Toward Better 3D Printers: A New Test From Autodesk and Kickstarter

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Kickstarter is a well-established home for 3D printing. Over 200 campaigns focused on bringing new 3D printers to life have been funded here. Innovative industry-leading companies like Formlabs got their start on Kickstarter. Hundreds of other creators have launched filaments, fixtures, print heads, and other projects that support this dynamic ecosystem.

To ensure that this community continues to thrive on Kickstarter, we’ve been working with our friends at Autodesk to address a challenge that our creators and backers face: lack of a common standard to assess the performance of FDM 3D printers. (Fused Deposition Modeling is the standard layer-by-layer process that you’ve probably seen even if you’ve only encountered a few 3D printers.) Today, we’re happy to announce that with generous help from Autodesk, we’re releasing a new open-source printing test for Kickstarter creators.

Kickstarter already requires that 3D printer creators demonstrate the current functionality of their devices through videos of prints in progress and photos of finished prints. However, creators often showcase different types of prints, from geometric vases and abstract art to more common tests like the 3D Benchy. This makes it hard to compare the performance of various machines.

Autodesk research scientist Andreas Bastian has developed a test procedure designed to help creators better calibrate their machines and showcase their printers’ capabilities to backers on Kickstarter. He developed a single, consolidated STL file that tests a printer’s dimensional accuracy, resolution, and alignment. For example, poor execution of the “bridging” feature shown below will lead to a saggy and stringy print. A well-calibrated printer will make the horizontal feature with fewer of those issues.

Participating creators can download the file and instructions here on GitHub, print tests, and share the images and videos on their project pages. Backers can also use the file to talk objectively about the quality of machines they receive.

As Braydon Moreno of Robo explains, with the new procedure “customers know exactly what to expect with the product. This also holds manufacturers accountable for the quality of the machines they are producing and gives them a benchmark to strive for… Other torture tests cover a variety of things, but this print seemed all-encompassing.”

We believe this test procedure will support greater transparency in our community. We started with FDM printers because they’re the most common model on Kickstarter. Our goal over time is to expand this calibration test to other printing technologies like stereolithography. Though this test is optional for creators to share on their project pages, electing to do so opens a frank conversation about quality. And backers of any 3D printer project can share images of their own tests by posting them with the hashtag #FDMtest.

Prints of the test file from Cubibot and Robo printers.
Prints of the test file from Cubibot and Robo printers.