If feature-size limitations have kept you from considering entry-level 3D printing, it may be time to think again. Z Corporation has revamped its lowest cost printer, giving it a materials, hardware, and firmware upgrade that drastically improves its ability to produce small features and complex geometries.
Called the Z Printer 310 Plus, the new machine includes technologies previously found on the company's high-end Spectrum printer, which costs thousands of dollars more.
Features ported from the Spectrum include a heated build chamber and firmware that help improve the machine's build resolution and smoothes the finish of the printed parts. The 310 Plus also runs a new build material that offers better part strength off the machine. Like the company's earlier materials, this new build material consists primarily of a plaster in an aqueous binder.
According to Marc Tremblay, Z Corporation's vice president of customer development, these features add up to a machine that can handle smaller features and thinner walls—and do so at faster build speeds than the 310 machine it replaces.
He puts the 310 Plus' resolution—one of the chief determinants of feature size capabilities—at 300 × 450 dpi. The 310 model could handle only 300 × 300 dpi, he notes.
The material used by the 310 Plus also contributes to the machine's ability to handle small features. Called zp130, the new material has about eight times the impact strength of the material used in the 310's unheated build chamber. Even though the printed prototypes are typically infiltrated with stronger materials to make them more durable, parts still have to be strong enough to make it off the machine. "Lots of features that wouldn't survive off the machine in the past now survive," he says, giving delicate extruded features and very thin wall sections as examples.
So how much smaller are the features off the 310 Plus? Tremblay illustrates the improvements through slightly raised text blocks. The 310 Plus can produce readable six point text, while the old 310 could barely do nine point. The Spectrum, meanwhile, can handle four point text.
As for speed, the heated build chamber and zp130 allow models to dry faster than they could on the 310 machine. Tremblay says the new machine is about 25 percent faster than the 310.
The 310 Plus debuted at the Z Corporation's annual user group meeting in October. It's already on the market for $25,900.