By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Robo makes a great line of 3D Printers, of which the R2 and C2 are the current state of the art. I was able to test and review the R1+ in 2016, and with a few tweaks here and there, it became the very definition of a workhorse 3D printer that I felt filmmakers can rely on to create props and even spare parts and tools for their camera gear. So, when the Robo R2 came out, and with several new features including WiFi and mobile printing, a large 5″ touch screen, and removable heated bed, this award winning printer was heralded as the next evolution in the Robo line. And after what I can only describe as an “odyssey” to get the printer’s performance to match the hype, I can say this review is a tale of TWO printers.
What do I mean by an odyssey? Well, here is where I struggle. The design of the Robo R2 3D Printer looks refined, but it wasn’t exactly ready for prime time. Users don’t have to assemble anything, mind you, the idea behind the sleek and stylish R2 is that it’s plug and play straight out of the box. And I have to admit, it’s a beautifully designed 3D printer.
But after three weeks of struggling with quirks, I found I had gone through the entire roll of included PLA filament and didn’t have a single model to show for it, only a rapidly growing pile of failed prints. The sad part was, there wasn’t one thing wrong with my R2, there were several. It was almost as if Robo had rushed the printer into production to get them out to those who backed it on Kickstarter.
Promising several new features including WiFi printing, an on board camera, and printing from a mobile device, the R2 also came with a removable heated print bed, a filament out sensor, and what had to be the loudest power supply I had ever heard. With its own fan to keep it cool, the power supply was so loud it drowned out the printing process itself, and I found that I had to unplug the printer whenever I wasn’t using it because the noise droned on and on and it was extremely distracting (not to mention a waste of energy).
All these new features came with a price and the print bed size of the R2 is slightly smaller than smaller than the R1+. But not much, really, and it’s also enclosed. And you guessed it, of all those great new features I mentioned, I had problems with it. The first major hurdle I had was that after a few minutes, the printing would stop and I would get a warning that I had run out of filament, even though I had an entire 1KG roll loaded up.
This was by design as the 3D printer has a sensor that’s is meant to let you know when you’re about to run out of filament. The way it works, is that you slip your filament through this hole in a sensor unit in the back of the printer. The idea being that as your filament runs out, the sensor will notify you, pausing your print, so you can hot swap out a new roll and continue the printing process without losing your print. A great idea … if it worked.
Troubleshooting, I tried cleaning out the sensor cavity where the filament runs through. But that didn’t work. Calling tech support, we tried a few more things, including resetting the printer (which killed the print) before the tech guy finally gave up and decided I had a defective sensor. Since I really didn’t need it for the rest of the test, he instructed me where to go in the settings and turn the feature off. I did that, and never heard from that nasty filament sensor again. But still, a lost opportunity, and something that would be a cause of legitimate concern if I wanted that very feature.
The next trouble came with the print bed. Being a removable bed, the design allows the user to take the finished print off remove it without feeling like “you’re under the hood,” of your printer. Then you can simply put it back in place and print again. Not a bad idea, however, I had alignment problems and in short order, the heating pins that the bed attached to broke. I wasn’t even being rough putting it in either, trying to carefully insert the bed every time after removing it. Robo sent me a new heating pin assembly (along with a few roles of extra filament) and it was very easy to replace. Took me all of five minutes.
Another problem I had was a jammed piece of filament, which required removal of the extruder assembly to get to it. The extruder assembly is plugged in by very small wires and in trying to plug it back in, I broke the connector. That meant I had to send it back for repair. Very frustrating, but that’s on me, I can’t fault the design. There were a few other issues, including the touch screen that you had to press several times in order for it to recognize. It’s not very reactive at all.
But the real frustration was that I simply couldn’t finish a single 3D print without failure, so Robo finally decided that I had a defective unit and asked me to return it a second time for a replacement. Now let me stress that defective units happen in manufacturing. If you sell a million printers, and say .05% of them are defective, that means that 500 customers are going to be angry. Robo hasn’t sold that many to my knowledge, but you get the point, defects happen.
So they sent me another one, and this one had a few “fixes” to it, indicating that they have taken the time to fine tune the concept. First, the removable print bed was gone. I’m guessing I had originally gotten a first run, pre-release printer and Robo had determined that it was more trouble than it was worth. But then again, the marketing materials still mention it, so it may be that they simply replaced it with one that wouldn’t break. The added benefit, though, is the new heated bed is sure sticky, meant saying goodbye to having to use hairspray to keep your models adhered to it. This print bed also has a BuildTak skin on it and you won’t need anything additional to keep your model adhered to the base during the print. Unless you like hairspray that is.
Next, the loud power supply had been replaced by a much quieter unit that didn’t run when the printer was off. So that was good. It also means I didn’t have to unplug the printer every time to spare both energy and the annoyance of the loud noise.
And … after another brief set-up R2 finally printed a successful model! I had a “benchy” 3d test model printed up in short order, and it looked great! Then came a few more models that you can see pictured here. But then the filament out sensor error reared its ugly head again. So now that this issue has happened on two different printers, I’m going to have to say that the R2’s filament sensor swap feature is useless. At least it was for me. If you get the issue, just turn it off and save yourself the headache, for from my perspective, it just doesn’t work.
Looking at the other features the R2 has, for instance – the on board camera. The idea here is that you set a long print, and then use your mobile device to check the print from time to time to see how things are going. And it does work … kind of. But the webcam they use is so low in resolution, and the LED lights they put in the printer to illuminate them are so dim, that you can’t really get a lot of detail, and the camera will only show the top end of the print, so any larger print will merely show a portion of the image. Robo really went cheap on that. But the worst part is, that the camera only works when your mobile device is attached to your wifi network. If you’re out running errands, or at work, and you want to check in on your printer’s progress, the camera is unavailable. So the feature is really not all that helpful.
The second printer’s touch screen was also nearly as bad as the first, even after going through steps to refresh it. So for me, I’d say it looks prettier than it works.
Next there’s this idea of being able to print from your mobile device. And it does … sort of. What Robo means is that you can use your mobile device as a handshake to go into Google Drive, or Dropbox and download a 3D model directly to your R2. Then you can slice it and print it. So, if you think that you’re going to use your smartphone to print directly a model to the printer, well, not quite. Still, it works as designed and you can technically use your phone as part of the process, but there’s several extra steps, and after testing it out, I honestly found it more trouble than it was worth. So the mobile app, I give it a solid “meh.”
The best feature, IMHO is the wifi printing. It is easy to attach to your network, there’s no plugging in a wire to get the computer to recognize the printer before hand or any of that nonsense. It just adds it to the network and it works. I liked that.
I also liked the dual reel spools in the back that pop out for users to put their filament rolls on. The original R1+ came with a quirky slip on reel holder than never really worked and most just printed up a 3d model filament holder and slipped it on top. The new design is far better because the second holder is for if you have a second, optional extruder added to the system. Mine didn’t, so it can be recessed when not in use.
Robo also packaged the R2 3D Printer Cura’s excellent slicing software, which I found to be far more intuitive than the basic Matter Hacker’s Matter Control software of the R1+. Cura also has WiFi support that works quite well. The last option for printing a model is to use the included USB key to download your sliced model from Cura, plug that into the printer directly and print via the touch screen. It works well, in spite of the finicky touch screen, but I found that the R2 didn’t accept just any USB key. Just the one that came with it.
So at this point you’re probably thinking I’m going to give the R2 a bad review. Well, that’s not the way I see it. I simply wanted to share my experience as if I were someone who bought the printer and ran into those problems. One of the best features of any Robo 3D printer is the tech support staff itself. They not only helped me to find solutions to the issues I had, but even went so far as to hook me up with the printer’s designer, Allen McAffee. A great guy who really went the extra mile to help me through most of the issues. He’s also a Gulf War vet. Dan Whitty was also a great deal of help and together they got me up and running … eventually.
Robo will stand behind their product. That much was clear from the support I received. They wanted to make things right, and I later found out that the first printer I got was a very early model, and even though it took a few weeks, two repairs and a replacement, which was a vastly improved design, the R2 finally printed as I expected, it finally reached a place where I could consistently print with success.
The improved R2 design is faster, quieter, and has improved print quality. But I can’t turn my back on the issues I had. I kind of felt that the R2 had been rushed into production and could have benefitted from 6 more months of testing to expose the issues the design has. It seems to me that Robo fell into the temptation of packing their followup to the successful R1+ with a ton of features that were simply too complicated in design to operate effectively.
UPDATE: I shared my review with Robo CEO Braydon Moreno, who had this to say about my experience:
“We appreciate the honest review James put forth. We packed the Robo C2/R2 with a whole host of features that have given us a lot of recognition in the industry. Albeit a few issues with some of the earlier machines that James had received, we have made significant improvements both to hardware and software and are continuously focusing on improving the user experience for our customers. We have had great responses recently regarding both the Robo R2 and the Robo C2 3D printers including our recent OS 2.0 update, which improved multiple functions of setup and printing. Lastly, we pride ourselves on making sure that our customers are happy and successful with our machines — we appreciate James recognizing this. We stand behind our products 100%. We love this industry and we admire all the incredible people using these machines to inspire others.”
Robo’s new vs. 2.0 firmware will likely handle a lot of the tedious issues I dealt with like bed leveling which caused several failed prints. At the tail end of my review, Allen shared the beta version with me and after installing it, I started having more consistent successes.
OS 2.0 also offers:
- Quicker Start-Up with our new, faster auto leveling process and quicker Z axis setup speeds
- Improved Print Quality and Adhesion utilizing new auto leveling features
- Better Temperature Stabilization with our new PID tuner wizard
- Fine Tune Z-Offset Wizard Redesign adds more test options for full coverage of the bed
- Access Control with an newly added security feature that allows you to control who can remotely access your printer via the internet
- Improved Onboard Slicing Profiles with updated settings for the four default print qualities – low to ultra high
Users can download and install it directly from the R2 printer screen interface (more details here).
So would I recommend buying one? Well, yes I would, if you’re an advanced user. Robo is a great company, and I like their 3d printers. I’ve said on more than one occasion that their support staff is really the best kept secret in the industry. They stand behind their products to a degree I haven’t seen since the early days of computing.
So, at the end of the day, it really comes down to who you are on the technological road. If you’re a 3D printing geek like me, a more advanced user on their second or third printer, you may enjoy the steps needed for fine tuning a printer to get it up to speed. For someone just starting out, or who was merely a hobbyist wanting the fun of 3d printing cool things, I think I would point you to the Robo C2, or the previous generation R1+. At $1400 it’s a heck of a lot for someone just buying in.