The Buccaneer is the third 3D Printer I have had long term experience with, the others being build it yourself 3D Printer kits and the XYZPrinting DaVinci. My immediate impression of the Buccaneer was that I sure hope that it preforms as well as it looked. The whole package unashamedly tries to copy the Apple minimalist ethos from the sleek design, reminiscent of the Macintosh Cube (remember those?) to the sparse documentation which accompanies the printer.
It is partly this sparse documentation that my review is longer than I would like, as some of my experiences using the machine will help those of you who already have the machine or about to receive it from Pirate3d as they fulfil their Kickstarter back orders.
The rest of the package includes a printer platform, 2 sticky printing pads and a 400g reel of white PLA. In their Kickstarter campaign, Pirate3D goal aimed at raising funds to build a under USD$400 3D printer which can be set up and printing in less than half an hour. Certainly the first impressions were positive, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Buccaneer’s basic specifications are as follows:
Printing Technology: Fused Filament Fabrication
Highest Layer Resolution: 50 microns (0.05 mm)
Filament Diameter: 1.75 MM
Cartridge Capacity: 400 G
Max Print Size: 130 mm x 96 mm x 139 mm
Nozzle Diameter: 0.4 MM
Product Weight: 8 KG
The Buccaneer only works with PLA and Pirate3D recommend only using their own, whilst not ruling out using generic PLA. Certainly their own PLA spools are the only ones which will fit within the built in filament spool cavity at the top of the printer. More importantly, however, is the fact that PLA printing parameters are preset and printing using ABS is not supported. The reason for this is most likely because there is no user control of the extruder temperature. This means that, aside from ABS, printing using exotic PLA filaments such as Laywood or flexible PLA (for example) has to be done at your own risk.
The build envelope puts it in the small print capacity category, which is something crucial to take into consideration. It just about suits my needs and there are plenty of ways to be creative with the objects you print so that this is less of a limitation.
Maximum print quality is an impressive 50 microns, which makes this one of the few FFF printers with this capability and is only exceeded by a couple of, much more expensive, FFF printers which can print at 25-35 microns
The build quality of the Buccaneer is on the whole good, but let down by some poor design choices and production issues.
Focusing on the positives, the print mechanism is a very nicely finished. Centered on stamped Stainless Steel frame, which keeps the main stepper motors tensioned around the belt motors, all the printer components are thoughtfully integrated into the polycarbonate body. The extruder head assembly is built around a standard MK7 extruder head and extractor fan. The whole assembly is neatly wired and insulated with tape and a heat shield. The controller board and electronic circuitry are protected by heat shielding and all cables are neatly cable tied. It is an example of a machine built around a consumer mindset and a far cry from other entry level 3D Printers, which are largely evolved from early kit form 3d Printer aimed at enthusiasts.
However, all is not rosy as there are many build quality issues. I have an early production model, probably from the very first batch to be shipped. This would explains some of the more basic build quality issues like the silicone pads at the base of my printer becoming detached because of poor adhesive or the 2 of the 3 magnets which hold the build platform onto the printer mechanism dethatching because they were not properly attached to the platform. In both cases, a spot of industrial strength glue solved the problems but not before causing misprints. There are, however, more fundamental issues caused by bad design.
The first and most immediate of the design flaws is the magnetic platform itself. It fails, even after regluing. One particular magnet has even detached again after gluing. The magnets themselves are just strong enough to hold the platform in place and sit in grooves so when it fails, it’s not immediately apparent. And when it does, the platform does not sit perfectly level, but it’s not visibly apparent until you start to print and get edge curling or print head clogging because the printer is printing across a horizontally uneven surface. It took endless unsuccessful calibration attempts before the problem became evident and I’ve had to reinforce the magnetic base as a result. I will detail how I did this in a future post.
The second most annoying issue I’ve had with the printer is the amount of tension the filament feed mechanism places on the filament. I have occasionally had filaments fracture, yes fracture, into multiple pieces on its own accord so much so that my standard practice is to eject the filament after use and snip off the parts which were still in the feeder tube when printing, just in case. When a filament fractures, you will need to dismantle the extruder unit in order to feed filament in from the extruder end of the filament feeder tube to flush out all the bits of filament which is a lengthy process.
The third, and somewhat unsubstantiated, design flaw is that the beautifully crafted transparent polycarbonate base is not adequately braced. I say somewhat unsubstantiated because in the 2 months I’ve had the printer, the base has already bowed inwards by about a centimeter, across the front opening. The bottom of the opening needs to be braced or else the combination of the weight of the printer and resonant frequencies generated by printing will cause the base to fail. It’s just a question of time. Ironically, polycarbonate stress fractures were also the cause of the Apple Cube to be withdrawn from the market and that machine was a lot lighter and had no moving parts.
Setting up starts fairly straightforwardly. Attach the printing pad onto the print platform with the double sided sticky tape on the bottom of the pad and attach the platform to the printer via the magnets at the bottom.
Downloading and installing the Windows/iOS/Android software is the next step which leads to the first connection directly with the printer, which acts as a WiFi access point when switched on. Once connected, the next step is to set up the printer on your wireless network which also makes the Buccaneer a shared printer.
So far so good but then the whole experience sours. The next steps to set up the printer in order to be able to print is needlessly convoluted.
Loading, unloading the filament and calibrating the extruder to print accurately on to the platform are software controlled. In other printers, this is achieved by physical buttons but in an attempt to out-Apple, Apple, the Buccaneer has no physical buttons or interface save the software controls over WiFi. So simple tasks like loading the filament and telling the extruder how far it needs to be over the platform is both tedious and annoying.
For example, load filament – push filament through until it reaches the extruder unit, activate software feed cycle, confirm platform is clean, wait for platform to raise to the extruder (30 seconds), wait for extruder to heat (30-45 seconds), wait for filament to extrude a small amount and another 30 seconds for the platform to be lowered to its base position and the extruder head to cool down.
OK, so it takes a longer to feed a filament, why would I complain? Well, if the filament does not catch and extrude, you have to repeat the entire process again. Yes – confirm platform is clear, yes – wait again for the platform to rise, yes – wait again whilst the extruder heats, yes – pray that the filament catches this time. Repeat process as often as needed for successful feed.
With other printers, the head remains heated, the platform (if applicable) remains elevated until you confirm successful feed and you can control the feeding duration manually, i.e. keep pressing the filament feed button until you see filament oozing out. The Buccaneer software goes through a predefined feed attempt cycle with a set period of filament feed, automatically cools down the extruder head and lowers the platform. If the filament feeder mechanism does not catch the filament, you’re locked into another mindless cycle of playing platform yo-yo and waiting for something which was perfectly hot to heat up again and again.
The same convoluted, mindless, multi-step process applies to both the unloading and calibration apply. Thankfully the calibration only needs to be done once in a while. There are other reasons for disliking the software controlled interaction which I will cover later.
Once you are familiar with the processes to set up the printer for successful printing, it becomes instinctual and easy (even if a bit un-necessarily lengthy) to get printing.
Printing and Print Quality
On the printing side, there is only one option and that is to use the Buccaneer Windows/iOS/Android software. The printer has no direct external connections like USB or SD Card slot and can only be accessed via WiFi, either as a standalone Access Point or as part of a WiFi network. This is potentially a drawback as it means that 3rd Party software such as Cura cannot currently be used.
Thankfully, the Pirate3d Buccaneer software is really well developed and easy to use. The software itself is integrated around Pirate3d’s Treasure Island repository. The repository itself is there to serve as a ready source of 3d models which have been tested and known to work on the Buccaneer.
Treasure Island also exists as a repository website, http://treasure.is, which accepts user contribution and (eventually) as a marketplace of 3d objects. It is currently underdeveloped and only hosts free objects. I say underdeveloped as all descriptions of models are sparse, non-categorized and only contain basic meta tags. It is also only searchable in the iOS/Android versions but even then, because of the brief descriptions and basic tags, searching is a fairly hit or miss affair.
Your only other option for printing your own or 3d models from other repositories is to import this via the, not entirely obvious, “Add New Print” button on the Windows. If you have to rely on solely on the iOS or Android then you are currently out of luck. Pirate 3d have stated they are working on a way for models to be loaded by iOS/Android via Dropbox integration. This would mean that users could save their 3d model files on Dropbox and load them via the iOS/Android apps. At time of writing, this has not been deployed.
Loading STL is only limited by a file size limit of around 22mb, this is undocumented and from my own experience in loading STL files. I presume that the 22+mb limit is a constraint of the on board memory as STL files remain on the machine during the printing process.
Once loaded, the model appears as a visual, scaled, representation on a virtual platform in a perspective view. There is a slider at the bottom right of the screen which allows the user to rescale the model to fit the Buccaneer’s 130 mm x 96 mm x 139 mm build envelope. What’s not obvious, though, is the fact that the software automatically scales any loaded model to fit the build envelope. Again, this is undocumented and caused many wasted prints. If there were a simple warning and override button, the user could use the on screen buttons to re-orient the imported model to fit within the build envelope by flipping the model on the X,Y or Z axis from its default orientation.
Once the imported model is oriented and scaled, the next step is to select the print resolution, adhesion, support and infill options (hidden in the Advanced Settings checkbox). The nice features here are the automatic adhesion (brim, raft) and support settings which do a really good job. I rarely print models with potential for infilling so will refrain from commenting on this feature save that “Advanced Settings” is a bit of a misnomer for this button.
Once confirmed, the printing begins and this is where the Buccaneer shines. Set to the highest resolution of 50 microns, a properly prepared and calibrated platform and using Pirate3d’s own filament; the results are very good. Most of the models I have printed this way require little more than removal of supports and the odd small surface artefact. Layer stepping at 50 microns is so fine that it takes on the appearance of a matt finished plastic object. Only the evenness of the stepped layers gives this away on closer inspection.
I have not done timings or calculated printing speed as this is a criteria which I am not concerned about nor do I have an immediate basis for comparison. I will append this review with this information once I have had a larger pool of printers reviewed.
The only other downside to printing specifically with the Buccaneer that the machine is LOUD. It is loud because of the way the printer is built. The base is built around a 3 sided wall construction with the front open for platform access. This base also acts as an amplification chamber, magnifying the sounds emanating from the stepper motors and cooling fans to a distractingly loud 82db. However, this being a wirelessly networked printer, it is possible to place it somewhere where the noise would not be an issue. I’ve done just that and placed the base on sound absorbing material, which helps.
In reviewing this printer, I have tried to be as objective as possible and give the reader an idea of what it’s like to use this printer on a daily basis. Most of the negative points I have made are down to early production issues and the software is constantly being updated. I count at least 3 software updates in the last 2 months and when components have failed, Pirate3D have been quick to resolve issues. I had an extruder unit fail on me which was replaced with haste. This is extremely rare and, as the unit itself is a pre-assembled component bought in by Pirate3d, I chalk it down to luck of the draw but I would praise the response of the company in rectifying the issue.
Would I buy the printer again if I had the choice? If they fix the software driven load/unload filament and calibration issues, reinforce the platform and brace the base then – yes, definitely. The Buccaneer is (currently) the most consumer friendly 3D printer I know of with high quality printing capabilities, two of the three criteria I look for in a printer because my aim is to encourage others to adopt 3d printing technology.
The third criteria being price, and now they have gone to market Pirate3d have upped their price to a psychological threshold price of USD999. Former Kickstarters like Robo3D and SL3D have also done the same with their products so we shouldn’t be surprised. But at this price it makes it a little more difficult to recommend to a friend. The question then becomes, do we recommend the Buccaneer for the ease of use and relatively hassle free maintenance or a cheaper enthusiast level 3D printer and risk ending up playing tech support as they potentially deluge you with endless setup and printing questions.
Despite all the media attention, 3D printing is still in its infancy and a long way from general consumer acceptance. The Buccaneer is a step in the right direction as far as far as I am concerned.