We have spent our first week with our new Objet Alaris30 3D Printer and it’s an impressive piece of hardware. The tray is shoebox sized (a little shy of 12″ x 8″ x 6″) and prints in an acrylic-based material. The machine has two print-heads: one for the acrylic build material; one for the support material. The build resolution (between 0.1 – 0.2 mm) is amazing: you are really only limited by how dense you can get your mesh. The Alaris30 can handle STL file sizes up to about 1 GB, so that’s a very smooth surface…plenty smooth for most architectural applications.The advantages of this particular printer – over, say, similar ZCorp or Stratasys printers in its price bracket – are its resolution, quality of material, ease of use, and lack of mess. The resolution – as stated above – is incredibly small for an entry-level 3D Printer. The VeroWhite FullCure build material cures during the print process and – once the support material is washed away – you get a bright white (which can be painted). The printer is very easy to maintain – the training lasted all of 2 hours. The Objet print control software has wizards that walk you through each of the maintenance steps and the documentation and supporting documents are clear and straightforward. Finally, this is a clean machine. There is very minimal cleanup after the build. You can remove the material (both support and build) from the machine by opening a hatch and pulling out a cartridge. There is an optional water-jet setup (think pressure-washer for astronauts) that makes the removal of the support material quick and relatively painless.
After spending a week with the Objet, there are a couple of minor downsides. While Objet markets the Alaris30 as “office friendly,” it all depends on where in the office you consider “friendly.” It does fit on a desk (“desktop”) but you don’t want choose a location too close to your workstation (within about 10 feet of it) for two reasons: noise and smell. When idle, the printer adds another layer of white-noise to your environment – barely distinguishable from the mechanical system – however, when the machine is building (and builds can take 10+ hours), the back-and-forth sounds of the motors can get annoying. Smell can be a problem as well. While idle, the off-gassing of the heated build material is relatively innocuous, but during a build it starts to smell fairly strong. Though it cannot be considered a “downside” per se, the reality is that a build takes time …sometimes upward of 14 hours. Most of the builds we have done so far have run overnight, so the build time is a reality that one has to consider. Still, the Objet printer – unlike a laser-cutter or CNC router – does not need to be monitored during a build. If everything is working and you perform basic maintenance, you can click print at 5:00 pm and go home. When you return in the morning, you should have an object.A note about the software: the Objet Studio software – where you compose and validate your build trays – is fairly rudimentary. It allows you to import your STLs, set a few parameters, compose multiple parts on a tray, and will estimate print time and the cost in build and support materials. It does what it needs to do: no more; no less. Do not expect this software to help you clean up your STL files (for that, you will need something like Magics RP or Pro-E). There is only one flavor of the software: 32-bit. We wanted to run this software on a Window7 (64-bit) machine, but it was a no-go. So we had to install the Objet Studio and server software on an older, Windows XP machine. Objet says they are coming out with a Window7 compliant version soon.Below is a video clip of the Alaris30 building the parts shown above. This build took about 40 minutes. We sped the video up progressively until it’s 6 times the normal speed to better show the progression…wouldn’t it be great if it built that fast? (Make it happen, Objet people!)In sum, we are very happy with the Alaris30 after one week of use. As the machine gets more use throughout LMN, we’ll post some comments on how things are going. Right now: so far, so good.