Lots of "Z's" Around this Week — This One is ZMorph

Red. Or black. Or white. Hmmm. The colour of a car doesn’t improve it’s performance. But, arguably, it does affect the happiness of the driver from time to time – in turn the performance of that driver. But, colour is a very low consideration mechanically. Thus, finding myself considering the colour range of a 3D printer very shortly after it’s other specs is, with extrapolative qualitative psychological logic, an interesting pseudo-empirical validation of that which I already knew: ‘I love this 3D printer, its specs shine, I would buy one. But would I choose the red edition? Or black? Or white?’

The RepRap self-replicating prototype project is, in the realm of open-source home 3D printing, pretty much heaven for the majority of Makers with 3D printing knowledge. It has brought forth a vast evolutionary tree of printers (so vast there’s no way to fit it on this page, so, if you haven’t indulged before, the link is here); kickstarted a (currently minor: but just you wait…) industrial revolution; catalysed the inception of a USD$400million company; and even attracted the approval of Professor Brian Cox of CERN, BBC and, dare I say it, D:REAM keyboard playing fame.

I would list my favourite designs here for journalistic impartialities sake. But I’m not impartial regarding the ZMorph home 3D printer. I’m very partial to it indeed.

Why all the enthusiasm from myself here?

In brief, for those reading this in a hurry, exactly what the team say: ‘aluminium + policarbonate cut frame, clip-on interchangeable tools, chamber for warp-free printing and security, super-flat glass printbed… Sunbeam 2.0 electronics: native USB support, and internal disk drive (SD card), firmware upgrades, in progress ethernet support.’

The ZMorph has a very sturdy design with an aluminium frame that puts other printers that claim to be sturdy to shame, such as the Solidoodle (that’s not going to help in some situations, such as shipping, when a strong frame can transfer stress to 3D printed parts… I found this out when I bought my Solidoodle 2, which, shipped from the US to the UK in the first few batches, turned up with a few damaged plastic parts).

The sturdy frame is important, given that home FDM/FFF printers often behave like a minor Earthquake on a desk, and affects the consideration of the base form of the printer. It’s a sign of the pure genius of the RepRap community that the shear range of forms have evolved during the evolution of the designs. Here, the most recognisable form, akin to the Mendel, indeed the most popular Mendel genus, the Mendal Prusa. If you are new to home 3D printing and interested in the mechanical and self-assembly aspect of the device, a link to the assembly instructions of the Mendal Prusa is here.

I emphasise the frame also because ZMorph has added a heat chamber to it, in a very attractive cylindania (half cylinder: inner volume pi x height x pi / 2 regarding any heating calculations you may wish to push yourself to) form. I have a desktop oven that is shaped the same: the decreased surface area in comparison to a cuboid form offers heat retention advantages. Heat chambers have been lacking from the vast majority of home 3D printer designs, particularly the cheaper ones, and especially RepRap derivatives. Indeed, it has taken MakerBot a few years to get this far – if indeed that is a result, as rumoured, of the Stratasys input — given the capital and profile of MakerBot, this contrast provides insight into the insight of the team behind ZMorph.

The ZMorph is also exciting because of its range of tool heads as seen here, enabling the machine to be used for milling and engraving, as well as 3D printing. Even more, the team has considered expansion of its material range via a interchangeable extruders. Chocolate and ceramics are within reach, outside of the now average range of ABS and eco-friendly favourite PLA. The team plan to add a  5 axis milling tool, touch probe for 3D-touch-scanning, laser engraver and pen plotter to the range of expandables.

What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t fax, it isn’t a fully evolved 3D printer 3D scanner combo, and it doesn’t print in multiple colours.

(Nor solve inter-dimensional multiverse dark matter wormhole exchange differentials before you go there clever clogs).

How much is this device?

A mere €1250 (£1050.76 / USD$1658.00 at time of writing).

Should other manufacturers of prosumer home 3D printers be worried that the ZMorph has leapt ahead of them?

Yes. Very. The market place for home 3D printers is now getting very competitive.

Adrian Bowyer has provided the world with an open-source resource for technological progress. One mutation from an existing model is no longer going to be enough to infer that a maker will have a business model to head to a crowd-funding site, unless the evolutionary is a revolutionary.

What is the ZMorph’s current weakness? A build volume of 235 x 230 x 165mm (9.25 x 9 x 5 inches). But given the range of capacity for subtractive processes, the majority of applicative functions for the majority of users are going to be orientated around multiple parts, in turn inferring that an average build volume is not going to be as much of a concern as with a purist additive device.

Which leaves one question for myself.

I think the answer is red.

As for more “Z’s” – the ZeePro Zim hits Kickstarter on Friday. It’s looking pretty good, too.