In June of 2016 I finally broke down and bought myself a 3D printer. I had explored some of the standards, MakerBot at the high end (of course!), Printrbot and the cheap and DIY end, and a slew of others. I finally gave up, realized I had no idea which features were important to me, and got an AIO Robotics Zeus under the premise that in a compact apartment space having a nice enclosure and built-in 3D scanning would be useful features.
3D Printing Basics
Some overview information for 3D printing neophytes before we get into the Zeus.
Most 3D print objects are passed around as STereoLithography (STL) files. This is essentially just a model of a 3D object, it can usually be edited and modified but it doesn't translate well into the real world because every 3D printer and material is a little different.
In order to print something you need to "slice" it. Because 3D printers print out one layer at a time, software needs to make horizontal slices of the object so the printer knows how to make it. Hollow spaces inside an object are usually filled in with a honeycomb or mesh of some sort to save material and add strength. Because the material being printed often is in a liquid or semi-liquid state having sharp overhangs can be hard to deal with so support material needs to be added. Everything needs to be carefully calculated and translated into a specific printer's language before it can work.
There are two primary materials in most consumer 3D printers today: PLA and ABS. PLA tends to be easier to work with, inexpensive, but can be a bit fragile and flexible. ABS is a lot harder (it's the type of plastic football helmets are made of) but it runs roughly 50% more expensive than PLA (as of 2016). The primary difference in printers is that ABS-capable printers need a heated base while PLA does not.
Out of Box Experience
The Zeus comes nominally pre-assembled. You get the printer itself, a power brick, a USB WiFi dongle, two small spools of PLA (I got green and black, YMMV), and a box with the glass tray, a scanner calibration targeting area, a glue stick, and a brush with a powder in it. There's also a test print (a little square) which may be discarded, a putty knife to remove the prints from the base and what seems to be a ferrite bead.
The two instruction sheets are a little light and lack the full quality of a [manual http://www.aiorobotics.com/manual/doku.php] which is to be expected in today's world - print a manual and it's out of date in a week. One is a detailed sheet showing how to update the software, the other is a quickstart guide that skips a parts list. Going through the quickstart I was able to print one of the included test objects without problem, it walked me through loading the PLA into the print head, putting a layer of glue on the base, etc. They are missing an equivalent scanning quickstart.
The UI is a little sluggish at times and I've run into cases where rebooting seems to be the only option. There is also no automatic power off that I've found, after a print there is a fan to cool the print head so I'm hesitant to just turn it off immediately. Even just blanking the screen after a period of time and dimming the power button would be nice - this would also lend itself well to weekly polls for software updates where a flashing power button could prompt the user to download and install. I may have to check if the controller is easily replaceable, it would be great if I found it was a stock Raspberry Pi in the back end...
I'd like to see more positive feedback for things like power, an LED showing that the power is connected, another to show that the master power switch is on, LEDs for the Ethernet port, etc. A rear-facing USB port for the WiFi dongle (or just built-in WiFi with a better antenna) would be nice.
But other than this it's not too bad. Calibrating the scanner was a piece of cake. Being able to download STLs from the Internet without a PC is fantastic. You can actually use this printer without any other computing devices at all if you're patent with the browsing speed.
However, despite being only a few meters from my WiFi access point I found the WiFi dongle to be too slow to perform a software update, even downloading STL files takes forever. I don't know if this is a problem with the dongle or just the general sluggishness of the controller but plugging into a hardwired Ethernet port is definitely a better solution for me.
One of the more difficult to pin down limitations is that the slicer doesn't seem to add support material as it should. In some cases it works great, in others an overhang ends up a tangled mess for a few layers (I've printed a lot of faceless horses...). I've also had it segfault in a few cases where this can be extreme (a figure with outspread wings, for example). I have not yet tried to slice these STLs offline to see if I can do a better job myself which is why I'd still treat this "problem" as under investigation.
Personally I don't use the included putty knife, I find it to be too thick so instead I use a more purpose-built removal tool. Additional tools you may need:
- A set of precision pliers
- A nice set of hobby knives with files and/or sandpaper.
- A set of dental picks
- Most of the way thorough the print it starts printing offset from the base! This happened to me after I moved the printer and the PLA got wrapped around the axle a bit. This could also result in the PLA breaking while being fed into the print head, in either case the solution is to remove the PLA spool, rewrap it, and replace it.
- The print isn't adhering to the base plate! Try applying a layer of glue to the plate. This this doesn't work I've run into issues with prints that don't have a large, flat base. If you have a small amount of contact area with the base plate, especially with multiple points like a few feet on the glass, you may be better off by adding a small base under the object.
- The filament broke This can happen for a variety of reasons, there may have been a weak spot in the filament production, the ambient temperature may be too cold, there may be a kink in the filament feed, etc. In any case, if this happens you can follow this procedure to remove the broken segment and install from the spool again. Note that if you didn't notice and can't grab the filament to pull it out you may need to remove the two screws between the filament drive wheels and the extruder to take out the guard. This should give you ample room to fit some needlenose pliers in to pull out the remains once the extruder heats up.