The world of 3D printing is quickly mak- ing headway on the mainstream market, and it can’t be denied that elements of
the additive manufacturing world are propelling us into the future. As these machines
are becoming more popular, they are finding
their way onto the desktops of fan-boys,
makers, and engineers alike – providing a
fairly inexpensive and quick method for prototyping and design adjustment.
The desktop 3D printer realm is a complex
one, with major companies scrambling to
develop their own 3D printers or buying
out smaller companies for their designs. At
PD&D, we were inexperienced with 3D printers firsthand, until this spring.
Saelig was kind enough to provide PD&D
with an Afinia H479 3D printer, which they
distribute, for review.
Aside from trying to load unfamiliar software onto a company computer (admin
rights), the initial setup was incredibly quick
and easy. The software, which is fairly intuitive, uses STL files for printing, like most
desktop 3D printers. After some minor calibration work – setting the platform height,
leveling, and heating up the extruder – I was
printing my first model. A convenient addition to the software program is the ability to
disconnect the printer once the process has
started, negating any need to keep an essential laptop chained to the desk.
The Afinia printer is a classy-looking
machine that is commercially designed with
a sheet metal enclosure over the stepper
motors and slides, and a 3D-printed housing
for the extruder. After a successful first print,
After some trials and tribulations with more
platform leveling, the prints finally stopped
lifting off the platform, a common problem
with all desktop fused deposition model-
ing (FDM) printers, according to the online
forums. The leveling process required some
trial and error, but with a small platform,
squaring everything up was quite simple.
The Afinia was shipped with two types of
ABS material, the company’s premium ABS
filament, and a standard ABS filament. The
premium filament, which retails on Saelig’s
website for $44.99, was precise and clean.
The standard filament, which retails for
$31.99, was a little sloppy, left strings on the
print, and adhered to the platform less often.
Needless to say, it’s worth spending the
extra $13 for the premium.
The Afinia H479 is truly an out-of-the-box
3D printer that is easy to use for amateur or
first-time users, but also provides the preci-
sion that would make engineers with indus-
trial FDM printers jealous.
Bigger, Not Better
After tooling with the Afinia’s 5” x 5” platform, LulzBot sent their TAZ 3D printer for
review, which boasts the largest print volume of any printer under $5,000 – 298 x 275
x 250 mm ( 11. 7” x 10. 8” x 9. 8”).
Though the LulzBot TAZ wasn’t as simple
to set up, it required little mechanical aptitude and no tools to get printing. Since the
TAZ boasts a large print envelope, it was
assumed that it would take up more space
than the Afinia printer, and it certainly did.
TAZ takes up a lot of desk space, but the
print platform is monstrous – throughout
all of the attempted prints and two spools
of material, I never managed to push to the
absolute limits of the TAZ’s print volume, but
I still came away with some very big prints.
With such a large build platform, I thought
that leveling may be more challenging than
it was with the Afinia, and it was. Upon
the initial test print (a small octopus), the
— Included proprietary software
— 11 lbs
— 245 x 260 x 350 mm ( 9.65” x 10. 25” x 13. 8”) footprint
— Printing envelope: 127 x 127 x 127 mm ( 5” x 5” x 5”)
— Heated perfboard platform
— ABS and PLA materials
— 1.75 mm filament size
— 150 micron minimum layer height
— Includes kit of handling tools
By Chris Fox,
Associate Editor, PD&D
We are still in the infancy
of desktop 3D printing.
Photo Credit: Chris Fox