Not bad, just rusty

Review: MecanicX Heater for 3D printers!

3D printing in the winter months can be troublesome, especially if you live in a cold country. The UK is warmer in the winter than our previous house in Minnesota, USA, but it still gets cold here. Certainly cold enough to see prints fail due to low temperatures.

Here’s the thing, my workshop isn’t heated. In winter, the inside of my shop averages around 15C and the only way to heat it is with space heaters. But let’s face it, running one or more of those in the middle of an energy crisis isn’t the most sensible. Especially if I only need to heat a 3D printer.

See, most resins do best in the 25-30° range. Why? UV polymerization speeds up and reactions are more uniform in this temp range, so if my shop is barely at half that top end, probability tells me I’m facing 50% chance of print failure. And now that I’m ramping up production of detail parts for my upcoming craftsman kit, I had to find a solution…

It’s no secret that PTC heaters like the one from MecanicX can be made at home using relatively cheap parts and open source, 3D-printed pieces. However, there’s electrical work involved and not everyone is comfortable with that. That’s where the MecanicX comes in. It’s pre-built, tested and ready to go — and has some added safety features.

These tiny heaters are designed to heat only the INSIDE of the 3D printer. It does that by being mounted inside the printer’s enclosure using magnetized mounts. It can impressively maintain a set temperature of up to 50C! I did the maths and I can run 5 of these units for one hour at the cost of £0.07!

The 100W heating element is driven by a temperature controller that allows the user the control a number of aspects, ranging from return temperatures, cut-out temperatures, temperature calibration and more.

The unit’s housing is FDM 3D-printed, using a fireproof ABS for added safety. Talking of safety, the MecanicX heater has a thermal fuse that “in the event of a fan failure to cool the heating element, if the temperature reaches a value higher than 115ºC, the fuse completely interrupts the functioning of the system, eliminating the danger of fire”

Additionally, every heater that is sold is pretested and monitored for 24 hours, ensuring its quality.

Let’s get down to brass tacks though, the first thing I noticed about this little heater is that it WILL NOT fit on the z-axis pillar on many 3D printers without fouling the build plate – the Saturn 1 included. And the Saturn 1 is not a small printer. Surprisingly, the only way to mount it would be by attaching it to the inside of the printer’s lid, which is more than possible thanks to the nifty parabolic vent that allows installation against a flat surface.

This particular design by MecanicX is their own and whilst it is robust, the open-source housing I have seen online has a smaller profile that can fit into a Mars 3. That’s a big deal and I would suggest MecanicX look into reducing the thickness of their heater to expand to more customers with smaller printers like the Mars.

For my SATURN 2, however, the printer is big enough that the MecanicX Heater fits like a glove on the z-axis pillar. So that’s exactly where I installed it. But one thing became clear quite quickly: the magnets aren’t strong enough for a secure hold. Honestly, I would ideally want magnets twice as strong. Fortunately, in my follow-up research, I have seen (but not tested) MecanicX has re-designs of the mounts that do look much better. Problem solved.

The temperature probe was installed on the opposite side of the pillar, about half way.

The heater is powered by a large, high quality power brick and a thick cable. This isn’t cheap Chinese stuff and I appreciate the lack of skimping here, given we’re dealing with a high current heater. Top marks.

The size of the transformer itself isn’t an issue, as it sits out of sight behind the printer, but the thickness of the cable means that you have to make a notch in the lip of the printer’s lid for it to seat properly and prevent UV leakage:

It’s understandable that some people would be uncomfortable making this type of modification, especially with resale value in mind. Yes, I could use the port hole in the Saturn 2’s lid, but then I wouldn’t be able to lift the lid away to another work surface, as I always do. This is actually my main concern with installing it on the inside of smaller printers. With only the lid as a mounting option, it will be forever tethered by the heater’s power cable, unless you unplug and re-plug it every time, which would be annoying. That said, it’s a liveable mod, especially for print success.

With the heater installed, though, you simply power it up (would be great if it had a switch, though), set the temperature, let it run for anywhere between 3-10 minutes to get up to nominal working temps and then print as normal. The heater keeps the enclosure temperature regulated, switching on and off to maintain the desired temperature. Nice.

So, does it work?

Yes. It really does.

My first real test was earlier this week. After a series of simple prints failed without cause, I installed the heater and re-ran the prints once the enclosure and vat reached 25C. The simple print was successful. The heater did the job. And I’m now seeing far less failed prints in these colder days, which is a real time saver. So what are the main drawbacks of the heater? Well, there are two:

  1. It’s too large to install on the z-axis pillar of many printers, despite being compact and well-designed.
  2. The heater is expensive at £150+ and if you have more than one printer, this solution can be very expensive.

Nevertheless, I do recommend MecanicX heaters for those who can’t heat their entire spaces. It’s a very neat solution that works. But I only recommend it to the single user – or someone who has the budget to purchase one for each machine they run.

It solved the temperature problem for my Saturn 2, but now what do I do for my other six printers!? For a DIY solution, stay tuned!

Bottom line: this is a quality heater, made using quality parts by a quality engineer who clearly cares. For those that want to avoid fuss and prefer a pre-made heater, the MecanicX Heater is the perfect choice.

UPDATE 28/10/22: Keep an eye on the Etsy store right here. You will notice it is “out of stock” right now, and that’s for a very simple reason. An updated model will soon be available addressing some of the concerns in the above review!

[ ] Refund, please!
[ ] Yeah, it works… I suppose.
[ x ] Fantastic, but not for everyone all printers
[ ] Beyond impressed.
[ ] Perfection, perfected.

by Craig on October 1, 2022