It’s no secret I love 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC routing. What I don’t love is all the maintenance and calibration of my own machines or questionable reliability and transit times to other people’s machines. And soooo many software programs — Talk about workflow woes. Hence my piqued interest in the upswell of 3-in-1 desktop fabrication machines. Molten hot plastic, sharp spinny things, and lasers. Oh my! The trifecta of safety glass-requiring, safety-oriented mom-hated, melded machinery.
Trying to combine different classes of products can result in mutant offspring with none of the progenitors’ unique benefits, like an El Camino. And there is a long history of over featurism resulting in so much #fail.
I want to believe in the 3-in-1. Through a creative combination of FDM printing, CNC machining, laser cutting, and some off-the-shelf hardware, I create comprehensive prototypes with amazing functionality and realism using minimal resources. The three processes have harmonious attributes that form a powerful ecosystem. And talk about the potential efficiency of one machine! Efficiency of software packages. Efficiency in cost. Efficiency in space utilization. Efficiency in freaking out my poor mom.
Will combining functionality result in the success of the Instapot or will it be a total not? Is mo’ features mo’ better or mo’ problems? Is this the dawn of the multifunction desktop fabrication factory? To find out, I got my maker mitts on the swiss army knife of digital making. The Snapmaker!
Unboxing and Assembly
Unboxing was a delight. Everything neatly organized, accessories nicely boxed, bagged and labeled, and presented with just the right amount of cool hardware pieces exposed out front to entice high pitched giddy laughter. It took about 15 minutes to assemble the unit. True, I am a Mechanical Engineer, with the dexterity of a brain surgeon. Give yourself 20 minutes if wearing oven mitts. While it is possible to assemble pieces incorrectly (Murphy’s Law), the documentation is pictorial and exceptionally clear. Big kudos for the design using mostly the same fasteners and all the same fastener heads for same tool installation (Design for Assembly). Personally, I put some low strength threadlocker on the threads.
So far, it’s a snap. Yep, I did that.
Call me old fashioned, but I love the look and feel of anodized CNC machined aluminum assembled with stainless socket head screws. It feels solid, clean, and premium. I’ll start with a comparison to commonplace consumer-grade printers. The frame on those printers is often sheet metal primarily and linear rails or general-purpose stock t-slot aluminum extrusions. The Snapmaker design uses a custom aluminum extrusion with enclosed lead screws for the frame and cartesian movement. This makes the frame exceptionally rigid, which is good for 3D printing and a necessity for subtractive manufacturing to overcome the resultant forces.
There is a surprising amount of machined parts. Even things I wouldn’t expect, like the filament holder, are machined parts. The build plate is a freakin’ 1/4” solid aluminum plate! I also appreciate the touch screen compared to the LCD screens with dials I am used to. While they did add fillets, they didn’t cut any corners… on fabrication cost.
Snapmaker: 3D Printing
The bed parallelism isn’t adjustable and bed “leveling” is done through the software based on a calibration procedure. The print head gets sequentially moved to the four corners. At each corner, the nozzle to bed distance is incremented manually to set offset distance. The recommended distance is slight clamping of a piece of paper, but I found a slightly closer distance had better build plate adhesion. This bed design was clearly done to facilitate all three processes. When switching between processes I did not recalibrate and printed consistently. Given that the bed is small and machined, excellent flatness would be expected.
The bed comes with a BuildTak like surface, which I am a big fan of, pre-installed. This is a direct drive filament system but does not seem to be able to handle flexible material. The fan, heating element, drive system, and other printing elements are enclosed within. This system is clean and makes sense for swapability. The downside being serviceability/hackability.
File transfer can be done directly from a computer or using a USB drive (provided) as the printer doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Besides the touch screen, it doesn’t have bells and whistles like camera, enclosure, filament sensor, automatic bed leveling, flexible print sheet, and power-loss recovery. Print quality and reliability are by far the most important to me by a mile. That being said, I am getting accustomed to these new features as they improve my workflow and in certain environments could be necessities.
Out of the box print quality is very high.
Lastly, the printer is on the noisy side. The lead screw movement creates a distinct pitch and the fan is noisier than some. So, is it possible to make a 3-in-1 without compromising the 3D printer? Yes. 1 down, two to go.
Snapmaker: 3D Printing Specs
- BUILD VOLUME: 125 x 125 x 125mm (4.9” x 4.9” x 4.9”)
- SUPPORTED MATERIALS: Non-proprietary 1.75 mm PLA, bABS, etc.
- NONSUPPORTED MATERIALS: Alumide, graphite, etc.
- LAYER RESOLUTION: 50 – 300 microns
- PRINT HEAD TRAVEL SPEED: Up to 100 mm/s
- NOZZLE DIAMETER: 0.4 mm
- NOZZLE TEMPERATURE: Up to 250°C
- HEATED BED: Up to 80°C
- SUPPORTED FILE TYPES: STL, OBJ
- SOFTWARE: Snapmaker3D. You can also use other third-party software, such as: Cura, Simplify 3D, Slic3r.
SnapmakerJS software is intuitive and easy to use. I found it similar to Cura but stripped down a bit (I think that is exactly what it is).
I wanted a project that would require all three processes, was of appropriate scale and wicked awesome. Continuing with the theme of eye endangerment and proving that I’m the boss of me, I jumped right into designing a Shuriken. My goal: to create something beautiful arty and potentially hurty. For the inside part, I chose a natural material. Natural materials can have an intrinsic beauty and provide warmth and contrast to cold metallic-looking parts. “When freshly cut, Purpleheart is a dull gray/purple/brown. Initial exposure to UV changes the finish to a dark eggplant, generally transforming into a dark brown with hints of purple. It has a medium texture with straight grain. Purpleheart is rated as very durable and considered one of the stiffest and strongest woods in the world.” Sold. The exterior frame would be printed in order to be easily replaced if damaged during use. Call me a traditionalist, I went with shiny, silver filament.
Snapmaker: Laser Engraving
Laser engraving uses a 200mW laser tool head and the clamping plate. I exported my pattern from SolidWorks as a DXF, converted it to SVG using Inkscape and then imported that into SnapmakerJS. From SnapmakerJS I exported the file to USB and transferred it over to the SnapMaker. I cut the purpleheart wood to fit the bed and secured it using the provided hold down clamps. Binder clips can be used to secure the material for laser engraving. The Snapmaker automatically recognizes which tool head is connected. The origin is set using the control panel to move the X and Y, a projected red dot indicates the location. The dot size indicates the focal point of the laser and gets set to its minimum size by adjusting the Z-height. Select the desired file, ensure you are in a well-ventilated area, put on the provided stylish green laser safety glasses (seriously, do it), click start, and let ‘er rip.
Results? A totally rad pattern burnt into cool, purple wood. For those of you keeping track. Remaining eyes: 2. Remaining processes: 1.
Snapmaker: Laser Engraving Specs
- WORK AREA: 125 x 125mm (4.9” x 4.9”)
- LASER POWER: 200mW
- WAVELENGTH: 405nm
- LASER SAFETY CLASS: Class 3B
- SUPPORTED MATERIALS: Wood, bamboo, leather, plastic, fabric, paper, non-transparent acrylic, etc.
- NOT SUPPORTED MATERIALS: Metal, glass, gem, transparent material, reflective materials, etc.
- SUPPORTED FILE TYPES: SVG, JPEG, PNG, CDR, etc.*
The Snapmaker comes with two milling bits. A flat end mill and a carving v-bit. Ball end or other ⅛” shank bits can be used. Using the provided Snapmaker software allows for straight depth cuts. For more intricate contour cutting, Autodesk Fusion 360 can be used. I didn’t experiment with that yet, but you can. And should!
I used the flat end mill for a straight sidewall cut. The bits are held with a set screw. Since I would be cutting through the material, I put a sacrificial spoil board beneath the wood so I wouldn’t have a metal-on-metal tiny battlebots brawl. Additionally, the workpiece was affixed to the spoil board with double-sided tape to keep the inner shape immobilized after separation. The tool head follows an imported vector and the workflow is very similar to the laser. Those familiar with 3D printing and not carving should ease in and familiarize themselves with depth of cut and other parameters as things can be more catastrophic. The origin is set using the same process as with the laser except with the height a nominal distance above the workpiece. Safety glasses, start, rip. Baby blues: 2. Remaining processes: 0.
Snapmaker: CNC Carving Specs
- WORK AREA: 90 x 90 x 50 mm (3.5” x 3.5” x 2.0”)
- SHANK DIAMETER: 3.175mm
- SPINDLE SPEED: 19,000 RPM
- SUPPORTED MATERIALS: Wood, acrylic, PCB, carbon fiber sheet
- NOT SUPPORTED MATERIALS: Metal, glass, gem, etc.
- SUPPORTED FILE TYPES: SVG, STEP, IGES, IGS, DWG, DXF, etc.*
Who Should Buy One?
Tech startups, companies designing small electronic devices, hobbyists, makers, cosplayers. For crafty and industrious types the combination opens creative flood gates for a business making low volume goods. Snapmaker is perfect for learning institutions and maker spaces. It is well built, meaning it can survive the accidental abuse of novices and lackadaisical treatment of borrowers. Having “one” piece of equipment means staff can be easily trained on maintenance and repair. The smaller build volume size can be viewed as a plus as it limits build time, facilitating quicker turnaround and increased shareability. The open architecture, dull metal, Apple-esque aesthetics all combine to make this the perfect piece of cool office tech. You could put it in on display for impressing clients or even make it mobile for makerspace pop-ups. For use as a product design tool, the applications would need to be small. The carver can cut carbon fiber and PCB material which have practical functional applications. The 200mW is just enough for engraving, so mostly for ornamental purposes. There is a 1600mW upgrade available though.
Who Should Not Buy One?
Ambitious babies, cyclops, evil scientists, those who only design large scale industrial devices or have had their totin’ chip revoked. If you only ever intend to use one of the three processes you can get more bang for your buck with a single process-specific machines.
Is It Awesome?
Yes, Awesome^3. The Snapmaker is what I term “Micro Industrial”. I frequently use much larger 3D printers, laser cutters, and carvers and managed to have a lot of fun on the Snapmaker scale. The maturing and merging of these three technologies make sense. 3D printing is great for complex geometries, carving is great for homogeneous, natural and clear materials, and laser engraving produces super fine detail and patterning. Snapmaker does a very good job of execution and price point. No small feat.
The niftiness of the Snapmaker lies in its compactness and multifunctionality. The trade-off is build volume and power. A Swiss Army knife can be the ultimate survival tool. Giving you the ability to build tools and shelter, make fire, prepare food or crack open a regional soda. All in your pocket! A must-have for boy scouts, survivalist, and hot chocolate lovers. It is, however, not the most efficient tool for building a chalet or giant, fighting robot. As always, you can use techniques to combine multiple pieces into larger. But this approach has limits. I sense the company had the smart strategy to come out first with a MV(3-in-1)P that would reach the widest target audience. This allowed them to build momentum and continue to develop more products and functionality.
Also to note, Snapmaker 2.0 is on the way. Snapmaker 2.0 comes in three sizes, all of which are larger than the 1.0 with the largest being 320 x 330 x 350mm (12.6″x13.0″x13.8″). The larger sizes open up doors for commercial use. In addition, they seem to have pretty much all the nice to have features I had mentioned previously and then some. They do a very thoughtful job on design, listen to customer wants and hit an excellent value price point – $799 for the Snapmaker 1.0. I would keep both eyes (I told you, mom!) on Snapmaker.
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