Ultimaker 2+ 3D Printer Review: A Simple Desktop Tool for Rapid Prototyping
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 12, 2016 |
ENGINEERING.com reviews the low-cost Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer.

The hype surrounding desktop 3D printing has started to die off, leaving us with mostly a grounded and reasonable understanding of the technology’s potential. A world in which every home owns a 3D printer is farther off than once thought, but low-cost systems still have a place in workshops, engineering departments, schools and the garages of DIY enthusiasts and precocious kids. 

One company that managed to escape the hype bubble relatively unscathed is the Dutch manufacturer Ultimaker. In fact, where other firms may have suffered as a result of the bubble’s deflation, Ultimaker has grown, establishing a North American headquarters headed by former Z Corporation and Harvest Automation CEO Jeff Kawola.

The Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)
The Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Volim Photo.)

Perhaps this growth is partially due to the focused efforts of Ultimaker’s engineers, who have improved the design of the company’s printers only incrementally since Ultimaker was established in 2011. After the wood-framed Ultimaker Original was launched as an open-source product, upgrades to the platform have occurred at a slow and steady pace. This ensured that the machines would meet expectations, without overinflating them. 

The latest series of printers from Ultimaker are the Ultimaker 2+, Ultimaker 2+ Extended and Ultimaker 2 Go. Beautiful enough for Apple to sell it in its online stores, the Ultimaker 2+ proves to be a reliable, high-resolution prototyping machine fit for engineers, designers, educators and students who just want to click “print.”

Unboxing the Ultimaker 2+

Everything about the Ultimaker 2+ is geared towards a straightforward user experience. This includes the unboxing process. Packed in a couple of foam blocks, the Ultimaker 2+ is shipped fully assembled with a small collection of tools and nozzles of various diameters to refine the 3D printing process later on. 

Unboxing the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer takes less than one minute.
Unboxing the Ultimaker 2+ 3D printer takes less than one minute.

These accessories include three hex wrenches, a USB cable, a leveling car, a test print and the Ultimaker Nozzle Kit, which comes with a small wrench for swapping out the included 0.25-, 0.6- and 0.8-mm-diameter nozzles for the 0.4-mm nozzle already installed in the machine. The printer is also shipped with an SD card filled with sample files for calibrating the machine.

Ultimaker is extremely clear in just about everything it does, from providing the source documents for its machines six months after initial release to walking users through setting up their printers. The Ultimaker App is a mobile version of Ultimaker’s well-illustrated and perfectly described online documentation. 

This small kit can be used to swap out nozzles for different resolution sizes and speeds and is included with the Ultimaker 2+, but not the Ultimaker 2 Go
This small kit can be used to swap out nozzles for different resolution sizes and speeds and is included with the Ultimaker 2+, but not the Ultimaker 2 Go.

The guide shows, with handy embedded videos, how to install the rear-mounted spool holder, the glass build plate and power supply. Next, users are instructed to load the 2.85-mm filament shipped with the printer, a roll of the cornstarch-based plastic PLA.

A built-in feeder mechanism uses a knurled wheel to push the filament through an attached Bowden tube, sliding the material forward into the extruder. This process is as simple and direct as it gets, though you might encounter issues with the feed adjustment on the feeder.

After that, users are guided through the bed leveling process, which, it turns out, is one of the most highly problematic aspects of this otherwise simple printer.

Bed Leveling with the Ultimaker 2+

While some newer 3D printers feature automated bed leveling, typically relying on a contact sensor attached to the print head, the Ultimaker 2+ still uses the sliding-paper method. This entails adjusting the extruder until it is close enough to the bed that a standard piece of paper can slide in between with a small amount of friction. 

Built-in LEDs make for a nice glow on the Ultimaker 2+.
Installing the glass build plate is an easy process.

In the case of the Ultimaker 2+, users first adjust the distance of the extruder to the bed by rotating the fun and clickable menu selection wheel on the front of the printer until the print head is about 1 mm from the build plate. Then, the extruder glides over to the front-left corner of the bed, and the user is instructed to turn the thumbscrew below the build plate until it is about 1 mm from the extruder. This process is repeated with the right thumbscrew.

This is all repeated again with the aim of greater refinement, as the user brings the extruder so close to the bed that a provided bed leveling card (a laminated, business card–sized piece of paper) moves with little friction between the print head and the print bed.

Expert RepRap users will handle this easily, as many DIY 3D printers are leveled in this manner, but those expecting industrial-grade alignment may become frustrated, and issues with the bed may arise later on in the printing process. 

Finishing Setup

While my description of the process was somewhat lengthy, bed leveling actually takes less than a minute to perform. Afterwards, the guide instructs users to print a test object loaded onto the provided SD card. Once selected, the printer heats up quite quickly and begins printing. 

Built-in LEDs make for a nice glow on the Ultimaker 2+.

Ultimaker 3D printers are highly regarded for their elegant design and ease of use. My first print, however, was not as easy to fabricate as I’d hoped. Performing a test print of the Ultimaker Robot, I saw that the print experienced some warping when adhering to the bed before the filament ceased extrusion part of the way through.

I noticed, upon removing the PLA from the printer, that the filament had a noticeable notch in it. After looking the problem up online, I reasoned that the filament feeder was too tight and loosened it with one of the provided hex wrenches. Once it was loosened, I tried for another test print and succeeded, though it wasn’t perfect.

In attempting to print again, the material would not come out of the extruder sufficiently to execute a complete print. At this point, I turned to Ultimaker customer service. 

Ultimaker’s Customer Service

The customer service agent that helped me throughout my experience with the Ultimaker 2+ was one of the most helpful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with. With a photo of the calibration cube printed with the machine, Layla was able to tell exactly what the problem was.

Despite the fact that I had leveled and releveled the bed numerous times, I had made the space between the extruder and the build plate too small. This was preventing the PLA from extruding sufficiently to create an even layer. 

A 3D-printed hydraulic robot arm. The silver is PLA, the gold is ABS and the black is colorFabb XTC-CF
A 3D-printed hydraulic robot arm. The silver is PLA, the gold is ABS and the black is colorFabb XTC-CF.

I continued to print successfully with the PLA. I was able to print numerous parts with the PLA and had enough success to assemble the majority of a hydraulic robotic arm that I came across online. Unfortunately, throughout the process, I experienced warping with the material, something that typically doesn’t occur with the normally easy-to-use beginner’s material.

When working to 3D print the remote for the arm, the print would not stick to the bed well enough to create this larger component. In fact, I left the printer running overnight and woke up to find the biggest blob of PLA I’d ever experienced.

Photos of the printer after the clog. Blue painter’s tape isn’t normally suggested with a heated bed and PLA, but I was experimenting to try to obtain good first-layer adhesion.
Photos of the printer after the clog. Blue painter’s tape isn’t normally suggested with a heated bed and PLA, but I was experimenting to try to obtain good first-layer adhesion.

At some point in the night, the print had lifted up from the bed and stuck to the extruder, allowing the material to squeeze out into the same place repeatedly throughout the course of the job. When I woke up, I was convinced that I’d destroyed the print head.

Layla calmly walked me through the process of removing the blob, cleaning up the extruder and getting back on track. I used my wife’s hairdryer to melt the PLA sufficiently to remove it from the hot end, occasionally turning the Ultimaker 2+ on and heating it up to get more of it to drip off. After about 45 minutes of this, I was back and off to the races.

In retrospect, I think that the printer may have been located too close to an open window, which may have caused the warping with the PLA, though it didn’t occur with any of the other materials I experimented with.

New Materials

PLA may be a good material for visual prototyping, but it is not durable enough for fabricating actual products or mechanical prototypes. To see how the Ultimaker 2+ handled other filaments, I ordered some samples from Global FSD, which works with material manufacturers to supply exotic filament samples.

One product that I was excited to test out was colorFabb’s XT-CF20 filament, an Eastman Amphora co-polyester reinforced with 20 percent chopped carbon fiber. Interestingly, this material, though stronger and reportedly tougher to print with than PLA, gave me no warping whatsoever. The resulting print was as smooth as a traditionally manufactured part and was much more durable than a PLA equivalent.

3D-printed with NinjaFlex.
3D-printed with NinjaFlex.

I also experimented with NinjaFlex, probably the most popular thermoplastic polyurethane material used with desktop 3D printers. While my old RepRap was incapable of handling this material without clogging, the Ultimaker 2+ had little trouble getting the first layers to adhere to the bed, and I was able to complete a successful Monsters in My Pocket–style toy for my friend Tony. 

On the left, bioFila Linen. On the right, Aromatic Coffee PLA.
On the left, bioFila Linen. On the right, Aromatic Coffee PLA.

A free sample of bioFila Linen, made with the biodegradable and naturally occurring lignin polymer, provided by Global FSD was also printed without problem. The same was true of some heat-treatable PLA from Proto-pasta. While it’s been engineered to smell like coffee and can be heat treated for “higher temperature performance,” it didn’t actually smell that much like coffee.

PORO-LAY was a very interesting filament that the Ultimaker 2 could also handle. Created by Kai Parthy, who may be single-handedly responsible for inspiring all of the exotic filaments available to desktop machines, Poro-lay is a polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) composite that becomes soft and flexible when submerged in water, after the PVA has been rinsed away.

Unfortunately, my Poro-lay object could not be completed, as the printer stopped extruding half way through the print. However, this seemed to be more of a problem associated with the printer than with the filament, as the same thing occurred with several PLA and NinjaFlex prints. 

The Ultimaker 2+ also 3D printed ABS with relative ease, once a layer of glue stick was applied to the print bed. Those wishing to use the printer for producing end-use parts may want to create an enclosure for the Ultimaker 2+, as warping and first-layer adhesion problems may occur otherwise. 

Applications

After I moved the Ultimaker 2+ to my garage, where I would be exposed to fewer fumes and the printer would be farther from any open windows, I was able to print numerous PLA objects with great reliability and repeatability. It’s worth noting that moving the printer from one location to another was extremely easy, given the light weight of the machine.

I 3D printed four scale models of the NSS Enterprise, which aims to be the first 3D-printed aeroframe to be launched into Earth’s orbit. The relatively compact build volume limited the size of the models to about 6 inches long. So, while I may not have been able to 3D print the complete 8-foot-long spacecraft, the models were very refined when printed with the highest possible layer resolution. It’s not unheard of for people to construct larger objects from smaller modules with an Ultimaker or any other desktop 3D printer, however.

Several copies of the 3D-printed NSS Enterprise spacecraft from Enterprise In Space, all printed reliably. The gold is ABS. The silver is PLA.
Several copies of the 3D-printed NSS Enterprise spacecraft from Enterprise In Space, all printed reliably. The gold is ABS. The silver is PLA.

I ran into a few hiccups while getting the Ultimaker 2+ up and running on a consistent basis, but once I did, it proved to be a fairly reliable machine that was extremely easy to use and nice to look at. The prints it produced were also quite smooth and detailed. For these reasons, the Ultimaker 2+ would be a great machine for those looking to fabricate accurate models and prototypes from a wide variety of materials.

With an entire, well-calibrated farm of Ultimaker 2+ machines, it may even be possible to 3D print large batches of objects. This is one reason why Ultimaker 3D printers are often used to 3D print numerous prosthetics for the e-NABLE community. I was also recently told by John Dogru, CEO of 3DPrinterOS, that one entrepreneur uses a fleet of Ultimaker machines to 3D print custom auto parts.

Manufacturer: Ultimaker

Model: Ultimaker 2+

Material: Open-filament system allows for 3D printing with any filament with a melting point between 180 °C and 260 °C.

Build Envelope: 223 x 223 x 205 mm (8.8 x 8.8 x 8.1 in)

Layer Thickness: 20 microns (0.0008 in)

Printer Dimensions: 493 x 342 x 588 mm (19.4 x 13.5 x 23.1 in) with Bowden tube and spool holder, 357 x 342 x 388 mm (14.1 x 13.5 x 15.3 in) without 

Printer Weight: 11.3 kg (24.9 lbs)

Recommended Uses: Ideal for 3D printing highly detailed models and some end parts

Machine Price: USD$2,499 (EUR€2,254)

Who Should Use the Ultimaker 2+:

Makers and engineers interested in prototyping or batch manufacturing highly detailed parts from a number of materials, as well as students learning about 3D printing and design

Why You Wouldn't You Use the Ultimaker 2+:

Due to the fact that the Ultimaker 2+ does not have an enclosed printing space or an all-metal hot end, the printer cannot 3D print parts from industrial-grade materials. Therefore, it may not be suitable for production of many end parts and molds. 


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