At 3D Printing UK we’re always on the lookout for interesting new 3D printers, and this week it looks like we’ve found one on Kickstarter. The new AnkerMake M5 has raised almost $9 million in funding and deliveries are scheduled for November. At $599 on Kickstarter, or just over £500, it’s a mid-priced printer – but it promises some high-end features.
Anker are better known for making computer peripherals and mobile phone accessories, and the M5 is their first attempt at a 3D printer. To make it they’ve set up the AnkerMake subsidiary and funded development through Kickstarter, probably to gauge interest – they’re a big enough company that they could have easily covered the $9,000,000 they’ve raised. If the M5 is a success, which looks likely from the Kickstarter response, we can expect to see more AnkerMake printers following it.
So what’s all the crowdfunded excitement about? Well, the M5 is a medium-sized open frame 3D printer about the same size as an Ender 3 or Prusa i3. It has a 235 x 235 x 250mm print volume, which is fairly average (but also big enough for most things that, in the real world, most of us want to print). It’s also a very refined-looking machine. As great as our Ender 3 is, there’s no doubt that it looks like a slightly Heath Robinson device covered in add-ons, upgrades and bits we printed ourselves. The M5 is very much a finished product – not something for people who like to tinker and upgrade but, on paper at least, ideal for anyone who wants a printer that works out of the box and comes with plenty of features already installed.
One of the first features you notice about the M5 is the camera unit mounted beside the touchscreen display. This has built-in night vision, and AnkerMake plan to release an app that will let you monitor the printer on a smartphone.The camera can also save time-lapse footage of your print job, but the really big news is that it also has error detection capabilities. A separate processor analyses the camera image, and and if it detects any common errrors – like a blocked nozzle, your print coming adrift from the bed or the whole thing turning into a bird’s nest of tangled filament – it can alert you and stop the print. All these features can be added to any printer, but that’s not a minor task and having them out of the box is a big selling point.
The M5 comes with a direct drive extruder as standard, with the whole thing built into a neat enclosure. The original design has a PTFE lining in the hot end and can heat to 260°C, but AnkerMake should be adding an all-metal hot end soon. The print head also contains two cooling fans to prevent sagging on bridges and overhangs. The M5 also has dual Z drive motors to keep the print beam moving smoothly, which is probably a good thing because, unusually, the touchscreen is mounted on it.
Other features include automatic levelling that probes 49 points on the bed to create its baseline – my CRTouch does a good job with five, so 49 should make for extremely good first-layer accuracy. There’s a flexible PEI-coated print bed, so you can pop your finished prints right off. If you use AnkerMake’s own filaments an RFI reader can tell you how much filament is left remotely. There are also some nice little touches like a night mode on the normally bright touchscreen.
There’s one other thing about the M5 that’s worth a mention. AnkerMake say it’s very, very fast. They’re quoting a default printing speed of 250mm/s, which is up to five times as fast as most other entry level or midrange printers. Of course once you allow for retractions, layer changes and all the other manoeuvres that print heads go through that doesn’t translate into your prints being done in a fifth of the time, but on sample prints like an oversized Benchy – and yes, if you want to make your printer look good compared to a slower competitor, oversized benchmarks are a good way to do it – AnkerMake say it cuts print time by between 68% and 77%. That’s still an impressive reduction.
Finally, AnkerMake have come up with a great new accessory for the M5. It’s the V6 – a six-spool filament cabinet and feed unit that works with the printer, letting you produce six-colour 3D prints. It will come with a replacement print head that lets the printer retract and swap filaments. AnkerMake say the V6 will integrate closely with the printer, displaying filament levels on the printer display and the linked app. The cabinet will also dry any filament loaded in it and protect it from humidity. On Kickstarter the V6 is priced at $299 (£250).