I first saw the Robox 3D printer in the flesh on the show floor at TCT Asia and since then, news from the self proclaimed “micro-manufacturing system” has continued to trickle through from 3D printed Hungry Hippos to political plaques.
This week, I was able to get better acquainted with the CEL Robox when one arrived at TCT Towers.
I love the look of this machine. It’s simple, compact and well, just a bit cute really. Apart from the power switch, there are no buttons to worry about so it genuinely does have the initial boxes ticked for the promise of plug and print. I like that it’s enclosed, it’s very tidy and definitely a plus on the safety front for one of the Robox’s primary markets, education. The packaging is all very nice too and the printer comes equipped with a toolkit, axis lubricant, preloaded software on a USB and of course a handy quick setup guide. So far, so good.
The Robox comes with its own Automaker software. Again, it’s a simple set up and very much a step-by-step process – select file, go to print settings and print. The platform is ideal for newcomers as it doesn’t allow much room for you to go wrong. However, having tinkered with 3D printing already, for me I found the interface a little too simplified and rather than have options on screen for something like rotation, it takes a few experimental clicks and poking around to find out what does what.
Robox 3D printer and Automaker software.
On the plus-side, I do think this software is ideal for young, inexperienced users. For children, the select file, choose settings and go approach is ideal and I can imagine a welcome solution for teachers wanting to introduce 3D printing to the classroom. In addition to this, for users new 3D design, the software comes with MyMiniFactory’s 3D file database embedded which is filled with print-ready files to sample, so you don’t need to go too far in search of a free print to test.
This is genuinely the most plug and print-title worthy experience I’ve had. Once you’ve hit start, that’s literally it. You don’t have to line the bed with any solution or fiddle with any tricky configuration. The safety mechanism kicks in immediately which means the lid is locked so you can’t go in and toy with your print. CEL are big on the safety front and when in the hands of small children, this is paramount. However at times I found it slightly frustrating that I couldn’t lift the lid to say, knock out a stray blob of filament so it doesn’t get caught in the print. But safety wise, this is a great feature.
When testing out a small and simple print, it was relatively speedy, and one of my sample prints took less than 10 minutes to produce in draft mode. The competitive print speeds are a result of the machine's unique dual nozzle system which means a single material feed can be fed from two nozzles at different diameters for accuracy and filling. Conversely, I did try something more complex (a phone stand) on much tighter settings and this took eight hours so, as with any 3D printer, it’s more about what results you’re after.
This machine is a bit noisy but unlike other machines you couldn’t hear it through the office walls which was a huge plus for me as I’m normally relegated to the downstairs office when other machines have proved exceptionally loud.
3D printing a phone stand.
Putting the Robox to the test
The great thing about 3D printers and in particular, having one on your desk, is the ability to see a problem, whip up a digital solution and have it printed right in front of you. Yet, when testing machines I always struggle with what to print. I don’t really want to make a generic dinosaur skull, or a squid or a luggage tag, I want to print something that though may not look as impressive, is useful.
Moonlighting at the weekend as a Foo Fighter’s session guitarist (READ: Four-chord-wonder at the local pub), I needed a solution that would allow me to securely fix a guitar strap to a guitar.
With only a few hours to make, step in the Robox. I drew up a simple design in Tinkercad (My 3D design skill level is an impressive minus number) and within about 5 minutes had it warming up to print on the machine. That’s how quick this was, from taking it out of the box, adding the file to the software and clicking print. For this little project I used draft mode, which took a glorious 12 minutes to produce. Normal settings were just short of 30 mins for the same print. That was absolute music to my ears when I consider most prints I’ve attempted in the past - albeit more complex - even in draft mode, have hit with me with a hard 4-hour minimum wait.
Printing with proprietary PLA (the machine does work with third party materials) I made two slightly altered designs, which came out with varied results. The strength was good but though they were both put through on the same settings, one came out much smoother than the other. Not a problem in this instance but it’s worth pointing out that sometimes there isn’t complete consistency with this machine from one print to the next.
Various iterations and print settings.
But the piece worked, my guitar didn’t fall off and I got that lovely sense of pride you get from making something yourself from scratch.
What’s good about it?
Genuinely plug and print – I went from design to a printed draft in less than 15 minutes.
Schools will love it – It’s a great educational tool, doesn’t leave much room for error which would be great for a classroom full of eager kids.
Sleek design – It’s an attractive and compact machine. You don’t really have to play around with it too much and it sits very nicely in the office like any 2D printer.
Whilst the software is great for new starters and limits chance of going wrong, it would benefit from a few improvements or additional buttons. For example, the ability to grab the print bed with the mouse in order to rotate rather than clicking around to find the correct mouse + key combo, would be ideal. The My Mini Factory integration may need updating, it’s not the smoothest tool to use and I found the search function doesn’t always return results. Perhaps this was a temporary issue and had it worked as smoothly as I suspected, this would have been a great addition for first-timers looking for some designs to play with.