Anker, the same company that made a name for itself producing smartphone chargers, launched their first 3D printer on Kickstarter today. Anker teased the AnkerMake M5 for weeks prior to the launch, but details were sparse. Now that the Kickstarter campaign is live, we decided to analyze the available information to determine if the AnkerMake M5 could live up to all the hype.
The AnkerMake M5 Kickstarter campaign has already raised over $2 million dollars in funding and it hasn't even been live for a full day yet. That is impressive and proves that people are excited about this printer. That excitement is due to Anker making some pretty lofty claims about their first foray into the world of 3D printing, so let's look at those claims.
This is the biggest claim that Anker makes on the Kickstarter page. If you look closer, you'll see that they say the AnkerMake M5 prints at 250mm/s — so 5X faster than an unnamed that prints at a mere 50mm/s (which is quite slow).
Still, 250mm/s is a very respectable speed, especially for a "bedslinger" motion system in which the entire bed moves in the Y axis. That is a lot of moving weight, which creates inertia that is difficult to overcome. Few printers with this kind of motion system are able to achieve that speed and still maintain acceptable quality.
But one must also take acceleration into account. Anker says that the AnkerMake M5 accelerates at 2,500m/s/s. That's fast, but it does mean that it takes 25mm of movement to reach the max speed and then slow down to a stop again. In practical terms, this means that the machine won't often reach the claimed 250mm/s speed. And that is if those are acceleration speeds for printing and not just travel moves.
The example images on the Kickstarter page are also misleading. A GIF shows the AnkerMake M5 printing a scaled-up Benchy at 250mm/s, then another image shows a completed Benchy. But they say the print time was 2:10 for that completed Benchy — meaning it wasn't printing at anything close to 250mm/s for the majority of the print.
To claim a "77% reduced print time" they had to say the competing printer took 9:19 to print a Benchy. That is a frankly absurd number. Most printers on the market today could complete this scaled-up Benchy in half that time.
Precision and accuracy are not the same thing. Almost every 3D printer on the market today is capable of 0.1mm precision, meaning the printer can move to a coordinate measured in tenths of millimeters (and most can do much better than that). But accuracy is what determines the results in the printed part.
Anker doesn't make any claims about the AnkerMake M5's accuracy. To be fair, neither does any other 3D printer manufacturer. Listing precision is little more than a gimmick.
Anker did perform the Autodesk Kickstarter FDM Test, which attempts to standardize filament printer output for comparison. But Anker evaluated the results themselves, giving the AnkerMake M5 a higher score than the well-respected Prusa i3 MK3. It is hard to trust those results when they weren't conducted by an impartial third party.
This is the AnkerMake M5's most exciting feature. The idea is that an onboard machine learning system with computer vision capabilities will watch the print through a camera. It will compare that against the digital model and determine if there are any flaws in the print. If there are, the printer could stop the print or — theoretically at least — adjust parameters on-the-fly to salvage the job.
This kind of closed-loop feedback would be groundbreaking and would make huge waves in the consumer 3D printing market. But there is one problem: it isn't working yet.
Uncle Jessy, a YouTuber who tested a pre-production AnkerMake M5, noted in his video (which is on the Kickstarter page) that he was unable to test this feature, because it wasn't yet available. He wasn't even given much information on how it will work or exactly what it will be able to do.
I'm still optimistic about this feature, but it isn't a trivial thing to implement. Comparing real-world imagery to virtual models with machine learning is still a massive challenge, even for experts in the field. Until we see this feature in action, we can't assume that it will work at all. If it doesn't, then that camera will only be useful for remote printing monitoring.
Even with the doubts I expressed above, I do feel confident that the AnkerMake M5 will be a solid printer. It looks well-made and has all of the features one would expect from a modern 3D printer.
But even at the Kickstarter special pricing of $599, the AnkerMake M5 is expensive for the modest build volume of 235 x 235 x 250mm. That price crams it into the crowded midrange of the market, which has many competitors. The $759 MSRP price puts it up against the legendary Original Prusa i3 MK3S+ printer (in kit form) and much larger models like the upcoming Anycubic Kobra Max.
If all of Anker's claims prove to be true, then the AnkerMake M5 will be a killer deal. But until I'm able to test the printer for myself, I will remain skeptical of the hype.