that smells similar to burning plastic. It is not overpowering but very present.
Key Features of the 4th Gen
|4th Generation Model
|Retail Price Approximately $800 (check here)
|Can create parts up to 8 in x 8 in x 8 in size
|1.75 mm ABS-PLA
|Steel frame and enclosure
|Easy-one-click software install
|Comes in a 13.5 in x 14 in x 15 in case
|Compatible with Windows/Mac/Linux
|Building platform is heated
|Snap-On filament spool
|Resolution of up to 0.1 mm
|Comes fully assembled
|Uses .STL files for printing
|Includes small tool kit
|Starting filament provided
|Wrenchless platform calibration
The Final Word on the 4th Gen Solidoodle
While we enjoyed working with the Solidoodle 4, it might not be the unit that will completely break down the consumer barrier quite yet.
However, for those that are interested in 3D printing, it offers a very nice value with only an $800 price tag. The print quality is better than what we have seen with most other 3D printer models intended for home use and this unit comes fully assembled.
While the do it yourself kits that require assembly can be fun for hobbyists, they do not advance the overall mission of the industry.
If you can deal with a little noise and have the patience for making adjustments in addition to the slow printing process, this is a great model to start with. It does not require a large investment and allows you to dive right into the deep end of learning how to print within a few minutes of receiving the unit. 3D printing has come a long way and certainly has a few more steps to take before the broader market latches onto the excitement.
However, the advancements and improvements are very apparent when you have an opportunity to work with a model like the Solidoodle 4.