3D printers vary wildly in terms of quality. Here’s the thing, though: because 3D printing is the new “big thing”, there are plenty of expensive models that aren’t worth their price tags. Today, we’ll be taking a look at one premium printer to see if it’s right for you and your business.
We’ll be examining the Ember. This is a printer with serious credentials, having been created by Autodesk, a company well-known for its modelling software. Let’s just hope it lives up to the hype. Take a look below for our at-a-glance guide to the Ember’s tech specs:
|Supported Materials||Various resins|
|Connectivity||USB, Ethernet, WiFi|
|Print Speed||18mm per hour|
|Build Volume||2.5 x 1.5 x 5.2”|
Aesthetically, the Autodesk Ember has everything you’d expect from a high-end 3D printer. There’s the ubiquitous rounded edges, for instance, the sleek black and silver contrast, and of course, an LCD screen. However, as this is an SLA printer, instead of an FFF one, all of the printing takes place in an enclosed chamber.
Note the extremely simplistic interface. You can, of course, send models across from a PC, but any manual tasks are performed using the wheel on the printer’s front face. We really like that this model shows a timer, since it takes the guesswork out of printing and lets you better plan a day’s production.
Now, one thing that immediately jumps out is the small build volume. This could be a particular problem given the cost of SLA resins compared to traditional filament. However, it appears that the Ember is designed for small-to-medium scale mass production. In other words, it lets you builds lots of little things very quickly, instead of taking hours to create standard-size objects.
You can expect a higher print quality from the Ember for the simple reason that it uses photo-sensitive resin instead of filament. However, even compared to other SLA printers, the overall quality is excellent. There’s minimal material waste, edges are clean, and even complex structures come out camera-ready.
Everything about this printer hints at a production-line mentality: just take the low build volume, high speeds, and quickly interchangeable resin trays, for instance. Best of all, everything about this printer is open-source. This means that you can easily modify or optimize the internal workings and use whichever resin you find works best for a given task.
Let’s be clear, though: while the Ember produces highly-detailed models, it’s primarily designed for rapid prototyping. As such, if you’re looking to create hundreds of identical, consumer-ready products, you might need some form of post-processing team in place. For the most part, you’ll be fine, but over time, small variations are unavoidable. This is true for any printer, however, not just the Ember.
The Autodesk Ember is not a 3D printer that offers a million different features. Instead, the majority of its more advanced functionality takes place automatically. For example, it prints in a way designed to put as little stress on your prints as possible. This leads to fewer mistakes, fewer failed prints, and ultimately, saves you time as well as money.
You’ll notice that this is a particularly fast printer. It has a speed of 18mm every two hours, but the main advantage is that all parts of a build are created simultaneously. As such, you can print multiple items at once, as long as they fit in the build area. This is only possible via SLA printers – if you attempted it with a standard 3D printer, and the base layer warped, every item would be ruined.
There’s certainly a lot to like here. The Ember allows you to send jobs via any Spark application, features a build head designed for quick and simple calibration, and uses only the highest quality components. Of course, this has implications on the product’s price…
Even when it was released in 2014, the Autodesk Ember was not cheap. Now, even after it’s been officially discontinued, the price is just as high as ever, at around $7500. Autodesk does still sell various resins for it, but ultimately, you’re at the mercy of a third-party reseller, which obviously makes buying several Embers difficult.
Of course, there’s no need to purchase official Autodesk resin. If you find a less expensive material that’s of an equally high quality, you can definitely use it. The question, however, is whether your business can afford to use a four-year old printer in the first place. If you have the technicians required for servicing, there’s no problem, but otherwise, you may have difficulty when problems arise.
Simply, if your design department only needs one 3D printer for prototyping, the Ember would be a strong choice. If you’re looking to purchase several, however, you might want to consider getting something a bit more modern, if only for the safety net that an official warranty would provide.
Despite not selling the Ember anymore, Autodesk maintains a highly active community forum full of tutorials, troubleshooting advice, and material guides. The site claims to offer online support, but this page doesn’t work, presumably as the printer is no longer manufactured. There’s also a blog but this hasn’t been updated since 2017.
Realistically, you’d have to find a reseller offering at least a one-year warranty. This is what Autodesk used to offer, although it could be argued that this is a little short, especially considering the price of the printer itself. If you don’t have specialized, experienced technical staff, you’ll have to accept the fact that the majority of your support will be given by other users, not necessarily professionals.
Ember 3D Printer Review
Overall - 8.2/10
The Autodesk Ember is an exceptionally powerful little 3D printer, with real mass-production potential. However, it’s marred by a very high price point and lack of official support.