TAZ 6 3D Printer Review: A Powerful Workhorse for Prototyping and Production
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on June 28, 2016 |

While some desktop 3D printer manufacturers have focused on lowering costs to encourage consumer adoption, others have focused on expanding the capabilities of their machines.

In some cases, so-called hobby 3D printers have become so robust as to compete with industrial systems and print with a wide variety of engineering-grade materials. As a result, the line between high-end desktop machines and low-end professional printers has begun to blur, potentially heralding an era of widespread, industrial-grade 3D printing.

One manufacturer that aims to bridge the gap between hobby and professional machines is Aleph Object, with its LulzBot line of fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers. Through continuous improvements to its open-source systems, including the LulzBot TAZ and LulzBot Mini, the company has developed technology capable of handling a wide variety of engineering-quality filaments for a number of applications.
The LulzBot TAZ 6 is the latest version of the large-format TAZ 3D printer from Aleph Objects. (Image courtesy of Aleph Objects.)
The LulzBot TAZ 6 is the latest version of the large-format TAZ 3D printer from Aleph Objects. (Image courtesy of Aleph Objects.)

Now on its sixth generation, the LulzBot TAZ 6 proves to be a rugged workhorse that is equally versatile and productive. While the TAZ 6 trades aesthetic elegance for industrial utilitarianism, the sacrifices it makes in terms of beauty are made up for in the quality of the prints its produces and the ease with which it produces them.

Unboxing the TAZ 6

The TAZ 6 maintains the DIY look of the original generation of RepRap 3D printer kits associated with the birth of desktop 3D printers, but nonmakers will be happy to know that the TAZ is shipped as a preassembled, precalibrated machine.
The TAZ 6 comes preassembled, requiring only the attachment of the Y-carriage and extruder. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The TAZ 6 comes preassembled, requiring only the attachment of the Y-carriage and extruder. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)

Pulling the printer out of its box and getting it running takes less than 10 minutes, requiring only that the user attach the Y-carriage with the print bed and, separately, the extruder to the printer. Clearly illustrated directions will easily walk one through the process with little ambiguity.

The extruder is shipped in a self-contained module. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The extruder is shipped in a self-contained module. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

The extruder, stored neatly in its own package within the larger TAZ shipping box, is mounted to the printer by a single screw, as the X-carriage supports the bottom of the extruder. This somewhat genius design detail lends itself to easily swappable extruder modules so that customers that purchase the Dual Extruder Tool Head, for 3D printing with two filaments, or the FlexyDually Tool Head, for dual flexible and nonflexible filaments, can easily install them.

The extruder can easily be attached to the printer by a single screw. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The extruder can easily be attached to the printer by a single screw. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

The First Print

Once all parts are connected and the filament is mounted to the spool holder, the TAZ 6 is ready to go. To install LulzBot’s version of the open-source Cura print management software, one can visit the LulzBot website or use the copy found on the SD card that ships with the printer.

Upon installation, the Cura LulzBot Edition will generate an STL of LulzBot’s iconic rocktopus mascot to perform the first print. The TAZ ships with a short strand of nGen filament from colorFabb with which to print the music-enthusiastic sea creature.

Click “Print” and the TAZ performs its calibration routine, which sends the extruder to each corner of the print bed to ensure that it is level with the print bed. Next, it will wipe against an attached wiper pad, which will clean off of any material from previous prints to prevent any clogging.

LulzBot provides its own 3D-printed rocktopus with the printer, demonstrating that it has been calibrated before shipping. If all goes smoothly with setup, the TAZ should reproduce a perfect replica of the rocktopus after about a half-hour of printing.

The LulzBot TAZ 6 has a built-in LCD screen with SD card reader for standalone printing. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The LulzBot TAZ 6 has a built-in LCD screen with SD card reader for standalone printing. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

After that, it’s easy to begin 3D printing with a computer attached directly to the TAZ or, more conveniently, with the included SD card, with which you can upload a print directly to the TAZ for offline printing.

Material Flexibility with TAZ

The LulzBot TAZ 6 ships with a spool of nGen filament, a copolyester material from colorFabb made with Eastman’s Amphora AM3300 polymer. The plastic is styrene free and, in filament form, can be thought of as an alternative to the commonly used cornstarch-based plastic, PLA.

It is meant to be tough and temperature resistant, and it is FDA approved, though that does not necessarily mean that the extruder through which it is printed is sterile. It should also be noted that 3D-printed objects contain microscopic pores in which bacteria can form, so prints should be sealed with a food-safe sealant.

Eastman is one of a number of large chemical companies that has recently jumped into the 3D printing market. Like DuPont and NatureWorks, Eastman aims to take advantage of the growing 3D printing materials market, predicted to reach $8 billion in value by 2025, according to market research firm IDTechEx.
On the left, the calibration model, and on the right, the first print with some stringing between the fingers. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
On the left, the calibration model, and on the right, the first print with some stringing between the fingers. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

nGen is as easy to use as advertised and definitely has a much less toxic smell than ABS. The rocktopus I printed matched up pretty closely with the calibration print but was a little bit more stringy. Unfortunately, I was only provided a small strand of the material and cannot attest fully to its material properties.

Aleph Objects did, however, provide me with a full roll of INOVA-1800 filament. Produced by Chroma Strand Labs, this filament is a copolyester made with Eastman Amphora 1800. In many ways, Amphora 1800 is meant to be similar to 3300 but is more durable and can be considered a less noxious alternative to the commonly used ABS plastic found in LEGO bricks.
A 3D-printed model of a jet engine from GE. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
A 3D-printed model of a jet engine from GE. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

That doesn’t mean, however, that it doesn’t have a scent, which ultimately caused me to move the printer from my desk to my garage, where it could print in splendid isolation. As far as physical properties though, INOVA-1800 is much stronger and more rigid than PLA.

The yellow parts are made with INOVA-1800, the green is nGen and the gold is ABS. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The yellow parts are made with INOVA-1800, the green is nGen and the gold is ABS. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)

In the recent past, LulzBot shipped a roll of HIPS with its printers and I believe that I prefer that material to nGen. Due to the use of a coat of polyetherimide on the print bed, HIPS prints would simply pop off the bed once it cooled. Even at the recommended print removal temperature, INOVA-1800 prints were difficult to remove and required a good deal of prying.

Fortunately, Aleph Objects ships a tidy package of useful tools in a LulzBot-branded bag, which included:

  • A clam knife
  • An X-Acto knife
  • A pair of tweezers
  • A glue stick
  • A dental pick
  • A small metal ruler
  • Extra wiper pads
  • A full Allen wrench set
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • A flathead bristle brush

By first loosening the print with the X-Acto knife before using the clam knife, prints became much easier to remove.
The PCTPE material was flexible but tough; however, the material was very difficult to print with. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The PCTPE material was flexible but tough; however, the material was very difficult to print with. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)

The glue stick came in handy for another 3D printing filament from taulman3D that Aleph Objects also shipped for review. In addition to German inventor Kai Parthy, taulman3D is one of the original filament pioneers in the desktop 3D printing industry. With a growing variety of engineering-grade filaments, taulman3D has greatly increased the capabilities of desktop 3D printing.

taulman3D’s PCTPE (plasticized copolyamide thermoplastic elastomer) is an interesting material in that it combines the flexibility of a material like TPU with the strength of nylon. It’s not all that easy to use because the first layer of a print may not adhere to the bed. To ensure first-layer adhesion, a layer of glue must be applied to the bed before printing. Glue may or may not work, with some users suggesting the application of an alcohol-water mixture to the bed and light sanding with sandpaper before initiating a print.

taulman suggests the material be used for printing cosplay items, cell phone cases and prostheses. I chose to print a “Flexy-Hand - Filaflex remix” from Thingiverse user Gyrobot. The resulting print was, as promised, both flexible and durable.

Though the TAZ 6 features a wide 0.5-mm nozzle for 3D printing 2.87-mm filament, the printer was quite adept at 3D printing 1.75-mm filament as well. This allowed for even finer layer details; although eventually, the extruder did clog from using this thinner filament.

Despite hiccups linked to my own reckless 3D printing with 1.75-mm filament or issues inherent with PCTPE, the TAZ 6 is adept at handling most materials thrown at it. However, I was not able to test more flexible filaments, like NinjaFlex or Filaflex, which can be notoriously difficult to print with some extruders—hence the creation of the Flexystruder and FlexyDually extruders from LulzBot.

Applications

The ability to 3D print with a wide variety of materials lends itself to a number of applications that are only amplified by the large volume of the TAZ 6’s print envelope.

Using HIPs and nGen, I was able to 3D print batches of parts for a complex mechanical clock designed by TheGoofy on Thingiverse. The clock, which features 51 parts, was fabricated in just three print jobs.
3D-printed, glow-in-the-dark busts made with 1.75-mm filament. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)
3D-printed, glow-in-the-dark busts made with 1.75-mm filament. (Images courtesy of Volim Photo.)

In addition to large batches, the TAZ 6 can also print sizeable objects. In my case, I 3D printed large, glow-in-the-dark busts of my wife and me. Had I removed our shoulders, I believe I would have been able to 3D print full-scale replicas of our heads. I was also able to 3D print a 1/10th scale model of the NSS Enterprise, a spacecraft to be 3D printed by Enterprise In Space and Made In Space.

With the exception of the PCTPE and 1.75-mm filaments, the TAZ 6 was able to perform all of these prints completely uninterrupted. One bust was completed over the course of about 30 hours without any issue, making the TAZ 6 an extremely reliable 3D printer.

A collection of prints made by the TAZ 6. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
A collection of prints made by the TAZ 6. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

While I may have printed Halloween decorations in my time with the TAZ 6, this machine is equally capable of printing more practical objects, such as large prototypes. For instance, Verterra Energy used TAZ 3D printers to 3D print full-scale prototypes of hydropower turbines.

Drawbacks

The drawbacks of using the TAZ 6 were few and are associated with most forms of desktop 3D printers or even 3D printers as a whole. The biggest issue was that of quality control. Most FFF machines have no closed-loop mechanisms in place to correct a 3D printer as it fabricates an object.

Some machines will stop when filament runs out or a clog or power outage occurs. While the TAZ 6 does not have this feature, its nozzle-wiping mechanism is unique to LulzBot machines as far as I am aware.
There is very little not to like about the TAZ 6. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
There is very little not to like about the TAZ 6. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

If a print goes awry for any other reason, however, almost no printers have a means of correcting course. For instance, if PCTPE doesn’t stick to the bed, there are no means for FFF printers to recognize this issue and stop a print job.

An integrated webcam and Wi-Fi control, both of which are not featured on the TAZ 6, can help users remotely monitor their machines for such problems, but print fails will continue to be inherent with the 3D printing experience, regardless of what technology is used.

Until 3D printing is somehow made into a perfectly executable process, many desktop manufacturers may have more important concerns to address, such as the fumes and ultrafine particles emitted by 3D printers. Though Aleph Objects recommends using the printer in a well-ventilated space, a carbon or HEPA filter could limit the hazards of 3D printing with potentially dangerous chemicals.

Aleph Objects, of course, is not alone in avoiding the use of a filter, and recommending less noxious filaments, like those with Eastman Amphora, may help limit the problems. However, as desktop 3D printers may end up in schools as easily as they might a workshop, such concerns will need to be addressed sooner or later.

Fortunately, I let the TAZ 6 operate in a part of the home where fumes would not pose much of a threat, allowing the machine to 3D print for hours and hours on end, and I now have a couple of large glow-in-the-dark busts to prove it.

Conclusions

For a low-cost desktop 3D printer, the TAZ 6 is very powerful. With an extruder capable of hitting 300 °C (572 °F) and a heated borosilicate glass bed covered with PEI, the TAZ 6 can handle a wide variety of filaments. The large 280 mm x 280 mm x 250 mm (11.02 in x 11.02 in x 9.8 in) build volume makes it possible to reliably print large objects or batches of objects. In turn, the TAZ 6 is perfect for prototyping and even producing end parts, with Aleph Objects even employing its TAZ printers to print parts of the printers themselves.

The TAZ 6 is a workhorse that any DIY enthusiast or engineer can use to embark on a large number of projects involving functional, 3D-printed parts. The fact that it is open source means that users will also be able to experiment with the machine, test its capabilities and improve upon them with their own hacks or new upgrades from the manufacturer.

Manufacturer: Aleph Objects

Model: LulzBot TAZ 6

Material: ABS, PLA, HIPS, PVA, PLA Composites (wood-, metal-, stone-filled filaments), Polyester, PETT, Polycarbonate, Nylon, PETG, Conductive PLA and ABS, UV Luminescent Filaments, PCTPE, PC-ABS, Alloy 910 and More.

Build Envelope: 280 mm x 280 mm x 250 mm (11.02 in x 11.02 in x 9.8 in)

Layer Thickness: 50 microns (0.002 in)

Printer Dimensions: 660 mm x 520 mm x 520 mm (26 in x 20.47 in x 20.47 in) 

Printer Weight: 19.5 kg (43 lb)

Recommended Uses: Perfect for prototyping, experimenting and production of some end products, including large objects and batches of objects.

Machine Price: USD$2,500 (EUR€2,200)

Who Should Use the LulzBot TAZ 6:

Makers and engineers interested in prototyping or short-batch manufacturing with a highly capable desktop 3D printer.

Why You Wouldn't Use the LulzBot TAZ 6:

Though the TAZ 6 can handle a wide variety of filaments, it may not be capable of printing with industrial-grade polymers used by the aerospace and automotive industries, such as PEEK and PEKK. The lack of an enclosure and air filter may also prevent it from being suitable for use in a classroom.

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