Hello everyone! By now you probably have seen me post around the form. I've probably posted in a thread that you created! I found the AXIS MakerTech 3D Kickstarter campaign as I find all the campaigns I back, by trawling through the site looking for cool things. I was intrigued not so much for the cost of the printer but for the ability to print two different materials at the same time.
I have been wanting to write a review of the Kickstarter campaign and the printer for some time. However, before I did so, I wanted to be able to fully test and try each part of the printer and all the upgrades that I purchased. Now that I've gone through each portion of this kit I feel it's time for me to give my review of the AXIS printer. As an advance notice, I'm trying to be completely fair in this review even if there are points where it may appear that I'm using it as a cathartic device for relieving some of my anger with the printer.
The Kickstarter Campaign
As mentioned I was really interested in the printer for dual extrusion. Finding the printer on the Kickstarter only meant that I was interested. I next had some research. I quickly found MakerTech's site and that they sold a nice looking Proforge printer. This assured me that they were able to deliver a product. Considering my research on the company done I backed the project.
I have backed 40+ campaigns on Kickstarter. I've had less than a handful fail and another similar amount that gave me a bad overall impression. I really have to give MakerTech credit here. From my standpoint they handled the campaign very well. Back at the beginning of the year who thought that we'd have a global standstill on trade because of this pandemic? Even still, at one point it only looked like a bump in the road. MakerTech communicated effectively. They gave monthly updates and were very upfront about where things were in progress. From the time when they indicated that shipping to US backers would occur and when I got the printer was acceptable and anticipated.
Overall, I give MakerTech high marks for a well run campaign. I have no complaints and thought that it was definitely one of the better campaigns that I've backed on Kickstarter. Kudos!
The AXIS As A Kit
Due to the pandemic I had a lot of down time with respect to my normal hobby, RC sailplanes. I had really wanted to get into 3D printing, mainly to supplement the other. The AXIS was to be my first printer. I decided to buy another cheap printer so to acquaint myself with the process of designing and printing parts when the shipping became an issue with regard to the parts for the printer . The printer I chose was pretty much preassembled. I had it together within an hour. This was with me double and triple checking alignment, etc. Realizing that I was completely hooked with this new hobby I immediately began learning as much as I could about everything in the 3D printer world. I upgraded and tweaked the printer heavily. This allowed me to learn a lot about how printers function and how the firmware makes the whole process go.
Having the cheap printer working well by the time the AXIS showed up was a huge advantage. Upon opening the box, a very well packaged box I might add, I was not daunted by the parts. Actually, I should say that the boxing of components into labeled boxes and bags with dimensionally accurate pictures of screws and other items was really welcomed! It was also nice to have guides that could be annotated by other users.
Overall I thought the kit was really well prepared. I found no major issues in assembling the kit. As with any assembly there were hiccups and backtracks as well as some minor issues. Again, as I had experience with tweaking another printer, it wasn't hard for me to overcome some of the small roadblocks that others encountered. The minor annoyances with some wires being short or having to flip the LCD plug were pretty easy to get past. My largest annoyance with the kit was the lack of an a second static linear guide for the z-axis. This was replaced with a third eccentric.
I did have some component failures which were annoying. I was receiving TMC comm. errors with respect to some of the TMC2208's that I had. I didn't really get to troubleshoot them as the MKS Gen L v2.0 board that came with the kit died not long after I had it installed. Having been playing with upgrades on my other printer I was lucky and had a BigTreeTech SKR 1.4 Turbo. I decided to not bother with any of the stock stepper drivers and went with 5 TMC 2209 drivers that I also had available. This allowed me to get the printer up and running after modifying the inductive probe wiring to work off of 5v.
As for the quality of the components in the kit I felt there were some pluses and minuses. The MKS Gen L v2.0 board is not a bad board. It sucks that I got a lemon, but that can happen to any piece of electronics that you buy. The same could be said for the TMC drivers. In a perfect scenario MakerTech could have flashed a base firmware on each mainboard and did a quick QC on the drivers. However, that requires time, which had already been expended with the pandemic, and also personnel to do the check, which probably would have added to the cost of the kit. The same could be said about the short cables and incorrectly reversed ends. Not a deal breaker and not really out of the expectations for such a budget printer. The stepper motors themselves appear to be of good quality. It was nice to have an external mosfet for the heated bed in order to take the load off the mainboard. The power supplies were a bit on the paltry side and can be labeled as a disappointment. I don't care for the fans that were used for the case and hotend. The hotend itself, a E3D clone, was said to be all-metal, but clearly had the PTFE tube go to the nozzle, adding another disappointment.
3D Printing With The AXIS
After watching the videos on the Kickstarter campaign page I had good hope on the quality of the prints that would be achieved. Looking at the Proforge printer that MakerTech makes I had no reason to believe that the AXIS would be much different. In reality, it couldn't have been more different.
Upon assembly it was immediately known that due to the printer's motion design that there would be a lot of work to be done in order to get the printer to produce acceptable results. This forum is full of threads attempting to resolve these issues or provide tips and help on how to make the printer better. This is probably where you've seen me post!
I could rehash most of those posts here, but what it boils down to is that the AXIS, while on paper looks acceptable, just doesn't deliver on what it sets out to do. I have no doubt that someone reading this will have their printer setup to the point where they're able to get something acceptable to come off, but I can tell you now, they are one of the lucky ones. I have collaborated with users on the forum on methods to physically make the printer better. I started off trying to keep the modifications to a degree that almost anyone could do them. I started with attempts at changing the friction mounts to using various sized bearings with cups to guide the build plate. I changed the lead screw coupler to an aluminum one. The lead screw and the nut that guides it were swapped out. I removed the lead screw bracket and made several attempts at designing brackets to keep it aligned with bearings. These only provided small changes that really had no marked improvement.
The modifications then turned to trying almost anything. I've switched from the friction guides on the x and z axis to linear rails. The redesigning of motion systems and belt routing had to be done. I purchased a borosilica glass build surface in order to insure a flat, level plane for the printer to print upon. I replaced the thermistor in an attempt to mitigate constant thermal runaway errors. The power supplies were replaced with a Mean Well LRS-350. In the end I sunk over an additional $170 into the kit. This amount doesn't include the items that I already had on hand that I had to use to supplement the kit, a mainboard, stepper drivers, various connectors, etc.
I have also scoured through documentation for the Marlin firmware and slicer settings trying to come up with the best results. To say that I've flashed a few versions of the firmware would be an understatement. I mounted a micro SD extension so that I could flash to the mainboard without having to turn the printer over every time and insert the card! In the end the level of effort I put in didn't generate a large difference in the output of the printer.
Outside of the printer itself are the issues I have with the slicer recommended by MakerTech, their version of Cura. This had been a concern of mine during the campaign. I had even requested that they submit a PR to Ultimaker's repo so that it would be easier to keep up to date and work better in an ecosystem were users had other printers. In the end I found their version a little more frustrating. The coexistence with it and my "mainline" version of Cura caused issues. This was problem when Ultimaker release 4.7. I then had issues with the loss of my entire profile for my other printer and the material properties that I had been cataloging. I tried using Prusa Slicer as well in order to tame some of the settings that I wanted to try in order to get better prints. This was more of a headache. This isn't a direct reflection on MakerTech since they don't recommend that slicer.
I opted to get all the upgrades. At the time I thought this would be the first printer I would own. I researched each of the options and knew that I would want or "need" them. Out of all of them I think the heated bed and LCD are the best and should be included as a standard. The LCD is literally a must have. Using pronterface to control the printer outside of setup is just painful. You could argue that you could do everything via Octoprint but still, there are a lot of setup items that can be much better handled via the LCD. With respect to the heated bed, there are plenty that say that a build-tack type surface with no heat will still have PLA adhere. However, I would caution to say that it's much more likely first timer and cost conscious users would want to be able to not have to worry with constant first layer adhesion issues.
I was most disappointed in the dual extrusion upgrade. This is what really attracted me to this printer. Granted I haven't tried more than a few times to get it to work. I gave up after having what seemed like really basic issues. Jams and settings just didn't seem to be something I could overcome. The piece from TriangleLabs just doesn't seem to get good reviews or marks. When I saw TeachingTech on YouTube do the video of MakerTech's dual extruder system I had hoped it would function something like that. Being not too familiar with 3D printers at the time I didn't realize that it was a completely different tooling setup than what was on the AXIS.
The must frustrating upgrade was Octoprint. This should have been easy. I have about a dozen Raspberry Pi's operating in my house at the moment. I have 2's, 3's, and a 4. They all work flawlessly on Raspbian with wired connections, wireless adapters, or built-in WiFi. I didn't realize it when pulling the board out that this was a Pi B+. After getting through the customary setup with Raspbian and additional quirks of Octopi I was greeted by the utter slowness of this board. I hadn't even launched into the Octoprint web interface when I was concerned with how slow commands over SSH were executing. The power supply that was provided couldn't even run the Pi! I can't say I was disappointed here because this should have been the easiest thing to test and fix before anything was even sourced by MakerTech. Could it be that the card that was included was too slow? Maybe I could swap in a different Pi that I have. These could be addressed but as mentioned with the upgrades that I've done above it's just beyond disappointment and into frustration and disgust.
Conclusion and Verdict
There were some very positive things about the Kickstarter and the printer. I was very pleased with the overall Kickstarter campaign. I think we really need to give MakerTech a big thumbs up here. Obviously we all would have liked to get our printers way back in April, but with the situation the world was in at that time one could hardly blame them for the delay. The AXIS kit was also well packaged and had good documentation that allowed for community updates.
Along with the positives were a good amount of negatives and drawbacks. The friction design for the motion system just do not provide the best solution for achieving an acceptable print. The cost nature of the project really hurt when sourcing cheaper components such as the power supplies, lead screw coupler and nut, and lack of pulleys replaced with bearings and washers.
The upgrades that shouldn't have been as affected by cost concerns were also negatives. The bed and LCD I saw were necessary for any 3D printer. The dual extrusion upgrade was pretty much dead out of the gate for me. I'm really looking to see if anyone can conquer it as it is an area that I have the least knowledge in 3D printing compounded by my overall limited knowledge. The Pi included in the OctoPrint upgrade is almost worthless. You can pick up a 3 A+ for less than $30. It has WiFi built in.
So what do I think of this printer? I just can't see it getting a recommendation from me. I am still struggling to get good prints after having the AXIS together for a while and attempting to upgrade it. With the amount of money that I've sunk into it for upgrades or fixes it does not win a value proposition. There are extremely well put together printers that cost under $300 that provide the ability to produce good quality prints. They can be built much quicker than this kit. They have almost all the upgrades already included and installed. I must say that I'm really glad that this was not my first 3D printer. I don't know if I'd be as interested in the hobby if I was faced with the hurdles that I've had to attempt to get past with this printer.