Head-to-Head Competition: Type A Machines Series 1 Pro against Airwolf3D Axiom

Class lab test shows which 3D printer comes up on top

By Gregory van Zuyen

In developing Santa Monica College Continuing Education’s 3D printing program last year, the college purchased a Series 1 Pro from Type A Machine for the campus 3D printing lab. As a 3D printing instructor there, I have been grateful. Although the Series 1 Pro was not auto-leveling at the time of our purchase, our Series 1 Pro delivers as a 3D printer should. In the rare times the filament thread has stuck or broken off in the extruder, solving it was the simplest of tasks. My grandmother could do it. In the dark. With her eyes closed.

There is nothing fancy about the Type A Machines Series 1 Pro. What it does is go and go and go. It is the Dodge truck of 3D printers. Fittingly, the Type A Machine 3D printer headquarters is housed in the former Chrysler factory in Oakland, California. There must be something about that because the Type A Machine is reliable and can easily handle big jobs just like cars and trucks that rolled out of its factory in the 60s and 70s.

I met with Jack Licorish of Airwolf3D at the Inside 3D Printing show in San Diego on Dec 14, 2016. We spoke about what the college was doing and Airwolf3D agreed to loan the SMC Continuing Education’s 3D printing lab an Axiom for 60 days to see how it did against the school’s Type A Machine Series 1 Pro.

The head-to-head competition was on.

Head-to-Head Competition: Type A Machines Series 1 Pro against Airwolf3D Axiom

Santa Monica College Continuing Education student Elizabeth Yuricek at the desk of the campus 3D printing lab

We installed an Axiom alongside the Series 1 Pro in our 3D printing lab at SMC Continuing Ed. The students were allowed to print their objects to either machine and we compared all matters of printing results. The rest of this report is the culmination of our classroom findings based upon the qualifications of build space, cost, maintenance, software, filament, resolution, and reliability.

Build Space

One of the reasons the college ordered the Type A Machine’s Series 1 Pro was due in part to its spacious build envelope of one cubic foot (305mm x 305mm x 305mm). The condition with the Series 1 Pro is the build space is in the open, and there is no confinement of the print within a closed space. From a teaching standpoint, this is great. Students can see the print in action from every angle.

The Axiom sizes up nicely to the Series 1 Pro in terms of build space at 12.5″ x 8″ x 10″ (317.5mm x 203.2mm x 254mm) build space, but in the Axiom’s case, Airwolf3D provides a full enclosure for the heat-retention necessary for printing materials such as ABS and nylon. The enclosure, made of plexiglass in a sturdy four-posted aluminum frame, has a magnetic door catch in the front and a removable plexiglass top to access the extruder from above. Access to the 3D printer for maintenance or upgrades is made possible by four screws on the top of the frame.

Although this has nothing to do with 3D print production, the Axiom has blue LCD lights installed along the edges of the plexiglass that added a “wow” factor with the students when the 3D printer was turned on by a switch located in the back.

Cost

The cost difference between the two 3D printers is moderate and Airwolf3D is the winner in this category. Also, for twice the price of the Series 1 Pro, however, Airwolf3D provides an Axiom 20 model with a build space of 12.5″ x 12″ x 20″ (317.5mm x 304.8mm x 508mm).

Maintanence

Type A Machine recently announced development of an auto-leveling device that is attachable to our Series 1 Pro 2016 model. A key difference with the Airwolf3D is it has an auto-leveling feature ready to go. It also has a wire brush cleaning station installed within the printer. The Axiom automatically passes the extruder through the wire brush and levels out the bed before each print.

Both 3D printers print on glass. Bed adhesion for the Series 1 Pro is glue stick. Since the bed is white, we found colored glue sticks are a big plus. It’s a simple process and clean-up consists of heating up the bed and wiping off old glue with damp paper towels.

Head-to-Head Competition: Type A Machines Series 1 Pro against Airwolf3D Axiom

Carlos of Airwolf3D introducing the Axiom operations and use of the Wolfbite bed adhesion solutions (foreground)

Airwolf3D patented a bed adhesion chemical solution called Wolfbite. Wolfbite is approximately $20 a bottle and comes in separate bottled solutions to match the materials being printed. It works exceedingly well and the solution is applied sparingly before each print with a sponge brush to lightly coat the glass. The Axiom glass bed slides in and out of firm aluminum grips much like a refrigerator shelf. This allows for easy washing of the bed in a sink using warm water.

Software

Type A Machines, like many other printers, run on Cura slicing software, made by Ultimaker. The Type A Machines team modified Cura with a genius infill design called Cura Type A. Airwolf3D powers their slicing delivery with a software called Apex, which has been crafted on the Cura frame. It’s Cura, only in red and black and with a few missing controls. It works just like Cura, so picking up the pace on Apex took no time at all and we were rocking and rolling.

Jobs are ported into the Axiom by a USB to printer port cable through the back, although the Axiom 3D printers come available with wireless. The Series 1 Pro is wireless and once turned on my a convenient button in the front, the printer begins sending a wi-fi connection to available stations for the sending of file through the login of a specified web page. The Series 1 Pro has a camera installed for viewing the print as it happens from another room or location. Jobs are processed and logged through the web page. The page is also the means of control for the 3D printer’s heating, bed height, and extruder placement.

Many of the controls for the Axiom are through a toggle display window on the front of the printer. A dial knob allows window prompt choices for managing the 3D printer’s features and initialing commands. Beside the display window is a micro SD card slot for supplying print jobs.

Filament

The Series 1 Pro prints in 1.75 mm filament and the Airwolf3D prints in 2.88 mm. One of the conditions of the Axiom is to be handy at dovetailing the beginning of a new filament to load the Axiom. Tapered just right, it feeds nicely. If you are having to wait for it to autofeed, you will need to taper it again.

Both 3D printer companies applaud open source suppliers of filaments for their machines even while they themselves provide premium filaments made on site. The company filaments we used were a close match in comparison although we had to dial up the bed setting on the Series 1 Pro to 60 celsius to get better adhesion on the corners of the print. Printing ABS on the Series 1 Pro voids the warranty, but the company does provide a variety of filaments such as wood, copper and bronze alloys, polycarbonate, and carbon fiber filaments. You can also still print ABS on it if you really wanted.

That being said the AxiomE has upwards of 40 possible filaments to print with, including Hydrofill, a new support filament that melts out in 30 to 45 minutes in warm water.

Resolution

Axiom was clearly the big winner in this department. Near the end of our 60-day trial, we sent the same job to both 3D printers, each with the same settings all around, without adjusting for combing or altering the default settings for the supports. As our class concluded, we examined the two prints, side by side, and the Axiom did a much better job in the same amount of time. It’s print was cleaner and more attractive, with virtually no clean-up. In reference to default settings, the Apex software has better settings than Cura. Airwolf3D support stems break away with ease. Cura support stems end up getting painted over and considered permanent parts of the print.

Head-to-Head Competition: Type A Machines Series 1 Pro against Airwolf3D Axiom

Santa Monica College Continuing Education’s Series 1 Pro printing a student project

Reliability

I cannot say enough about Type A Machines in this category. I would take their printer into space. But I would also take an Airwolf3D. It proved as reliable in manufacture and operation. There was only one instance of a failed print, and the source of the problem seemed to be the file itself. All the other files we sent printed fine, except one file in which, despite repeated attempts, the print would get hung up in the same spot every time. In this particular case, class agreed to call it a fluke.

While Santa Monica College is happy to have the Series 1 Pro as a permanent feature of the campus 3D printing lab, it was the class consensus that the Axiom is the winner of this competition. Because of its features like print resolution, cost, material diversity, auto-leveling and easy clean-up, this is a superior machine to have.


Gregory van Zuyen is managing editor of 3D Printr Magazine and an instructor of 3D printing at Santa Monica College Continuing Education.