Objet Alaris30 3D Printer

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.

Printed parts before support removal

Printed parts after support removal

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.

14 Comments

  1. Our experience with the Alaris 30 was initially very positive. However after only 2 or 3 months of light use, the build quality deteriorated suddenly with incomplete model parts and bands of missing material in the Z direction. The service support has been quite prompt, however the problem has not been solved and since October we’ve not been able to print a decent set of models.

    How has your machine performed? Has it been relaiable and of consistent quality? Have you had to have it serviced?

    Regards,
    Derek

  2. dbelcher says:

    Derek-

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    We are at the 3 month mark right now and there have been remarkably few hiccups. At the recommendation of Objet, we have been trying to print a small part every 48 hours to keep the print-heads clean and running. We have not had it serviced yet and we are only performing routine maintenance once a week. So far so good. Hopefully, things will not deteriorate.

    On the downside: we have had a problem with the network interface card, but Objet resolved that issue by replacing the NIC. We have been surprised to find how much waste material the Alaris produces, relative to the amount of build/support it uses. The build/support estimates in Objet studio are not accurate at all. We’ve been tracking the difference between predicted/actual and there does not seem to be a pattern. Have you had this experience?

    Has Objet proposed a solution for your Alaris? Replace the print heads? I hope things improve.

    -Dan

  3. chip says:

    Nice to hear about your experience – I am on a tight budget and was thinking of getting the Alaris30 without the water washout unit. Is this a necessary item in your opinion? We are a University so students taking a little bit of extra time is not a deal killer.

    Thanks,

    chip

  4. dbelcher says:

    Chip-

    We’ve been compiling some points for a second post, which we should get up soon…but in the meantime, the answer to your question is YES. The waterjet has been great. We did without it for a week or so (while we awaited the necessary plumbing) and it was difficult and messy to remove the support material. The only downside to the waterjet has been the noise of the compressor. Considering the overall cost of the setup – and the ongoing cost of material – the waterjet is a minor part of the total cost. You could use sodium hydroxide (Drano/hair relaxer) to remove support, but you have to be careful…it’s a nasty chemical in high concentrations. I would recommend the waterjet unit.

    We’ll get that other post up soon…as cool as the printer is, there are some downsides.

    Hope that helps,
    -Dan

  5. Derek Chaplin says:

    Update:
    Objet sent an engineer form Israel to fix our unit. It turned out to be an issue with a power control module and also some tweaks to the software.
    The printer is now running fine and is producing excellent models.
    I find that Service can be hard to get but once the issue has been raised to the appropriate level, they do a good job of fixing it.

  6. Rob Steiner says:

    Have you seen the $50 increase in build material notice. Starts in April 2011 I think.

    Also there is an upgrade to use different colored build material for the Alaris 30. Would be interested in networking with any other Alaris owners for trouble shooting – sharing ideas, etc.

    Rob

  7. dbelcher says:

    Rob-

    Yes, we saw the increase. Ouch. We are currently looking into the upgrade to the printer to enable multiple materials. Let us know what you find out and we’ll do the same.

    -Dan

  8. Preston says:

    On the issue of the material upgrade, before your sink a couple grand into it am pretty sure that the printer reads the RFID tag on the vero white bottle. If you placed a Black bottle in there it wouldn’t work unless it thought that it was a VeroWhite one.

  9. Dylan Oliver says:

    LMN Team (and anyNW Objet Users)-

    As the local Objet rep based here in Seattle with Kemeera, I want to make sure that you know I am available as a local resource if you come across an issue. I have helped Scott with LMN’s Alaris once in the past. I have years of experience running Objet systems, so should something come up, and the standard channels aren’t satisfactory, just let me know and I will go to bat for you!

    -Dylan

    dylan@kemeera.com

  10. dbelcher says:

    Thanks Dylan. Good to know. And thanks for helping us keep our Objet up and running smoothly.

  11. Patrick says:

    I’ve been looking into the Objet30 Pro recently, and I’m just wondering if your Alaris is still going strong.

  12. scrawford says:

    Hi Patrick,

    The printer is still going strong. Thankfully we have a service agreement with Studio Fathom. They do yearly maintenance on our machine and stop by if we have any issues. We would definitely recommend this printer to others.

    Scott

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