Very often we write about 3D printers–sometimes countless times–that are in the news but we have not yet had the good (hopefully!) fortune to switch on for ourselves and get down to the real nitty gritty business of actual 3D printing.
After a couple years have passed, and my peers and I here at 3DPrint.com have written about Zortrax over and over from reports on fabulous sales numbers for both hardware and materials to their involvement in education, and far more, the powers that be decided it was high time one of us laid hands on the Zortrax M200. After some emailing back and forth, it was decided that the Zortrax team would mail the M200 all the way from Poland to my home.
It was a very busy workweek here from my homefront in Colorado, and as many inches of snow were still busy accumulating in my yard and on the walkway, I cringed worrying about the FedEx carrier slipping on my walkway as she pulled up noisily enough to bring me to the door, along with my herd of excited and nosy little dogs. I was in the middle of a writing deadline and hadn’t had time to pull up the specs on the machine again yet, especially in terms of size or weight, so I was wondering about heft.
Standing at the door, freezing and dodging snow flying sideways in the wind, I heard the FedEx driver pushing what sounded like very, very heavy items around in her truck. This went on for some time and I began to grow anxious, looking out at the weather, snow, and ice. After a few moments I was relieved to see her bounce down the steps of the truck quite spry in the snow and bearing the box with ‘our’ Zortrax M200 casually under one arm, with the waybill in the other, just ready for my signature.
The busyness of work and life continued, of course, and I knew I wanted to devote a good amount of time to exploring what we could do with the Zortrax M200, as well as reading all the documentation that came with it before I got started. So, in my efforts to wait for the perfect day—and we all know how that went—the box stood waiting patiently for a week. My children? Not so patient. From waking up until falling asleep, they asked every day when we were going to start 3D printing, and each day I replied, “Soon!”
The kids practically put out their own news release about our ‘visitor’ from Poland (note, when something comes from overseas, this gives you much more cred in your story for school) and had their teachers and friends making requests as to the objects they desired to be made for them; in fact, as I held onto my teenage son’s phone for a brief moment one day, a girl from school was sending repeated texts that said two words over and over: “iPhone case! iPhone case! iPhone case!” The frenzy continued and so did my level of busy.
Finally, as the next weekend came upon us, Saturday coffee brewed and calm ensued as children slept and I began to unpack the Zortrax M200. For a glorious few moments, it was indeed just the two of us.
First, I unpacked one large and separate box full of luxurious filament in an assortment of colors, ranging from opaque to purple—and, I might add, packaged quite beautifully and in an enviably organized fashion. Along with this came a starter kit, which would be quite a gift just on its own, sans 3D printer. This is something you might not realize that you have to look forward to! In it were gloves, goggles, an x-acto knife, glue, and a spatula for helping to remove your print—and then some. But the fun was just beginning. As children woke and shuffled in to see what was happening, there I was beholding the elegant and simple beauty of the Zortrax M200, displayed on a table I’d cleared off in a side room with good ventilation just for this occasion. It took up a moderate amount of space, and for added safety, side enclosures were included to be easily attached.
I can say to begin with, and without a doubt, there was one thing very troubling about our experience with the Zortrax M200. Too short! Although we ended up keeping it for nearly a month, we grew quite attached to this visitor from Eastern Europe, full of miracles infinite. My budding makers, as well as most of our surrounding circle, were in mourning when it had to leave our realm.
Since Zortrax is heavily involved in education in their country and I’m well aware of their emphasis on STEM education as well as an initiative to get 3D printers into public institutions, I wanted to see exactly how several kids, ranging in ages from 8 to 16, would fare with the Zortrax M200 unpacked and at their disposal with instructions and tools. My eight-year-old daughter was itching to 3D print like it was no one’s business, and I do believe she would have taken the reins had not her older brother jumped right in and assembled the few pieces necessary, lickety split, from attaching the build plate to mounting the filament guide and spool holder. Note, he had never operated a 3D printer!
While there was some discussion from my daughter as to whether my son would agree to use purple for our first project (nixed for later), I sat and watched, waiting to see what would ultimately hang up this little group (answer: nothing). They read the instructions obediently and with the exception of a quick run to Best Buy to buy a US compatible power supply cable (again, more excitement at Best Buy as the kids exclaimed that we were 3D printing—I’m surprised the whole GeekSquad didn’t follow us home in a techno-geek convoy!), we were in business quickly. Lights, me with the camera, and serious 3D printing action!
What about the software, you may ask? Still, I’d barely made a dent in the coffee before my two sons, 13 and 16, had downloaded the Z-Suite software, and after some discussion about how we would, noooooo, not be 3D printing a gun (my kids are well aware of the controversies regarding this in the 3D printing industry—and ready to dive right into it themselves) with the Zortrax M200, they were already exploring the designs Zortrax had highlighted for us, choosing from the amazing castle and a simple buckle design, and then they were off and running and straight onto Thingiverse for more goodies; in fact, we lived on Thingiverse for quite a number of days, it seemed.
In the span of a couple of weeks, my children became experts on this machine and its software. I would look up from writing an article only to ask, “What in the world is that you are printing now?” only to see layer after layer being laid down in the form of an enormous Millennium Falcon which I am sad to say was spirited away to school and given to the gym coach before I was able to snap a shot. As a Star Wars fan, he was over the moon, and I think my son earned major brownie points.
One of our favorites however, was indeed the castle. It took a good fourteen hours or so to print but came out in ABS, pristine, and with incredible detail. It traveled like part of a tag-team match from classroom to classroom at school with my children vying over who was going to show it off next, counting down the hours. We didn’t experience one problem, and this was remarked on by all parties repeatedly, from how easy the Z-Suite software was to use to programming the machine to start a print. This is probably as turn-key and user-friendly as you can get.
We did, however, begin to run into some trouble via user-error with our pirate ship. It started out beautifully, and ran all night and part of the first day, developing layer by layer into all its glory; however, when it came to post-processing and removing some of the supports, my son was rather devastated to see he had all but destroyed what came out of the printer in previous pristine shape. It was a good learning experience however, and taught us all to be more careful as we were working on the pieces.
And look folks, something had to go wrong at some point. Frankly, I was almost relieved, as our experience had been utterly perfect up until the pirate ship fell apart. So, there you have it—a disaster on the high seas!
Recently, I inquired as to whether anyone had taken a photo of the doomed ship so that I could include it here.
“Why don’t you have any photos of the 3D printing or the models on your phone?” I asked my 13-year-old son as I was rummaging about for photos of the ship.
“I was too busy actually 3D printing to bother with pictures,” he informed me. And I quite liked that answer, to be sure.
While I battled the constant requests to print phone cases and paraphernalia, hoping we could get to some more complex items, my children had other plans. On the day that the 3D printer was due to be picked up by courier to go back to Poland, my children presented me with a stand for my phone—and I have to say, I’m wondering how I lived without it! It’s become a stand for my phone, outgoing mail, and is now a handy hub on my desk, as well as a grand memento of our time with the Zortrax M200, which was quite beloved.
We pulled together friends, relatives, and teachers and school advisors all with the enthusiasm of 3D printing and the wonder of technology and science. This absolute joy for all involved was the result of using a machine that operated absolutely flawlessly, couldn’t have been easier to use from A to Z, and was quite stunning in appearance as well. The Zortrax team was friendly and helpful, and certainly contributed to opening up a number of young minds to the wonders of 3D printing, furthering STEM education, as well as an interest. From one part of the globe to the other—while I was asked to do the work for a review, the thanks goes to Zortrax for opening our world and availing us of a fantastic experience all around.
The Zortrax M200 retails for around $1,990 and is available online as well as through multiple resellers. For more information, click here. You can also find out more about the printer, comprehensive specifications and details, and operations in the the product brochure from Zortrax. Have you used one of these machines? Discuss in the Zortrax M200 3D printer forum over at 3DPB.com.