Even without the 3D scanner, this printer is impressive
Start-up XYZPrinting today released its first all-in-one 3D printer, which uses a 3D laser scanner to replicate objects placed inside the machine.
While other 3D printing companies sell handheld scanners or separate scanning tables, XYZPrinting is the first to incorporate scanning into a consumer-grade product.
The da Vinci 1.0 AiO all-in-one 3D printer plus scanner ships today for $799, setting this multi-featured printer virtually alone in a marketplace where even the most basic 3D printers can run over $1,000.
That's Taiwan-based XYZPrinting's business model -- low priced, yet sophisticated, consumer-grade printers. For example, its first 3D printer released in April, the da Vinci 1.0, retailed for just $499. That compares to a MakerBot's Replicator 3D printer, which retails for $2,899 and has roughly the same build capability.
A more moderately priced 3D printer, the Solidoodle Workbench Apprentice retails for $799, but it can't print objects as large as the da Vinci, nor does it have a 3D scanner.
Right away, the AiO 3D printer grabs your eye with its refined appearance. The mechanics -- the printing head, two laser scanning/camera pods and turntable, and the motorized print table -- are fully enclosed in a sleek-looking blue and white cube with a large transparent, hinged-front door.
The advantage of a fully enclosed 3D printer is three-fold: it reduces noise created by the robotic print head moving back and forth, it protects the machinery inside and it can reduce the smell when using thermoplastics such as ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), which is notorious for its bad odor.
The printer is about 18-in. x 20-in. x 22-in. in size and weighs 60.6 lbs. While this is a desktop printer, it takes up a sizeable amount of room on your desk.
The da Vinci 1.0 AiO can print only one color at a time, but it can use either ABS or PLA (Polylactic acid), which is a plastic derived from organic products, such as cornstarch and sugar cane; PLA is cheaper, but less durable than ABS. ABS and PLA are the two most popular thermoplastics on the market today.
Like other consumer-grade 3D printers in the $500 to $2,000 price range, the da Vinci 1.0 AiO builds objects using fused filament fabrication, where layer upon layer of thermoplastic is extruded from a heated nozzle. The build platform is also heated, ensuring the bottom of a printed object remains attached and doesn't become deformed.
The printer offers multiple resolutions in which to print (resolution refers to the thickness of the layers used to construct an object). Those resolutions include .1mm, .2mm, .3mm and .4mm.
The da Vinci has the ability to print objects as large as 7.8-in. x 7.8-in. x 7.8-in. in size, which compares favorably with other consumer machines both in its price range and far above it.
The front of the printer has a simple push button keypad for traversing a menu on a 2.6-in LCD black-and-white display. It also has a convenient "home" button that will return a user back to the main menu.
The machine ships with XYZware and XYZscan, a 3D object scanning software that creates previews of files and output files for printing via XYZware management software. Unfortunately, XYZscan is only compatible with Windows XP and Window 7 machines. There is, however, a beta version of XYZscan for Mac. The printer itself and its XYZware software is compatible with Windows XP, 7 and Mac OS X 10.8 or earlier. That means you can print with Windows or Mac machines, but you can only scan in objects using Windows.
Printer set up
Setting up the da Vinci AiO 1.0 could not be simpler. Other than removing protective Styrofoam and cardboard, the printer comes ready to use. I had it out of the shipping box and ready to print in less than a half hour; the only assembly consists of dropping a cartridge containing a spool of thermoplastic filament into the top of the machine and threading it into the print head.
The machine connects to your desktop or laptop computer via a USB 2.0 cable; I had hoped for a USB 3.0 connection, which is 10 times faster.
You can upload .stl (stereolithography) 3D printing files from the Internet or use ones you've created yourself using CAD software. Or, of course, you can use the laser scanner on this machine to replicate objects inside of the printer.
One cool feature of the printer is that when you choose to scan an object, the glass-topped build platform elevates to the top of the enclosure, exposing the 3D scanner turntable at the bottom. That is where you place the object to be scanned.
3D scanning an object takes about five minutes. During a scan, the object on a turntable revolves in a counterclockwise direction. Throughout the process, the laser modules on either side of the turntable project a linear beam at the object while the camera on the module films a complete image sequence of the rotating object.
When the scan is finished, the XYZscan software then converts the images captured into a .stl file, the standard throughout the industry. Prior to printing, slicing software converts the object into something that can be constructed in layers. That can take several minutes for smaller objects, or in the case of one 5-in. tall object I scanned, as much as eight to 10 minutes.
Objects are scanned with a .05mm resolution.
A convenient feature of the da Vinci 3D printer, though not uncommon to other printers, is an estimated build time. Once an .stl file is uploaded to the printer, the software estimates how long it will take to print. Throughout the build, the LCD screen displays total build time, time elapsed, and what percentage of a print job has been completed.
While printing, the machine's robotic head produces a techno trill sound that's surprisingly pleasing. I've not heard this sound with any other 3D printer. Whether this was the intention of XYZprinting or not, it makes you feel as if you're in command of something truly high tech.
For my first attempt at replicating an object, I chose 5-in. long model of a Porsche 911 turbo sports car. Unfortunately, the 3D scan of it failed, as did several other attempts to scan various other objects. XYZ's technical support told me that objects whose X, Y or Z axis is smaller than two inches will not scan. Also difficult to scan are objects that contain high contrast colors, and shiny or clear objects -- all of which will foul the laser scanner. The maximum size of an object that can be scanned is 6-in. x 6-in.
Disappointed but not disillusioned, next I attempted to scan a larger model -- the lower portion of a spinal cord. That model was cylindrical and roughly 4-in. x 4.75-in. x 3.25-in. This time, the scan was successful and I was left with a 3D image that could be rotated and seen from any angle on the CAD software XYZPrinting provided with the printer.
For the print job, I chose the highest resolution (.1mm) to test whether it could match another printer I'd reviewed with similar capabilities. The estimated print time leapt to almost 15 hours. At .4mm resolution, it would have taken about 10 hours. That, however, is not uncommon in 3D printing. It's a slow process, and watching something print is like watching paint dry.
The duplicate of the spinal cord model that the da Vinci created was impressive, capturing the overall size and basic features of the original. The resolution was good, even if you could still detect the hundreds of thin layers with the naked eye. Where it fell short was in fine detail. Many of the spaces between the vertebrae were filled in with material. On the other hand, someone with some CAD skill could manipulate the scanned image to include the latter features.
Like other 3D printers, the da Vinci gives the user or "maker" the option to fill a printed object with internal support material, which looks like a honeycomb, or to keep it hollow. I chose to have additional support filler.
The XYZ da Vinci all-in-one printer also allows you to adjust the size of an object, shrinking it or enlarging it.
What I liked most about this 3D printer were the intuitive controls and software. Someone with no experience could learn to use this machine skillfully in a short time. While the software isn't as sophisticated as that used in some other printers, that's not what XYZPrinting is going for. It's targeting the mass market and usability; it hit the bull's eye.
One of the obvious uses for a printer with a 3D scanner is to create original objects from clay or other malleable materials and then replicate them in plastic.
While I only had a few days to review this printer prior to its release, I can say without hesitation it is the most sophisticated machine I've seen for the money.
XYZ, a company that was only founded in 2011, has come out of the swinging in a very competitive market. This printer, while not perfect, certainly offers makers a powerful tool to create.
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