Review of 3D Systems Projet 1200

Review of 3D Systems Projet 1200

All my printers are home built open source, so I was delighted when I was offered a 3D Systems Projet 1200 to try out  by Anderson Ta (who had reviewed the printer for MAKE). This was my first experience with a commercial SLA printer; my initial impression was how neat and tidy it looked and with a footprint of  230mm x 230mm it fit very neatly on a workbench next to my Ordbot. The printer is incredibly easy to set up and use, producing consistent results in a timely manner - in fact, I only had one failed print during my testing. The resin I used was 3D Systems VisiJet FTX Green and comes in cartidge form, which is simple to load and easy to dispose of when finished with. The printer has its own curing station built in, which saves having to transfer the model to another device,(although the volume of the curing station is smaller that the print area which is odd). It is super quiet and with a minimum height layer of 0.03mm, it prints some really beauitful models with stunning detail. Interenstingly, the printer runs on a Beagle Bone Black. This allows it to be completely autonomius - you prepare the model, send it to the printer, and can then disconnect the printer from the computer and have it finish the print

The first print was my model "Odile the Swan". It printed at a little over 2cm tall and took 2 hours. I had no problems with it sticking to the bed during printing.  You don't need use any adhesive but the bed must be clean before use (hot water and liquid detergent works well) and it must be completely dry. However, it should be noted that the bed had been scuffed up to give it a rough surface, which no doubt helped. Once the print finished, I rinsed it in 91% Isopropyl alcohol and transferred it to the curing station, pressing the button on the front of the printer to start the cure. and after a few minutes it was finished.
I experimented further by creating a pendant of a Tudor Rose which is 2.5cm in diameter, complete with a hanger.  The objects were printed at the same time and took about an hour to complete.  The result is beautiful - in fact so much so, that many people asked if they could buy copies of the prints to wear as jewelry:-)  Sadly, I had to explain that while these are quite tough for resin prints, I doubt they would survive wear. From an artistic point of view, the green resin truly looks like emerald and it would be lovely if there was a way to make it durable. 
The real focus of this printer is the claim that one can cast easily from the models. I have published a couple of dragon models which are pretty popular.  A jeweler friend who regularly casts in precious metals, wanted to see if he could make a pair of earrings from one of my dragons (Adalinda, The Singing Serpent). As the average person cannot tolerate earrings that weigh much more than 4g for a day's wear and I wanted to eventually cast the models in 14K gold, I worked out what size the model would need to be and printed it out. I have used a US quarter for scale.
Sadly, the cast was not a wholly successful one. The ash from the plastic created a problem. Most went into the neck where it created a hole. The wings formed fine but there was a small oval hole near the top of each one.  This is a problem with the design as they're in the same spot on both wings.  It otherwise came out whole.  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the cast and I had to give the printer back beofre I could correct my model and have another try.It should also be noted that our friend almost exclusively uses wax in his casting, and we didn't realize there was a special burnout profile for the VIsiJet Resin
 
Now the software. Geomagic Print is written by 3D Systems and is a very slick package with noneof the rough edges one gets used when using opensource packages. Certainly is is very easy to use and can handle and slice models with flawed geometry that other software might reject. I used the Projet 1200 to do a print one of my test sculpts of my model Aria The Dragon. I knew the model had some errors at this point, but I wanted to see what the Projet would do with it.  The result was a perfectly printed model which is about 5 cm tall.
The process is very simple. You load your model, scale it if necessary and the software will position it on the bed and also auto-generate a support structure.  You can do the positioning and supports manually, but whilst I didn't have any problems with my choice of supports, when I crowded the bed (the auto-position has rejected the number of objects I wanted to place so I thought I'd see if I could get around that), it resulted in the only failed print I experienced.  You then click "Print" and it proceeds to slice the model and send it to the printer. You don't see the slicing process and you don't see the result which is very different from the software I normally use.
Being able to see what is to be printed does have its advantages, as a print of his excellent Eiffel Tower model shows (I cannot remember where I got it, so if this model is yours, then please let me know). I have included a picture of the STL and the resulting print with a coin as scale.  As is apparent, the railing on the first level is missing.  No doubt the reason for this is that the model scaled beyond the resolution capabilities of the printer, but I was unable to check this beforehand. I'm guessing 30 microns is more than sufficient for jewelry and dental models, but I have gotten used to seeing "under the bonnet". I guess it's a cultural difference.
In conclusion, The Projet 1200 produces consistently good prints (something that can't always be said of open source printers), but a price tag goes along with that. It's described as affordable and if you are a practising dentist or jeweler with a decent budget then for what you get, it's good value. If you are a home user then  $4.9K is probably a bit steep, unless it has a particular application for ongoing project work. As far as the cost of the resin, at time of writing, it was $490 for a pack of 10 cartridges and each contains 30cm3 of resin. To give you an idea of you'll get with that, the scaled Aria the Dragon models I used (which were actually 50.66mm tall) had a volume of 1.62cm3, you could get 18 Arias with some left over resin per cartridge. So, roughly, $2 per Aria.

I hope I get to play with it again:-)

 

Posted by Louise Driggers

Louise Driggers

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