Open-Source machines still have a place in today’s proprietary world.
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The Lulzbot TAZ 6
What’s up everyone, Tom here, and today we’ll have a look at the Lulzbot TAZ 6, Alephobjects’ latest plus-size 3D printer.
Let’s start out with the basic set of features: As you most of you certainly noticed already, this thing is pretty massive and has a square 300mm aka 12 inch bed, of which 280mm are usable, and will print up to 250mm tall. The frame is built from aluminum machine profiles, metal brackets and printed parts. I, for one, like seeing printed parts in here, they make the printer so much more customizable and when they’re properly designed, really don’t have any downsides over, say, metal parts, when it comes to strength and reliability. Of course, they take longer to produce per piece, but hey, that’s what that massive printfarm at AlephObjects is for! All these printed parts have threaded brass inserts anywhere a metric thread is needed and overall, you can certainly tell that this isn’t the first printer AlephObjects designed. As linear guides, it’s using 12mm round linear rails and IGUS self-lubricating bushings on all axes. The Z-axis uses this massive trapezoid spindle, i guess that one won’t bend, like, ever, and the X and Y axis use the standard 2mm pitch GT-series belts. So far so good!
When it comes to the actual 3D printer-specific parts on here, we’ve got a glass bed with a silicone heater mat on the bottom and a sheet of PEI on the top, and it’s held down by these precision-machined washers, which makes it the exact same setup as the Lulzbot Mini, just bigger. Those washers are used for automatic bed compensation, more on that in a second. The extruder and hotend are the tried-and-true Wade’s extruder and AlephObjects’ version of the hexagon hotend, with a total of three fans on the carriage, one to cool the hotend and two as part cooling fans from either side, which is great, as on printers with a fan only from one side, you can definitely tell that one half of your print got a lot less cooling than the other. The extruder and hotend sit on a quick-swap carrier that’s being held in place with just a single screw, so swapping in a dual extruder setup or the Lulzbot Flexystruder specifically for flexible filaments is going to be an absolute breeze.
The left side of the printer holds the entire electronics in a proper aluminum enclosure, the star of the show here is the Ultimachine RAMBo, still my favorite “classic” board with basically an integrated Arduino Mega. There’s a simple graphical LCD screen and SD card reader hooked right up to the RAMBo, and a huge 500W genuine Meanwell supply powering the entire ordeal.
Ok, so that’s the specs and mechanics and stuff, and if you want to dig into the details, you can look through all the files regarding documentation, 3D models, production and testing instructions and whatnot right on their servers, no restrictions there. And the files have actually been in that public directory since, like, a month before the TAZ 6 was even announced. Everything under a CreativeCommons license, of course. So yeah, AlpehObjects is pretty much the most open and most open-source company in the entire 3D printing hemisphere.
So the question that remains: Is the TAZ 6 actually any good? It is. It is very good. Let’s start out with that before we get into the bad and the ugly.
Unboxing and setup was a breeze . Basically, you take out the main frame and the Y-axis subframe, screw them together with four thumbscrews, add the printhead and then plug in the bed and the printhead. Then all you have to do is install the included custom version of Cura, which comes with pre-tuned printer and filament profiles, load some filament into the actual machine and next thing you know, the TAZ 6 is printing. Did i mention you’ll also get a fully loaded tool bag with the printer? Now i did. If you wanted, you could go from the packed-up printer to your first print in less than about 5 minutes, or you could take your time and refer to the unboxing and assembly instructions and then switch over to the operation manual, which takes you through all the steps up to your first print. Both of these manuals are super well put-together (by the way, they were even made with entirely free/libre software), they cover all the necessary steps and for anything else beyond your first print, you can always refer to the full manual, which includes a full guide on servicing your printer as well as on how you can tweak every last detail of the print settings in Cura. But you don’t have to do that -- the branded version of Cura comes preconfigured with a boatload of filament profiles, with every type of material covered, and you can either use them with the exact type and brand of filament they were configured for, or you can take each of the profiles into expert mode and edit it to your liking. Depending on the material, you can also choose between a “fast”, “standard”, “strong” or “high detail” profile and Cura will even display tips, for example should you need to apply glue stick on top of the PEI bed surface to get the material to stick. Most materials work straight onto the bare PEI surface, though.
All the profiles and the printer itself are generally set up for reliability and quality over speed, with super slow acceleration settings and maximum print speeds of pretty much no more than about 45mm/s, which i’m ok with, i’ll always much prefer a print to come out dead-on like i expected it to and wait a bit longer for it to finish instead of wasting time and filament fiddling around with the settings until it eventually turns out right.
And print quality certainly is very decent, especially on the “high detail” settings. I tested the TAZ 6 with Verbatim PLA, INOVA-1800, which is the Eastman Amphora polymer, no-name ABS, Taulman 910 nylon and esun HIPS, all with the included profiles. The gaps on the huge Amphora print were my fault, since i only printed it with 5% infill, and the layer splits in the red HIPS print were kinda expected since my studio isn’t exactly the warmest room in the house, so the only thing i could really complain about would be that overhangs came out a bit less nice than i was expecting, particularly near the heated bed, while i didn’t ever have any issues with adhesion, so i’d suspect that the heated bed is actually configured a bit hotter than it needs to be. The two 3Dbenchy prints were done on the high detail settings and they both look pretty great.
And if you’ve watched my review of the Lulzbot Mini, you’ll know that i love this auto bed leveling setup. The way it works is that when the hotend and these washers around the bed touch, they close a circuit, which the printer detects and consequently knows exactly at what height that one corner sits. For that to work, the nozzle needs to be clean, which is why the TAZ 6 and the Mini have these cleaning pads right next to the bed, in which they vigorously rub their nozzles before starting the probing process. The one thing the TAZ 6 adds over the Mini is this physical switch, which allows you to use hotends with a different length without crashing anything, and that would have been great on the Mini too, since i converted that one to 1.75mm filament and used a hotend that was a bit longer. The system still works great on the TAZ, or actually, even better, since you now get more filament profiles that will make sure the hotend doesn’t ooze out any plastic during the measuring process.
So this auto-leveling feature, along with solid print quality and the straightforward setup make the TAZ 6 the single best out-of-the-box experience of any 3D printer i’ve ever used. Yes, i’ve mostly used printer kits, but honestly, i don’t see how it could get much better than what AlephObjects provide. There’s no calibration, there’s no guesswork, it all just works.
But it isn’t just about what you see on the surface, the TAZ 6, like AlephObjects’ printers in general, are really well-done under the surface, too. If we have another look into that electronics compartment, which, by the way, has a Raspberry pi mounting hole pattern on there, you’ll see that everything is done properly in here. Every wire has a crimped end, even where it wouldn’t be strictly necessary, every connector has a perfectly matching mate, there are heatshrinked ferrite beads on the important cables and there even seems to be a star grounding point in here. This compartment has a small always-on fan in the top and air inlets in the bottom, the power supply has its own independent fan on top of that. It is audible when the power supply’s fan turns on, but it doesn’t really make a difference in the printer’s noise level. On the back, the TAZ 6 has a wire harness hub with a single detach point for every cable, and, look at that, even a pre-wired connector for a second extruder. And AlephObjects do offer a dual upgrade set, which should be super straightforward to install.
So if you look at the overall construction, every detail feels like it’s been purposefully put there. Nothing is out of place. Except, and i’m going right to the ugly here, a few certain details, which i guess i can all blame on this being one of the first printers off the line. If you’re watching this in, like, a few weeks after the TAZ 6 was released, i guess you can skip right to the conclusion as i’m pretty sure these issues will be fixed by then. If you want to buy one right now, none of these things are showstoppers and will be easy to fix with a new printed part or a software update. So this first one is darn ugly, the belt path for the X-axis. This thing is horribly misaligned in more than a single direction and has the belt rubbing on the belt clamps of the carriage. Not cool at all. It’s not something you’d ever notice in day-to-day use, but it’s just bad design and so easy to fix -- you know, just move this stepper motor a bit further down and clamp the belt differently.
Then, this printer came with a fairly slanted frame from rough handling during shipping. Turns out the bolts in the corners of the frame didn’t have nearly enough torque on them. As consequence of that, i think the x-axis got a bit skewed, too, since i got occasional binding on the spindles, but that’s nothing a bit of blue lithium grease couldn’t fix. Then, the included SD that comes loaded up with pretty much all the files about the TAZ, so not only sample prints, but also all the design files and documentation, that card couldn’t be read in the printer itself without formatting it, also it’s a micro SD card in an adapter, which makes it a bit weird to remove from the printer. And one last thing, i know i keep pointing this out because it annoys me, the clickwheel was, again, configured so that the physical clicks don’t match the software clicks, so sometimes it would even take three physical clicks to move from one menu point to the next, which is irritating, but no deal breaker.
And two more things just to note: The TAZ 6 uses 3mm filament, which, you know, nothing wrong with that, but there’s a very clear trend towards 1.75mm filament, actually, all the printers i own are 1.75mm machines.
And of course, with great size comes a great power bill, the bed is pretty darn beefy and will kick off a lot of heat with longer prints, especially with ABS or HIPS where it heats up beyond 100°C. This 230g print used up 4kWh of power, which is pretty substantial, it’s roughly an extra Euro and 20 cents on top of material costs for me. I mean, it’s not a huge part of the operating costs, at least for prints on the “fast” profiles, but if power use is a concern for you, a smaller printer might be the better option for you.
Alright, so while at $2.500, the TAZ 6 competes with many of the higher-end offerings, it does have a lot going for it. It would make a great printer for any situation where you don’t just have a bunch of nerds using the machine, you know, with the custom version of Cura, pretty much anyone with a basic knowledge of computers can print with it. The printer itself is dead-on reliable, it prints well, the documentation is great, everything about it is liberally licensed, and if AlephObjects figure out those few bugs i just mentioned, which I fully expect they will, then, for what i’m looking for in a 3D printer, there’s not much out there that does a better job overall. I guess the worst part is that, now that I’m like officially done testing it, i do have to return it. Which sucks.
Alright, that concludes my review of the TAZ 6. Well done, AlephObjecs.
If you’re still watching at this point, hats off to you, let me know in the comments what feature or features you’re still missing from high-end printers like the TAZ 6 or Ultimaker 2 or anything comparable. Thanks for watching, liking and subscribing, and i’ll see you in the next one!
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