More material madness

First and foremost, a shout out for John Branlund’s new blog: My FDM 1650. John had a broken Stratasys FDM 1650 (as well as an FDM 2000) sitting around and managed to resurrect the 1650 into a working machine (hopefully to be followed by the 2000 at some point). If you’re the owner of an old FDM, his blog is an invaluable dive into the inner guts of these machines at a level far deeper than I myself have been brave enough to consider, much less attempt.

After running low on ‘real’ Stratasys ABS for the FDM 1600 not terribly long after acquiring the machine, I started looking around for alternate suppliers – surely there must be alternatives to paying around $125/lb. for modeling material?  I even went so far as to look overseas, and came across Beijing Yinhua Technology Co., Ltd., which has not only FDM feedstock, but also stereolithography resins. I eagerly sent them an email asking for pricing and material specifications, but got no answer.  Assuming a language barrier, I enlisted the help of a coworker who speaks Chinese natively, and he helped me compose an email to them in a tongue devoid of a latin character set.  This actually yielded a response:

ABS S301, ABS B601 and ABS B203 comparise mainly of pure ABS and other supplementary ingredient. ABS B601 and ABS B203 have melting point at temp. 245℃. ABS S301 has melting point at temp. 235 ℃

FOB Price if ABS S301, ABS B601 and ABS B203 are same: 160 USD/KG
Each cartridge include 2KGs materials

So, about $73/lb. of material.  Still way too high in my book (recall that I’m using $10/lb. for Chi Mei PA-747 ABS in 0.070″ filament as a baseline), especially figuring in the potential shipping costs.  There were also two names that I came across for Stratasys feedstock and other consumables – Sibco and Bolson. Somehow I also was referred to Argyle Materials as a source, which I contacted. The normal price for a spool of material was $325, but as they were discontinuing the standard ABS material in favor of the ABSmax (said to be equivalent to the Stratasys ABSplus), they’d give me a deal of only $100 each for the last two spools of standard ABS that they had as a closeout price. I pondered this for a week or two, and then finally decided to go for it. I called them up, gave them my credit card information, and then waited. Every day afterward, I expected to see a brown cardboard box on my doorstep when coming home. I kept this up for 2 months, figuring that it must be tied up in customs. Eventually, I realized it just wasn’t coming, so I called up Argyle and Kyla was able to provide me with a USPS tracking number that eventually resolved to saying that the package had indeed been delivered, only 3 days after it had been shipped. I brought the tracking number to the post office, asking if there was any manner that they could check into it, but it wasn’t hopeful. They gave me the phone number of the main office that I could contact in order to seek ‘restitution’, but they told me that I was SOL.

Then, when I came home on Tuesday, there was one of those salmon colored 3×5 cards in my mailbox that the postal carrier leaves when a package needs a signature or somesuch.  On the card was the very tracking number I had inquired about, and a rather excited note saying “this is the one you’re looking for!”  Sure enough, I stopped by the post office on my way to work the next day, gave them the card, and they were able to present me with the prodigal package.  Major kudos to Kyla @ Argyle for providing me with tracking info, and to my local postal workers who somehow managed to find the missing package.

On opening up the box, I saw that it is actually Bolson material - I guess Argyle is simply a distributor

Before giving the new material a try, though, I had 2 more platform materials to test out with the NIP ABS.  Home Depot has both acrylic and styrene sheet available, so I bought a piece of each.  I’ve seen acrylic mentioned in RepRap heated build platform discussions (and some UP! users are now simply spraying clear acrylic on their platforms rather than using the green brush-on paint), so it was worth a shot.  Since high impact polystyrene is what the Stratasys breakaway support material consists of, there was a possibility that plain polystyrene would adhere nicely to the hot ABS.

First up was the acrylic:

A bit of edge lifting and filament on the first and second layer outlines not tracking correctly
Yeah, I'd say that's good adhesion. Too good.

Adhesion is really good between the ABS and acrylic, but precise Z axis deposition is required.  Were I running a single small piece at a time, this would probably be just fine, but trying to maintain the build base level to within a few thousandths of an inch across a 10″x10″ area requires a bit more attention, and I’m not about to go planing down the Garolite sheet when thermal stress might ruin all such work anyhow.

Well, let’s see how the polystyrene sheet fares:

Bah, not as good.

You can just barely see the faintest hint of the first layer of the part on the styrene surface to the left of the part itself.  It apparently adhered well enough to complete perhaps half the part, and then broke loose.  This was the ‘anti-glare’ side of the styrene sheet, which I figured I’d try first, as the protective plastic film stuck to this side much more than on the glossy side (potentially an indicator of molecular attraction, I thought).  Admittedly, I have not yet tried depositing the NIP ABS onto the glossy side, but I’m not expecting much after this.

So much for Chi Mei PA-747 – I was ready to load on some of the Bolson material and see how it extrudes onto the styrene.  After loading it into the machine, I extruded a few feet out of the nozzle and checked the die swell.  It measured to be around 0.0155″ – not quite the 0.017″ of the Stratasys P400 material, but certainly closer to it than the 0.013″ of the PA-747 ABS from NIP.  I was also getting a persistent ‘FILAMENT OUT’ error on the keypad, which meant that the photoeye wasn’t seeing the filament anymore, and the machine assumed that it had run out.  Opening up the dry box, I had a look at the photoeye arrangement for the first time, as I hadn’t needed to mess with them previously:

A pair of Omron reflective photoeyes are used to monitor when the filament finally runs out

Happily, they turned out to be Omron SPY series photoeyes, which I had experience with years ago when I retrofitted various paintball guns with them.  Just as in the past when they had difficulty sensing dark shelled paintballs (the photoeye emits IR light and looks for this light reflected from the target object), the black ABS reflects little in that wavelength.  Loosening the mounting screws and bringing the photoeye just a little closer to the filament fixed everything (you can see a little bit of red glow from the indicating LED on the nearest photoeye, showing that the photoeye is detecting something).

I made sure to run the nozzle tip right down to the surface of the styrene and ran a 0.007″ slice height part halfway through so I could have a good look at the infill:

No corner lifting or warping here!

Nifty – so how would the Bolson material run on blue painters tape?  Even more, is the die swell sufficient to keep the infill from drooping when using a 0.0201″ road width?

The 0.007" slice height part is on the left (you can see the ghost of its first layer in the styrene) and the 0.010" layer part is on the right, still attached to the blue painters tape.

Just as with the NIP ABS, the Bolson ABS had good adhesion to the tape, but was readily removed.  I’m very happy with the results – for my needs, the Bolson material is as good as the OEM P400 ABS.  However, should anyone be considering using the Bolson material in a commercial capacity, consider the decision carefully.  I spoke to a Stratasys Dimension user who is part of the RepRap project, and they were less-than-thrilled with the Bolson materials (given that Bolson regards their material to be equal in every way to the OEM material).  He noted that IR spectroscopy found that the Bolson material was not identical to Stratasys P400 or P430, had poorer layer-to-layer bonding, did not adhere to the support material as well on larger parts, and simply did not provide full part strength.  Given that the Bolson material is still darned expensive (depending where you get it from, it’s probably 80% of the price of the OEM ABS), it certainly is not worth using in a professional capacity (especially since use of third party materials is an instant warranty voider).  But if you’re a crazy hobbyist with an old FDM, have no fear – this stuff is far beyond the plastic welding rod ABS that most RepRappers are using.  If you can nab a spool on the cheap, you should have no regrets.

As good a deal as it was, $100 for 2 lbs. of Bolson material is a little more than the price for UP! filament, and five times the price of PA-747 from NIP.  There must be a better source.  I finally bit the bullet and gave Ashland Distribution a call, as they are a major distributor of not only SABIC ABS, but many other companies and polymer types. After bouncing through various customer service reps, I finally was contacted by a local salesperson who was extremely helpful.  Of the 5 grades of SABIC ABS that I was interested in (MG94, MG34LGHF, MG34LG, MG8000SR, and MG47), it turns out that MG94 and MG47 are common ‘workhorse’ grades of ABS for injection molding, and getting them should be no problem.  I’ll have to pester him about the other 3, but since MG94 was my primary interest, I’m good for now.

Even better, he was able to get me sample quantity pricing for MG94 and MG47 – a 55lb. sack at the 550lb. price!  And to top it all off, he gave me contact information for two different local plastics extruders who would probably be able to run the raw resin into 0.070″ filament for me.  I visited both of them on Friday, and after having a look at the material specifications, both said they could handle it.  They differ a little in terms of setup and die charges (which will run me a good bit more than the sample resin itself), but at least it’s possible.  There’s one or two other extruders that I need to check with for pricing, I need to see what Ashland has in the way of injection molding grade HIPS, and I need to find a source for wire welding spools (the 2″ hole diameter is just what’s needed for the Stratasys).

47 thoughts on “More material madness”

  1. Ok. If you find anything out, let me know. Would be more then interested to have the MG94 extruded at the same place. Is there a minimum qty you have to purchase of the plastic from Ashland?

  2. My current plan is to run 3 materials – MG94, MG47, and a cheapie generic injection molding grade HIPS (HIVAL 5308). Pricing is:
    SABIC MG94 ABS: $5.21/lb. (special trial pricing)
    SABIC MG47 ABS: $5.11/lb. (special trial pricing)
    HIVAL 5308 HIPS: $2.50/lb.
    So a sack of MG94 will be $286.55, MG47 is $281.05, and the 5308 is $137.50.

    I chatted briefly with a friend who works for a large injection molder, and they get notably better pricing on MG47, but they use an immense amount of it – 330 lbs. at $4.27/lb. or 4400 lbs. at $2.97/lb.

  3. I wonder how well the HIPS will pan out. Im assuming it is possible to order a trial rate, but I guess it would be better to have them all thested out first. I wish I could help you out somehow to speed up the process.

  4. The 5308 HIPS really doesn’t get a trial rate, as it’s generic priced anyhow. The melt flow looks pretty good for the 5308 (8 g/min @ 200°C/5.0 kg), so hopefully it will be a suitable support material. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of comprehensive material data for the HIVAL polymers (I assume this is so Ashland can fudge the fomulations a little depending on their supply chain), so hopefully that won’t bite me in the end.

  5. Before going into greater depth of your blog, I speedily purchase a couple of coils of the NIP ABS. You were telling me that at this point you wouldn’t recommend. Any idea of what I can do with it?

  6. You could see if anyone on the RepRap or PP3DP forums would like to buy it. Other than that, you could certainly experiment with build platform materials – you may be able to get some good results with acrylic if you’re very careful about getting the nozzle height just right.

  7. Nothing yet – am still waiting on a quote from Village Plastics for the extrusion (I was supposed to have gotten a quote Thursday, but I guess they’re really busy). Also, I’m still waiting to hear back from Ashland’s customer service department to get set up as a billable customer. I’ll have to give both of them a call Monday and ask for an update.

  8. Yes, I did finally get a quote back from Village Plastics, and it’s a doozy. $100 setup charge for each material (not bad), and a whopping $9/lb. for the extrusion itself. So, 3x (55lb. x $9/lb. + $100) = $1785. Ouch – this is way higher than anticipated (could very well be that they simply don’t want to deal with such a small order and quoted an astronomical price to shoo me away).

    I called up one of the local extruders I had visited and asked how much it would be if I added in 2 more resins to be run – they’re guessing $600 for the whole shebang (no per pound charge), but they’re currently running numbers for me and I’m hoping to hear back from them today. So, about a third of the price of what Village Plastics wants, and I won’t have to pay any shipping, as I can just pile all the coils in the truck. Even better, they’d let me know exactly what day they’d schedule the job for so that I can come and watch the whole process!

    Still waiting on Ashland to get back to me with the paperwork needed to set up as a customer – maybe today, but I won’t hold my breath.

  9. Wouldn’t New Image Plastics be able to do it at a decent price? I know that they extrude resins that are provided to them at a price of $3-4 a pound.

  10. Well, $3.50/lb. is right around what the estimated $600 at the local place would be (and no shipping to take into account). More importantly, I’ve heard that New Image’s quality control has been somewhat spotty lately – going local means that I have the opportunity to oversee the process myself.

  11. Michael,

    I work on several stratasys machines of different models, we’ve fully disassembled all of them at one point or another as well as hacking the EPROM (they do use the serial hash, unfortunately), and experimenting with different materials. Is there a way I can contact you outside comments? I’ve got a lot of info you might be interested in.

  12. I just picked up an FDM2000 myself. Turns out the in-feed nozzle (made from polyimide) was cracked and leaking. I turned a new one, rebuilt the entire (model side) extruder head and it seems to be working just like OEM.

    The machine is all calibrated and I am able to get it printing nicely. The problem I’m having is that the material keeps failing to feed halfway through a part. I’ll usually get a torque error as the filment wraps itself around the feeder rolls. I’m wondering if my thermocouples need to be calibrated (don’t have any reference to compare them to) or if it is the old material.

    The machine came with some P500 ABSi material. I have no idea how old it is but I do know it wasn’t sealed and the previous owner said it is probably quite old.

    You seem to be having no problems. Did you come across this at all? Any thoughts?

  13. Rob –

    Any chance the grommets in the rear of the head block (if your FDM has them) are too tight? They should drag only lightly on the filament. If you monitor your torque on the keypad during a build, what’s the highest you see it reach?

    The thermocouples shouldn’t need calibration – at least on my 1600, they’re not thermocouples at all but rather RTDs, which are very stable.

    The P400 I had been running at first is a good decade old and ran without a hitch – age won’t affect the filament, but storage conditions (thermal cycling, humidity, etc.) will.

  14. A quick update on the extrusion front… The extrusion shop got back to me and committed to the $600 quote to extrude the 3 different resins to a diameter of 0.070″ +/- 0.003″. This is a very fair price, as for such a small size they can run perhaps 20 pounds of plastic per hour. It will take a solid 8 hour workday to run all three of the 55 lb. bags, and I intend to take off work to supervise (read that as “stand around anxiously and generally be in the way”) the run and lend a hand in any way I can.

    Ashland finally got me the customer paperwork I needed to fill out today (in fairness, they had sent it out a couple of weeks ago but it must have gotten gobbled up in an email snag). I filled out the customer info packet this evening and faxed it back to them. It’s a good thing I have a little hobby business so that I can provide a tax ID number, etc. – these guys are obviously used to dealing with customers unimaginably larger than some nutjob like myself who decides he wants a bag of plastic granules. There’s a page regarding shipping info that I still need to fill out and send in, but I’ll have to ask the extrusion shop for that info – whether they have a loading dock, etc.

  15. I’m writing up the information – the only main problem is that the extrusion will cost me twice what I was originally quoted. However, the material itself was looking very good.

  16. I use ABS materials so much for 3 Dimension materials, I make small parts not more than 7-9 cubic centimeters, I need a trusted source with very good prices, please send me suggestions on
    Very appreciated

  17. I really haven’t done much since the testing of filament – the MG47 runs pretty well, but isn’t a perfect match for Stratasys P400. However, from what a few testers have told me, the MG94 is indeed a dead ringer for ABSplus. I’m aware of someone who is working on getting bulk quantities of Stratasys compatible filament extruded, and hopefully he’ll be selling it online in a few months.

  18. OEM in the UK costs £350 a cartridge. £200 for bolson material cartridge. Does anyone know how much Bolson material is in USA?

  19. Hey Dervish, could you tell us what material sources have you used, and till now which you best recommend?

  20. I believe Dervish left the rapid prototyping industry quite some time ago, but I do know that he was using a lot of Bolson material – I don’t know what other sources he might have experimented with, though.

  21. Anyone have troubleshooting experience on the operation of a Stratasys FDM-3000 machine?

    Everything runs just fine except the build tip has a delay in dispensing material at the beginning of each track of build. This creates a gap in the build, ruining the part. The machine is using P400 build and P400R support.

    I have tried:

    a) Drying the material
    b) Varying the build nozzle temp between 260C-280C
    c) Tried different sizes of build nozzle tips…0.012″, 0.016″
    d) Varying the envelope temp between 60C -80C

    When building the calibration boxes, everything is great except the first 1/4″ is missing from the starting corner on each layer.

    Stratasys is NO HELP at all. They want me to turn in the machine for pennies and buy a brand new one.

    Let me know if you can/will help with this or if you could recommend someone else. I would be willing to pay a reasonable consulting fee if necessary.


  22. Does anyone know the Watlow settings for the support side of the machine. Also, need to replace the thermo couple and could use some advise on where to purchase a replacement.

  23. Bolson material can suck real bad. The black works fine in my Dimension 1200ES but any other colour just mashes up in the feed gears

  24. Have Blue how hard is it to remove the support material from your model? I have to get a really sturdy knife with a razor edge to peel off the support from my model. I’m using OEM support material with the OEM ABS 400.

  25. Not hard – most should peel or break away pretty readily. If you find that you’re needing to actually scrape/cut it off, check your Z offset, as it’s likely that your model tip might be dragging through support layers or is otherwise too low.

  26. Ok Thanks, Would old material also have this effect? I ask because my cal boxes come out spot on.

  27. No, old material should run just as well as new – I have old ‘lobster red’ ABS from 1998 that runs just fine.

    Beyond messing with cal boxes, one thing I’ve done is to print two flat 1″ squares (about 1/8″ thick) separated by a gap of about 1/8″ to see if the support i harder to remove from the top of the square versus the bottom – then I’ll fudge the Z offset a little based on that wholly unscientific test…

  28. Thanks a million for the advice. turns out my z offset was going about 5 thou too deep. and now the support peels off cleanly.

  29. Right, the calibration boxes are not just for X-Y offset, but you need to use a micrometer to check the thickness of the support layer. Glad you got it figured out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *