3D Printing Industry reviews the E3D Motion System and ToolChanger 3D printer.
Designed by 3D printing hardware manufacturer E3D, the Motion System and ToolChanger is a professional-grade FFF 3D printer that stays true to the roots of DIY 3D printing. Conceived with no less attention to detail than we’d expect from a company so finely attuned to the 3D printing community and executed with matching precision.
I’ll start by saying this system is unlike any FFF 3D printer we’ve hosted at the 3D Printing Industry lab. The E3D Motion System features four (yes, four) swappable tool heads built for unmatched component customization. As such, it enables users to combine four different multi-functional tools in a single print, and that could be a mix of extrusion printheads, laser engravers, CNC tools, or pick and place tools.
With a £2010 ($2800) price-tag, E3D’s first and only 3D printer is aimed at engineers and advanced prosumers looking for a highly-customizable manufacturing engine for the workshop. In the hands of a skilled operator, this system punches way above its pay grade.
The sheer modularity permits adaptation to any user’s needs, granting a level of flexibility rarely seen. Importantly the Motion System is an open-source endeavor, reflecting E3D’s RepRap roots. As a result, free-to-print spare parts are available on E3D’s GitHub, where users have access to components such as cable covers, spool holders, and structural brackets.
Hardware: spoiled for choice
The E3D Motion System certainly doesn’t hold back on the hardware, making it a prime choice for individuals that enjoy tinkering around. Much of the system’s novelty lies in its ToolChanger mechanism, allowing users to switch between tool heads as and when needed.
While the base machine is offered with either 4x Direct Drive Hemera tools or 4x Bowden V6 tools, these can be swapped out for any of the company’s extruder/hotend combinations. For example, if you wanted to kit the Motion System out with 4x high-flow rate Volcano hotends for maximum throughput 24-hour production, you would be more than welcome to do so. E3D also offers blank tool kits for users to design their own tools. A whole host of novel open-source add-on tools such as paste extruders and camera latches can be found online.
Turning to the key tech specs, the Motion System 3D printer has a build volume measuring 300 x 200 x 300mm. The heated borosilicate glass plate clocks in at 200°C, while the maximum nozzle temperature goes up to 500°C. The printer itself measures 580 x 550 x 800mm with a total weight of 30kg, so expect it to be a prominent figure standing tall among smaller consumer systems. When it comes to connectivity users can choose between either ethernet or WiFi depending on the chosen motherboard (Duet Wi-Fi motherboard and Duet ethernet motherboard).
The semi-enclosed all-metal frame is bounded by plexiglass sheets and features a simple but sturdy design, with a CNC-machined X-axis, high-performance Hiwin linear rails, and genuine Gates belts. Operating on a CoreXY axis setup, the machine was built with speed and accuracy in mind. The CoreXY system is faster than comparable cartesian or delta systems, as it can better handle inertia without sacrificing part quality. We managed to max the print speed out at a whopping 300mm/s while still maintaining fine feature details.
Setup from start to finish
If you’re looking for a plug-and-play system, turn back now because you won’t find it here. The Motion System and ToolChanger comes fully disassembled, and it is up to the user to build it themselves. While the lack of a physical instruction manual may be daunting at first, rest assured that everything you need to set up is outlined in the assembly guides on the E3D website.
While most of these guides provide ample detail and clarity, we thought the wiring section might prove difficult to those that don’t have much experience in the area – cable management is an art form, after all. A friendly port of call exists in the E3D Online 3D Printing Forum. Here, we had the pleasure of enlisting the company’s own highly responsive in-house engineers.
Once constructed (this took approximately 15 hours), users can then delve into the Duet motherboard to fine-tune functionality. Everything is laid out in the documentation here. Our model came with the Wi-Fi board, so we connected to the Duet Wi-Fi web interface, where we were able to set up a custom gcode profile for filament loading and unloading.
While you can find the necessary gcode on the Duet forums, you also have the option to create your own depending on your needs. For example, the gcode below is what we used for loading PLA. At this point, it’s just a matter of running the custom config file on the web interface and manually feeding your filament in.
The final setup stage is the bed and toolhead calibration procedure. A level bed is an absolute necessity for high-quality 3D printed parts and helps avoid delamination issues in the first few layers. E3D’s 3D printer, much to our delight, uses an automatic sensor leveling system that precisely measures the plate’s tilt at 40 different points for the user. Toolhead calibration is a little trickier and requires user input, but the necessary steps are well-explained in this guide.
By working so close to the hardware, users are given an extraordinary amount of control over the capabilities of the 3D printer. With such power, responsibility does also come, as Duet motherboards lack certain safety features to protect users from themselves. For instance, the printer doesn’t have a movement limit for the motors. This means that if you program the plate to move down when it’s already at the very bottom, it will continue to try to do so, straining the motors. We thought the system as a whole could do with a few end stop sensors on the critical components to provide a safety net.
E3D doesn’t provide a slicer for use with the Motion System and ToolChanger. While the company does recommend using Simplify3D, any slicer that supports multi-extrusion will do. For those not wanting to pay or wanting to use Simplify3D, we found PrusaSlicer a great alternative. It also enables users to develop their config profiles for added customization.
Benchmarking the E3D Motion System and ToolChanger
It’s time to see what the E3D Motion System 3D printer is made of. Our benchmarking tests were all printed using either the V6, the Volcano, or the Hemera print head, in a polymer filament range. We start with 3D Printing Industry’s benchmarking model in ABS, which consolidates several smaller tests into one all-encompassing part.
The results were superb. We initially had some concerns regarding the largely open-frame nature of the 3D printer, as ambient temperature fluctuations can challenge printing with filaments like ABS. Looking at the various sections of our model, however, these worries were unfounded.
The overhang test printed perfectly up to the maximum of 75°. Sound impressive? That’s because it is. With comparable systems averaging around 55°, this is undoubtedly the best overhang test we’ve seen in recent years. It speaks volumes about E3D’s expertise in designing extruder assemblies and cooling systems.
Similarly, the bridging test quantifies a system’s ability to print horizontally into the void maxed out at 45mm before beginning to curve. As the average for this test is around 20mm – 30mm, the Motion System passed with flying colors.
Moving onto the retraction test section, we experienced a minor issue. The spike array printed in whole but featured a few surface artifacts and a fair amount of stringing. Since E3D extruders usually excel in the retraction test, we chalked this up to trying to print thin ABS structures at room temperature. Still, the defects can be clipped away without affecting the underlying structures, and the model as a whole was an overwhelming success.
We also wanted to see how the 3D printer’s CoreXY system would handle concentric circular structures, so we gave the circular trajectory test a spin. In this test, we determine the difference between the intended dimensions and the actual printed dimensions, giving us an idea of how dimensionally precise the system is. Studying the normal distribution of the results, a mean of difference of under 0.1mm and a standard deviation of under 0.05mm can be construed as ‘repeatable’.
The results were excellent, to say the least, with an average X-axis offset of just 0.022mm, a Y-axis offset of 0.025mm, and an average standard deviation of 0.026mm. For reference, industrial FFF systems can sometimes have dimensional accuracies of up to 0.1mm, which qualifies them for high-precision engineering projects in sectors such as automotive tooling. For the price point of the E3D, you’d be hard pressed to find an FFF 3D printer with a comparable dimensional accuracy, further cementing the cost-effectiveness of the high-performance system.
Real application tests
We then put the E3D Motion System to the test with some parts and projects a typical user might embark on in the workshop. First up was a router guide plate – a functional spare part designed by our engineers to be 3D printed and installed on the Motion System’s router. The guide plate isn’t intended to experience high stresses or temperatures, so we opted for a very basic PLA part. The component was fabricated with zero defects, fitting our router like a glove.
Next up was the mechanical print test. For this review, we chose to go for a functional camera slider. This mount features several gear systems working in conjunction with each other to direct a professional camera along a guide rail. Since the system required manual assembly, it indicated just how tight the tolerances on the Motion System were. The camera slider was indeed a great success, and can be used for a whole host of videography projects.
Naturally, we also had to try out the Motion System’s dual (and triple) extrusion capabilities with some multi-material prints. The dragon egg below is a PLA/PLA combo, while the striped lizard takes it a step further with PLA/PLA/ABS. Both models were 3D printed as shown with no additional assembly required.
Looking a little closer, we see that both models were produced to a very high standard. The egg features some bleeding at the interface zones due to the frequency of the color changes, but the surfaces are smooth, and the part as a whole is solid. The lizard, on the other hand, is virtually perfect. The material borders are all very clearly defined, and the model feels as if it could just be one continuous material—a big win for the Motion System.
Finally, we have the TPU vase test. It’s recommended that you use a direct drive extruder to print with the flexible filament, so this test gave us an idea of just how capable the system’s E3D Hemera extruder was. The result was excellent, with no surface defects or imperfections. The vase, despite significant deformation, goes back to its original shape.
At the end of the day, the E3D Motion System 3D printer is one of the best workshop companions we’ve ever tested. Provided you’re willing to spend a Saturday putting the thing together, and you have a knack for DIY, this here is a must-have. The remarkable print quality – coupled with the system’s extensive customizability – makes it a potent tool to have in your arsenal.
However, this isn’t to say it’s perfect, as the system could do with a few more careful design considerations. Firstly, a magnetic print bed would do wonders for part removal. The system could also use a set of anti-oozing plates and filament waste bins to help ensure there’s no unwanted spaghetti laying about. A few premium additions like a filament runout sensor and an optional build chamber lid would also be great.
In the end, these are ultimately minor gripes, as the E3D works as advertised and grants users with manufacturing capabilities beyond that of any regular FFF printer. For sub-£2500, the power to customize four individual tool heads is unmatched, and the potential for ingenuity is virtually limitless. If you’re looking for a high-performance manufacturing engine on a budget, we can’t recommend the E3D Motion System and ToolChanger enough.
|Build volume||300 x 200 x 300mm|
|Layer thickness||0.05 – 0.64mm|
|Max nozzle temperature||500°C|
|Max bed temperature||200°C|
|Print speed||0 – 200mm/s|
|Printer dimensions||580 x 550 x 800mm|
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Featured image shows the E3D Motion System and ToolChanger. Photo via E3D.