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While the prosumer 3D Printing market gets more competitive every day, 3D printer manufacturers start to focus on certain details to set their machines apart from the competition. I’ve been looking forward to testing the ZYYX 3D Printer, a €1550 (ex VAT) machine that’s marketed as “The Fume Free 3D Printer”. This is made possible by the completely enclosed build chamber with an active air filter that absorbs the bad smells some materials emit while printing.
Another unique selling point of the ZYYX is it’s build plate calibration system, which is fully automatic: a sensor on the print head probes 3 dedicated spots on the build plate to calculate it’s angle. This deviation is corrected while printing in real time, so the nozzle is at the same distance from the build plate everywhere it goes. This in to the assisted build plate leveling method of the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen I reviewed earlier, which probes the build plate with the nozzle and instructs the user to correct the angle manually. If you’ve read that review, you know that didn’t work as advertised at all, so I’m very curious if the ZYYX’ method does. If it does, it would take away a lot of the hassle associated with 3D printing, especially at very small layer heights.
As always, I’ll do this review in two parts: in this part I will cover the unboxing and setup of the hardware and software and after a few weeks I will report back on the actual day-to-day user experience and print quality.
The earlier comparison with the MakerBot Replicator wasn’t a coincidence by the way. There are multiple reasons for this. Read on to find out which!
The name ZYYX is obviously inspired by the X, Y & Z-axis of a 3D Printer. The pronunciation isn’t clear: I Dutchified it into “Zeeks” but in English you might call it “Zicks” or maybe even Z-double-Y-X.
Anyway, it’s designed in Sweden by MagicFirm Europe and manufactured by MagicFirm LCC, a 3D Printer manufacturer based in China. While “made in China” might still have a negative association for some people, this method of Western-design-Eastern-production, is used by many popular electronics brands, including Apple. While many other European 3D Printers are designed and manufactured at the same place, they usually contain lot’s of parts that have been made with rapid prototyping machines: 3D printed parts and CNC-milled plywood or acrylic paneling. While this is in no way bad and doesn’t affect print quality or reliability at all, these machines usually doesn’t look and feel like the industrial-made appliances you’re used to.
If you’ve been interested in 3D printing for the last few years or did a good amount of research, you might recognize the five-button control panel from a printer you’ve seen before. And that’s completely true, because Magicfirm LCC is also the manufacturer of the MBot Grid II 3D Printer, released in early 2014. This printer is obviously inspired by the MakerBot Replicator 2, the model that came before the current MakerBot Replicator “5th Generation” 3D printer.
Some might call the Grid II a “Replicator Clone”, and that isn’t a bad thing. If you’ve read the 2012 book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” (if you haven’t: you should!) by ex-Wired editor Chris Anderson (now of 3D Robotics fame) you know that not so long ago, MakerBot was an independent company making “open source” 3D Printers. That means they actually encouraged other manufacturers to clone their machines.
Chris Anderson’s 2012 Wired article about the Replicator 2 is still fascinating to read and notihng but positive about the machine. And while doing my research and interviews for this blog in the last 10 months, I’ve spoken with many people that own or have owned multiple 3D Printers. Many of them said that the Replicator 2 is actually still their most reliable 3D Printer. I’ve even spoken with an expert that has been using one on a daily base for almost 1.5 years without any significant issues or maintenance.
As most of you might know, the MakerBot story changed when it got acquired by 3D Printing Industry giant Stratasys. They stopped developing open source, and instead of improving the already good Replicator 2 and Replicator 2X (an “experimental” enclosed dual-extruder version), they introduced something completely different in the form of the 5th Generation Replicator models. A line of 3D printers I wasn’t very happy with when I first got into 3D printing earlier this year and – judging from the enormous amount of e-mails, tweets and comments I got – many people with me. I actually was planning to buy a Replicator 2 at first, but changed my mind at the last minute because of the 5th Gen introduction.
While the 5th Gen Replicator offers a lot of new features on the connectivity side (wired & wireless networking, printing directly from Thingiverse & MakerBot Cloud) it doesn’t offer more than the Replicator 2 did in terms of 3D printing speed and quality: it offers the same PLA-only capabilities at 100 micron minimum layer height. And a “Smart Extruder” that you can’t (and even aren’t allowed to) open when a filament jam prevents you from printing and costs $175 to replace.
So why not just buy the proven MakerBot Replicator 2? Well, it’s not manufactured anymore! You might find some stock at resellers, but it’s sold out at the MakerBot Store. And while it’s a good printer, a lot has changed since 2012, especially in the 3D Printer market. So there’s – in my opinion at least – clearly room for a 3D Printer manufacturer that continues on the good path MakerBot was on with the Replicator 2. And ZYYX might just be that…
The ZYYX Improvements
The ZYYX seems to be the successor of the MBot Grid II: it looks less like a Replicator 2 clone and is improved on certain important points, some of which (like the build plate calibration) it borrows from the Grid II.
Firstly, the ZYYX is operated by a custom version of the Sailfish firmware that a lot of power users have installed on their MakerBot 2 printers. I don’t know exactly what has changed, but it’s clear that they added the abilities of correcting build plate level deviation in real time. Like I wrote earlier, these deviations are measured by a dedicated probe before every print.
Secondly, while the ZYYX’ build plate isn’t heated (more on that later), it’s build chamber is completely enclosed like the Replicator 2X, blocking draft that could ruin a 3D print. Naturally the closed chamber also reduces noise, but more importantly it reduced the smell some materials emit, because it has an active air filtering system.
At 27 x 23 cm the ZYYX’ build plate is generously sized and offers 42% more floor space than the Replicator 2’s 28.5 x 15.3. The build volume is also taller: 19.5 cm instead of 15 cm, making the complete build volume more than 85% larger. Another interesting thing is that the build apparently plate doesn’t have to be covered with a temporary layer to get prints to stick, like Kapton tape, painter’s tape or glue stick. Instead, the ZYYX’s glass build plate is covered with a tick piece of a special plastic on which most materials will stick. More about the build plate in the next section.
Unboxing and Setup
I know for a fact that most Creative Professionals can appreciate product design and attention to detail. That’s why most of them do like unpacking experience of a new MacBook Pro. As you might have read in my Replicator 5th Gen review, I described the unpacking experience of that machine as Apple-ish. I haven’t had the same experience with the other 3D Printers I’ve reviewed after that, but when the ZYYX arrived on my doorstep I got the feeling that might change.
The printer professionally packed in the cardboard box with custom-shaped foam parts. Aside from the machine itself, the box contains a spool of Natural MagicFirm Premium PLA Filament, a clear and well-designed Printed Quick Start Guide, Spool Holder and a small toolbox with all the tools required to start 3D Printing.
The printer itself feels very sturdy and the steel frame is finished in matte black, which seems scratch resistant. The doors and top cover are made of heavy clear acrylic. The doors are held closed with small magnets, so they won’t rattle while printing. The SD Card slot is located on top of the LCD Display. To insert or remove the supplied 8GB SD Card, you have to open the right door. Other than that the machine can be operated with both doors closed. The spool holder is made of injection-molded plastic and can be clicked onto the back of the machine.
The build plate is removable, which is very handy for cleaning and removing prints. It’s held in place with magnets on a triangle-shaped platform with two big dials to level it if the deviation should ever go beyond the limits of the auto-calibration (the printer will tell you when this is the case). As I wrote earlier, it’s made of glass with a thick layer of plastic that’s designed specifically for good filament adhesion. According to the manufacturer, this layer is so good, that you can even print ABS onto it without the need of a heated bed. I will test this for sure, because without the ability to print ABS, the fume filter doesn’t make a lot of sense, because PLA and other materials don’t smell so bad. To keep the build plate tidy and sticky, you simply have to wipe it with acetone once in a while. Because of wear and tear it is has to be replaced after a while. If you wan’t to keep the bottom surface of your prints smooth, replacement is needed after 4-5 months, but if that isn’t a concern, you can use it longer. At this moment, the build plate has to replaced as a whole (glass + top layer) for €45 (ex VAT), but the manufacturer is working on a way to only change the top layer. While this probably is a bit more expensive than using painter’s tape and glue stick, it’s more professional and less messy.
After positioning the build plate and spool holder, all I had to do is switch on machine and start the Filament Loading command. While the extruder is heating, I put a roll of filament on the spool holder and fed the filament through the tube. I must say that thee back isn’t the most convenient location for the spool: the machine is quite heavy and stands on rubber feet. While these make the printer stand rock solid, they make it hard to turn it around to load the filament. Of course, is only a problem when you put the machine against a wall. Otherwise loading filament is straight forward: when the extruder is hot, the machine plays a bit of music (yes, it does!) and the extruder motor starts running. Just put the filament into the hole into the extruder until it comes out of the nozzle. It’s nice that it keeps extruding until a button is pressed, so you can purge the extruder until only the right color is coming out. After that it’s time to put the cover on and start printing.
Unfortunately there are not test files on the SD Card, so I had to put generate my friend Marvin with Simplify3D, the slicing software that comes with the printer (it’s included in the price). I like Simplify3D a lot and think it’s great that the manufacturers chose to include it. The machine even has a “powered by Simplify3D” sticker. I’ve written about the Simplify3D in a separate post, so I won’t go into it this time, but it’s good to know it comes pre-loaded with a ZYYX profile. I got a newer (1.1) version of the profile by e-mail, which I will use for this review. One detail is that while most 3D printers work with .gcode files, Sailfish-printers read .x3g files, which are more or less gcodes in binary format.
After putting the .x3g on the SD Card through the build in port on my MacBook Pro, I put it in the machine and hit print. Although it’s nice that the files on the SD card are sorted by date, I would like it even more if the newest was on top of the list instead of on the bottom. After hitting print the extruder will heat to the right temperature and the print head moves to the cut out areas on the build plate. It moves back and forth between these a few times (just to be sure, I guess) and when it’s done it starts printing. I noticed that the first layer is printed at a very hot 235 degrees Celsius. I guess this is to improve adhesion with the special build plate layer, because it goes to 205 degrees when the first layer is done.