Update 26th January 2024:
Both internal and external tests with PLA are overwhelmingly positive. We have spent the last couple of weeks fine-tuning PETG, and we are also getting good results. These are the two materials the MMU3 will officially support. If you need to print other polymers, it is likely possible, but we want to clearly state that only PLA and PETG are the materials we have extensively tested and officially support.
MMU3 beta testers
Apart from our internal testing department, we have a team of fantastic external beta testers, who have been testing every step of the development thus far. Many changes made to the MMU3 were based on their feedback. We are now giving them the green light to start posting their experience with the MMU3, so you might start seeing pictures and videos of it online.
MMU3 integration in Prusa Connect
As we continue testing the MMU3 for the MK4, the Prusa Connect team has added new functionality. The MK4 can newly report to Prusa Connect if the MMU3 unit is connected. Prusa Connect is now also able to read the currently active MMU3 slot and display the information in the status bar.
Technical updates and resolved issues
Layer shifts – In our testing, we had problems with random layer shifts. These were quite rare, but since the print cannot be saved if the problem occurs, they were very annoying to encounter. The prints were clean with nothing the nozzle could crash into. The culprit turned out to be a bug in the firmware, occurring only when the MMU unit is connected. We believe we have fixed the problem in our latest internal firmware build. We continue to investigate the issue, to make sure the problem is completely eliminated.
Spool holders – The spool holders and filament buffer remain the only components where we are still doing significant changes. Our tests show that on the MK4, where the length of the unloaded filament is slightly longer compared to the MK3S+, filament tension in the buffer and from the spool holders impacts reliability. We are testing different setups to see which work the best.
Enhancements to printed parts – Over the last period of testing, we have made several improvements to the printed parts. We are now printing the production version of these parts, but further testing is necessary to ensure they function without causing any new issues.
Wear of the Nextruder main plate – Lastly, we are investigating wear of a part which guides the filament from the drive gears into the nozzle tube. The wear is caused by repeated loads and unloads of filament. Without the MMU, this wear is insignificant. However, a single MMU print can have thousands of filament loads and unloads, increasing the wear rate. Once this part wears out, the printer is unable to properly push filament into the nozzle. We’re testing different materials and manufacturing methods for this part to maximize its lifespan while maintaining functionality. It’s possible this part will be treated as a consumable, requiring replacement every few months.
Shipping date estimate
We are committed to ensuring the MMU3 for the MK4 is a reliable and effective upgrade and we’re doing everything we can to begin shipping it by the end of March. Thank you for your patience.
The Original Prusa MMU3 is our efficient solution for the MK3S+ and MK4, enabling these single-nozzle 3D printers to print using up to 5 filaments. While the MMU3 for the MK3S+ has been out for more than three months and is receiving excellent feedback, we keep postponing the MK4 variant further away. In this development diary, we’d like to talk about the technical problems we’ve encountered, how we’ve solved them, and what’s left to figure out before we can start shipping the production units.
Reliability of the MMU3 for the MK3S+
The primary reason for creating a successor to our MMU2S was to enhance its reliability and ease of use without the need for lengthy fine-tuning and calibrations. We’ve been shipping the MMU3 upgrade for the MK3S+ for over three months now (since July) and we’re thrilled to see that the reliability observed in both our internal and external beta testing is also manifesting in customer experiences. Achieving huge 70+ hour 5 color prints with zero interventions is exactly what we were aiming for.
Naturally, we want the MMU3 for the MK4 to be just as reliable and efficient, if not even more. However, we’re having a hard time matching the MK3S+ performance. Why?
Understanding MMU3’s reliability drop on the MK4
Both MK3 and MK4 use the identical MMU3 unit – there’s no difference between them. So one has to wonder, if the MMU3 works fine on the MK3S+, why is it not working just as well on the MK4? The differences between them are in the print heads. Each printer uses an entirely different extrusion and hotend system. They are also based on a different motherboard and firmware architecture of the printer itself.
When we first announced the MMU3 in March 2023, we had everything ready and working reliably with both the MK3S+ and the MK4. We were putting together units for external beta testers and we expected the production units to start shipping in late June. The only problem at the time was our manufacturing capacity. However, as soon as summer came and the ambient temperatures in all our test farms increased by 6 to 10 degrees Celsius, we started encountering a drop in reliability of the MMU3 on the MK4 (but not on the MK3S+). This was caused primarily by thin strings of filament that started to accumulate near the drive gears.
On the MK3S+, these strings would also appear, but to a much lesser degree. Plus, the extruder on the MK3S+ has a fairly open design and the filament path is completely straight, so we did not see any problems with them in our testing. On the MK4, however, these wisps of filament appeared much more frequently and caused a lot of issues with repeat loads and unloads.
Troubleshooting the cause of these thin strings of filament led us down a rabbit hole of investigating what changed and researching ways to make the tips perfect again. We were changing nozzles, print and ambient temperatures, and speeds. The result of this complex research is a new logic for filament changes.
Completely new filament change strategy – elimination of strings
First, let me summarize how the filament change works on the MMU3 with the MK3S+.
- The print head moves above the wipe tower
- Quick ramming – rapidly extruding a tiny bit of filament to form a nice tip
- The filament is unloaded all the way back to the MMU unit
- The selector moves to the new position and loads the filament into the print head
- The print head starts extruding into the wipe tower/infill/wipe object and the color of the extruded filament gradually changes
In this process, the nozzle is full of the previously used filament until step 5. When we use this process on the MK4, the retraction in step 3 causes a tiny amount of the melted filament to be pulled out, which creates this problematic thin wisp of plastic. In step 5, the new filament needs to push all of the melted plastic out. So step 5 is also where the majority of the waste is generated.
To eliminate the tiny wisps or strings of filament on the MK4, we created a whole new strategy for changing the filament, specifically designed for the Nextruder geometry. It is loosely similar to how a cold pull is performed.
- The print head moves above the wipe tower
- Rapid ramming happens: the printer is moving at top speed and all of the melted filament is pushed from the nozzle into the wipe tower. The rapid extrusion also cools down the nozzle a bit.
- “Stamping” – by now, only partially heated filament is quickly pressed against the nozzle’s inside to improve the shape of the tip (a negative of the nozzle).
- The selector moves to the new position and loads the filament into the print head
- A tiny extrusion is made into the wipe tower to stabilize the flow, but the color is almost immediately clean
This way, there is little to no melted plastic in the nozzle after step 3, so we can achieve nice tips of filaments with the MK4’s Nextruder, even in highly elevated ambient temperatures. We are continually testing this in a special climate-controlled test chamber, which can run a small print farm. We spent months perfecting this new filament change routine, cataloging the effect every small difference has on the tip of the filament.
A welcome side-effect of this new strategy is a reduction in waste. Most of it now happens in the ramming stage (step 2), but since there is very little color mixing, the overall waste is reduced.
Getting this new strategy dialed in was a long and tedious process, as every change needs at least 2-3 days of nonstop printing on the entire MMU print farm to get a reasonable sample of reliability increase or decrease. It took us until late August to get to a point where we were happy with the tips that this procedure generated in various ambient temperatures. And our developers are still cautious about calling it the “final version” of the filament change procedure on the MK4. For example, we would like to test a much larger sample of filament colors and filament brands.
You may wonder why we are sticking to the hard way of producing the stringless tips. Two main reasons. First, this system allows us to unload most of the material from the hotend and re-use it for the next time this color is needed. And second, as the nozzle is basically clean before the next material loading, there is much less inter mixing compared to filament joining or cutting it and leaving the rest in the extruder. It reduces both waste and time dramatically.
Of course, the ideal solution is to have completely separate tool heads, such as the Original Prusa XL. With that kind of setup, the need to empty the nozzle of the previous color for each filament change is completely eliminated. The efficient wipe tower on the MMU3 is the next best thing, allowing our single-nozzle 3D printers to print with up to 5 filaments.
Current problems of MMU3 on the MK4
With the new loading procedure in place, the reliability of the MMU3 on the MK4 increased significantly. But as it happens with major changes like this, changing one thing affects other parts of the system and things that were working perfectly need fine-tuning again.
The MMU3 can do upwards of 2,000 filament changes in big prints and all of them have to happen perfectly. Just a couple of failed filament changes are enough to be really annoying, even if the error is recoverable most of the time (the LCD will show you what went wrong and how to fix it).
For example, we discovered that the filament sensor now triggers at a slightly different time with the new filament tips. This caused holes in the wipe tower and sometimes even the print. A similar thing happened when we enabled Input Shaping, Precise Stepping and Pressure Advance (that’s where the numerical error turned out to be) and started printing the Wipe tower at high speeds. We have now adjusted the algorithm and fixed both of these issues.
These are the three remaining things to solve – they are the most common causes of print problems. About 15% of the errors are caused by incorrect sensing of the filament entering the print head. Just like on the MK3S+, we have developed an alternative version of the printed parts around the filament sensor to solve this on the MK4. Rather than detecting the filament simply entering the area above the drive gears, the new lever is actuated by the filament pushing the idler doors slightly open. So the hall sensor is only triggered when the filament actually enters the drive gears. We are still iterating this part until we eliminate the problem, or at least make it extremely rare in occurrence.
Another slightly less common problem is the filament sensor on the MMU3 unit itself not triggering correctly. Since this sensor is working perfectly with the MK3S+, the problem is most likely caused by tiny pieces of debris still being sometimes generated by filament loads – this may cause the FINDA ball to get stuck on unload.
The most common issue right now (roughly 50% of all fails) is caused by the filament not going smoothly through the extruder and into the metal filament guide (the “tube” connected to the nozzle). This can manifest in several ways, such as the filament getting stuck on the edge of the tube. We are working on both mechanical and firmware solutions, e.g., an automatic filament reload that is initiated when the printer detects this situation occurred.
When will we ship it?
Repeated delays are frustrating for you, our customers, and our team. With that said, we have decided to not start shipping the MMU3 for the MK4 until we’re sure the reliability is hitting the goals we set. It is extremely hard to estimate when this will happen.
It’s quite possible our testers will confirm that the latest changes solved the listed issues – and we will be ready to start shipping within a couple of weeks. But there is also the possibility that the solution won’t be sufficient and we will need even more time to get everything right. We honestly don’t know, and at this point, we rather say it out loud this way than give you a random estimate.
We would like to apologize for not shipping the MMU3 for the MK4 on time! I’m sure you’re curious about what’s going to happen with existing orders – please check the box below for detailed info.
As a gesture of appreciation for your continued patience, we’ll send you an email with a $50 voucher next week. This applies to all MMU3 for the MK4 orders. The voucher can be applied to your future orders. Of course, you have the option to cancel your order at any time, without any fees or other charges. You can re-order it later, the only downside is losing your spot in the queue. Orders of the MMU2S to MMU3 upgrade for MK4 will get a $15 voucher (the same proportional value in regards to the respective product’s price).
If your order includes MMU3 for the MK4 together with other items, we will send you an email next week, giving you the option to split the order. If you choose to do so, we’ll send you all the other items in your order first, with no shipping charge. Once the MMU3 unit is ready, we’ll ship it to you separately.
You will also receive the $50 voucher. The vouchers will be sent to all customers who made the order before Friday, October 27, 2023, 16:00 CEST (10 AM EST).
We will keep you updated both with the good news and shipping being ready, but also in the case of ongoing troubleshooting and further development.