I recently purchased a Stratasys U-Print SE Plus 3D FDM-style printer. I thoroughly researched the low-cost market and, although not low cost by any stretch ($20K), I settled on that model for features and productivity confident that I could compete with the low-cost machines easily. I had plans to print functional machine parts that would compete with fully machined aluminum parts. Since I design most of the products that I sell, I can design based upon using a 3D printed part in place of a customary aluminum part.
I designed a “Test Vehicle” (a representative part to demonstrate the use of FDM in place of aluminum) and acquired sample printed parts from several notable machine manufacturers. The Stratasys printer along with the software features and the close proximity of support swayed my decision to the U-Print Se Plus.
I received my printer within two weeks and had a very knowledgeable technician do the install and training. What I did not know before I purchased is that Stratasys incorporates a sneaky software trick that is designed to coerce me into buying raw plastic filament from them only at a 20X upcharge!
They incorporate a nifty IC chip within the filament feeder of the Filament material cassette. This chip has on its memory a code which corresponds to the amount of filament left on that particular spool. The IC chip is updated with the correct material inventory each time that material is used. This is very handy when you initiate a printing job that will require more material than you have in the material bay. The machine can let you know when your material is empty and it can also let you know that the current amount on the spool is not enough to finish the job in queue.
All of this is fine and very handy, however, Stratasys took this IC chip inventory idea one step too far. Once the IC chip reads zero inventory you cannot refill the spool and reset it to 100%. There is no way to reset the onboard inventory number on that chip. The machine will not use a new reloaded spool that has a chip reading zero inventory. The only way reset the chip is to purchase a new chip within a complete spool from Stratasys at a $205.00 per spool price tag. I was not told of this “Gotcha” until the installation was being performed. The installation Technician obviously felt bad for me, but there was nothing he could do about it.
I can purchase spools of ABS plastic filament (the same material used in the Stratasys machine) off of Amazon.com for $22-$25 per spool. I can also purchase a “Extrude Bot” machine from extrudebot.com here in Chandler, AZ for $675.00.This machine uses raw (virgin) ABS pellets, the same material that an injection molder would purchase, and extrudes 1.75 mm filament (same that is used on the Stratasys machines) and spools it onto your spool for $5.00 per spool.
Stratasys claims that their reasoning is that their ABS “Plus” material is better and will work in the machine with fewer problems. If that is the case, Why not sell me the good material in bulk form (large spool) and give me the ability to reload my spools and reset the IC chips back to 100% inventory? I still use the good material, but I also can realize the full potential of my printer and use it for which I purchased it.
Now, I can’t compete with my printer against the smaller printers because they can extrude cheap material for 20X less cost than I can. I can’t even afford to do the simplest jobs because the material cost is too costly. Had I known about the material cost hijack, I would never have purchased the Stratasys machine. I had visions of a fleet of machines in my shop cranking out parts for my many Engineering customers. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.
This is like buying an expensive CNC milling machine to out-perform the smaller shops that only have manual machines and then find out that you can’t use standard raw materials from the material supplier. You have to purchase special material from the machine manufacturer at an exorbitant price. Who would do that?
Stratasys claims that is is like HP who sells you a cheap printer and then sells you the ink at a marked-up price. I contend that there is no comparison with this analogy. I do not sell printed paper. I use printed paper for inter-office communication etc. The 3D plastic, on the other hand, is exactly what I am selling. By jacking up the plastic cost and forcing me to buy it from Stratasys is, not only preventing me from utilizing my printer, but is swaying me from ever buying another machine from them.
I am sure the word is getting around to the would-be Stratasys customers who are electing to take their chances with other machines. This could be playing a roll in the fall of Stratasys’ value in the market. After all, it’s all about controlling your costs.
Credence Engineering, Inc.
237 W. La Vieve Ln.
Tempe, AZ 85284