Crane Quad from M3D – Part 1

I kickstarted (or whatever it was) an M3D Crane Quad a couple of years ago. Received it a couple of years later, which was about three weeks before this post.

This is marketed as a color-mixing printer. It uses Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Clear filaments, all going into one head with one melt chamber. Some of you will recognize those as “Process” colors (except clear is usually black in process printing).

By mixing these at print time, the Crane Quad should be able to print thousands and thousands of colors. And it (sort of, occasionally) does.

Before we discuss the print head and color mixing, a few other pros and cons. First, the cons.

This printer is flimsy and poorly implemented in every way. Were I a decision maker at M3D, I’d be embarrassed to ship my (supposedly) fantastic print head atop such a poor platform. It is a bedslinger in the traditional RepRap/Prusa/CR10/… format. Nothing wrong with those, in fact some variant produce fantastic quality. Not this one. Cheap wheels, poorly spaced thin metal shapes, everything as flimsy as possible. Very infirm feeling printer when you handle it.

I realize that every dollar spent or saved on the internal cost of a consumer item that will ship 10,000 units is 10,000 dollars of pure profit. However, there are plenty of places in this particular printer where starving that last little bit of cost makes the usability and quality very questionable. Balancing cost and quality, this printer would benefit from just ‘a few dollars more’ (hey, wouldn’t that be a great title for a movie?). In turn, this would do wonders for the customer/consumer. Here are a few examples:

The bed came out of the box begging to create a short and damage the controller board. I used liquid tape to prevent future problems.

There is no bracing anywhere, just 2020 profile pulled against each other with bolts. Even the fundamental design gets into the act, with the spacing on the wheels being such that, even if the stamped steel were thick (hint: it’s not), the geometry still wouldn’t be stable or rigid.

The bed itself is aluminum, and a fiberglass sheet and a sheet of black ?PEI? (or similar) is provided, along with four small binder clips to hold all that together. Worst combination I’ve ever seen. Bed leveling is completely manual, and the thumbwheels provided are the smallest possible that still fit the bolt. These small bolts are hard to turn; given the incredibly weak brackets and wheel assembly that slides the bed, turning a bolt causes the bed to move all over the place. Leveling is quite frustrating.

OK, I’ve probably clearly communicated: The printer itself is the poorest of the poor.

In addition to being cheaply made, there were plain QC issues. The carriage holder was so bent the wheels would not engage the 2020 profile at all. And this holder shipped in a VERY protected part of the shipping box. There is no way this was shipping damage; this thing got packed like this. Ick.

The bed subframe was not bent, but it was off the rails… (just like the rest of the printer).

On the Pro side, they did choose a Duet Maestro controller. These are the lowest end controller in the Duet lineup, and that entire lineup represents some of the premier controllers in the 3D print industry. Network attach (Ethernet only, in this case), Web interface for upload, print, monitor, manage the printer. All configuration is done via commands and/or files, never a need to recompile the firmware. Moment to moment operation via a screen, knob, clicker on the front of the printer. Full 32 bit controller. Very active developer and support organization. Overall an excellent choice by M3D.

Summary: Good controller, weak mechanics, all supporting a color mixing head. More about that head in Part II, here.

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