Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 07, 2018
 
First impressions Zortrax M200 Plus 3D Printer

I am going to post a full review with comparison of things I printed later, but I already wanted to write about my first impressions with my new 3D printer. Unboxing the printer, installing, calibration, and starting to print took me about 1 hour, which is about a "plug & play" as it gets in 3D printing. Most of the printer is pre-assembled, but you need to assemble the cable to the print head and the cable to the heated bed yourself, as well as the spool holder and the guide tube from the spool to the print head. Then you need to install the latest firmware via an USB key, and calibrate the bed to be even. That is done with the help of 3 screws, with the printer telling you which one to turn by how much. Apart from a ridiculous degree of precision in the instructions ("turn the screw by 86.02°"), that went smoothly.

The printer comes with one model for a test print on the provided USB key. In a disappointing display of lack of professionalism Zortrax managed to forget to include supports in that test print model, which results in it being actually impossible to print. Of course I didn't know that and went back to the shop to ask why after installation the test print wasn't working, and it was just by chance that there was a technician present who was aware of that issue and told me not to worry and print something else instead.

Both the firmware and the Z-Suite 3D printing software can only be downloaded after entering the serial number of the printer, but then the software worked on the first try. So I printed a 3D Benchy as test print, and it came out very nice. Much better detail on the fine parts, and smoother walls. However after printing some other models I have to say that not everything is perfect, and some prints that I succeeded with on the old printer failed to print on the new one; right now it is hard to say how much of that is due to the change in material from PLA to ABS, how much is related to finding the best settings, and how much is due to the printer.

What I really disliked about my old XYZ printer was that he would only take spools of PLA from the company that made the printer, with an RFID chip in the spool making sure you didn't use other material. That system also resulted in the spool physically still having several meters of material on it at the end, while the RFID chip claimed the spool was empty and refused to use it any more. The new Zortrax printer is better in that respect, you can print with spools from any supplier. However the software has the optimum parameters for the Zortrax spools, while for external materials you need to find the best settings yourself. That curiously means that if you want to print the Zortrax ABS at a different temperature for some reason, you need to unload it, and reload it as external material, claiming it was ABS from a different supplier.

I notice a real change printing in ABS rather than in PLA. I will need to explore that further, and for example try to print PLA on the new printer. The previous model Zortrax M200 was famous for not doing PLA well, but the M200 Plus has an additional cooling fan on the print head and is supposed to have solved that problem. From a scientific point of view, PLA is more crystalline, which makes it more shiny, but also more brittle. ABS is more matte, more flexible, and sturdier. Lego bricks are made from ABS, and those usually don't break easily. However when printed with a 3D printer, the layers create a preferred axis of breakage, so if I would print a Lego brick it would be less sturdy than the original. And it would be less glossy and smooth on the surface. However ABS, unlike PLA, is soluble in acetone, so there are methods of making ABS printed parts smooth and glossy by exposing them to acetone vapors. I haven't tried that yet. The disadvantage I noticed with ABS is that you need to print it at higher temperature to make it stick to the previous layer, and then there is a bit of possible "sagging", making the printed part a bit broader than the model. I had some prints of figurines with supports where the side of the support stuck to the side of the model, and then left a mark when I removed it. That can probably be fixed by the settings of the software making the supports.

Talking of supports, I still have the same problem with the supports generated by the Z-Suite software than I had with the supports generated by the XYZWare software: The supports are far too massive for small 28mm scale figurines. You can't use them to print a support for something which is only a millimeter or two thick, like a weapon or arm of a miniature. They seem to be designed for large objects. Having said that, the Z-Suite software has at least some degree of manual editing of support structures, so that is good. Just for my main application I'll keep using Meshmixer for building support structures for small figurines.

Finally there is one point where the new Zortrax printer is far worse than the old XYZ printer: The XYZ printer automatically shut down the light after a few minutes, and shut down the fans when the print head was cold. Thus I could start a print in the morning and go to work, or in the evening and go to bed, and when I came back the XYZ printer was on standby. The Zortrax printer doesn't have that, when you come back hours later the light is still on (presumably to allow the internal camera to work) and the fans are still blowing, although the machine is cold. That adds unnecessary wear and tear to the fans, and also consumes more electricity when not in use. I think I will have to buy an electronic time switch or something.

Overall I am happy with the new printer, and I'll show some photos of the improved results in a future post. But there remains a lot of fiddling and optimizing to be done, and the new printer didn't miraculously and immediately solve all my printing problems. But then that would have been boring anyway! :) 

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Comments:
Like with any new printer replacing an older one, I'm sure you'll enjoy it a lot once you've gotten used to it's own quirks(and they all have at least a few). There were several articles and videos recently about how PLA improved over the years and ABS is no longer really required for 3d printing, but I still prefer it over PLA(just don't stay in the same room while printing - that smell!)

All said, I'm surprised that the M200 Plus doesn't go into a sleep mode after printing, my old M200 does so a few minutes after the print is finished, shutting down the fans and not the lights, but dimming them by about 50%
 
I found an article on the Zortrax website that introduced Sleep Mode for the M200 with firmware version 0.7. As this is definitely not working even after several hours on my M200 Plus, I sent a support ticket to Zortrax.
 
Okay, got a reply from Zortrax. They are aware and are "working on having a Sleep Mode similar to the one on the M200".
 
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