It’s been a while in the making, but on the morning of 10th November, the AIO ZEUS arrived in our office. AIO Robotics had launched this 3D multifunction device back in October last year on Kickstarter. Unlike other Kickstarter printer projects, which either went belly-up completely or failed to impress their backers with half finished products, the ZEUS is very different. Earlier this year, we had a call from Kai, the CTO of AIO enquiring about some of our ExcelFil samples as they were looking for a reliable filament to bundle with their high-end printer. Back then I had a chance to see some early prototypes of the printer.
But now for the finished product:
Opening the retail carton this morning it was quite obvious that this was not a printer assembled in somebody’s garage, but a genuine consumer-grade product, manufactured by one of the large contract manufacturers here in Taiwan that have decades of experience in delivering products for the biggest of Brands. It was neatly packed along with two accessory boxes holding the smoked glass turntable, Glue Stick, USB WIFI Adapter and a power supply in the second box.
Lifting the ZEUS out of the box, the attention to detail from the AIO design team showed immediately. It has two ergonomic indentations at the bottom, which act as handles to move the ZEUS around safely. Also, I quite like the clean white design with a black smoked hood which keeps the build chamber dust-free and creates a fully enclosed controlled temperature environment for prints.
Loading the Filament
As I mentioned, AIO and Voltivo decided to partner up on the filament for the ZEUS. So on opening the hood there is a spool of ExcelFil Snow White PLA 1.75mm.
Loading the filament was fairly easy by inserting the filament into the PTFE tube, which leads to the build chamber. After inserting the filament strand into the top of the extruder and pressing the release button to its right, it moves down a little more, ready to be transported through the extruder once heated.
AIO provides a useful getting-started video:
Powering up for the first time
I then inserted the WIFI dongle into one of the two USB slots under the generously sized touchscreen and connected the power cord to the back of the printer. Here you also find an ethernet and USB port as well as the master power switch. Judging from the serial number I have printer No. 27. I wonder who got No. 1 🙂
After switching on, the printer powered which took about 40 seconds, and the start screen appeared with the 4 operation modes Scan/Print/Copy/Fax.
Obviously using WIFI is my first choice so the printer can be pretty much located anywhere without having to worry about USB or network cabling. After startup I selected my SSID from the touch screen and entered my WPA2 password and the printer connected to my home network and got himself a DHCP address.
First thing I did was to calibrate the scanner part. For that I inserted the calibration mat that fits on the turntable and pressed “Calibrate” in the settings menu. I am not even sure if that would have been necessary, but nice to see the printer coming alive the first time. After a couple of minutes the calibration completed and I was keen to start the first print.
When accessing the printer via the network on Port 8080 (http://10.1.1.45:8080 in my case), one can upload STL files via the web interface.
The web-interface seems to be built with Twitter Bootstrap, hence being fully responsive and easy to use on Tablets, Phones and the like. It does not look quite as refined as it probably could be, but it’s very usable and all the important functions are there. I guess the AIO guys will spend more time on upgrading the software as we go along. In fact the printer has an auto-update function included, which will download incremental updates from the internet as they become available. I hope AIO will make some of it available to the Open Source community so we can tinker and expand the printer’s functionality.
A quick look under the hood of the OS shows a standard Ubuntu system running on an ARM board. The touch screen is very responsive and I did not experience much lag at all unless it is doing something resource-intensive like slicing for example.
Once you go to the Print section on the touch screen a selection window pops up where one can select the desired model to print. AIO has included a few test objects to be able to print quickly. Overall this is a great step towards a real consumer printer. Theoretically you won’t need a Computer at all to control your printer. It has everything on board it needs to load, prepare, slice and print any model from a USB stick for example.
After I selected the Voltivo Tag model I had uploaded via the web browser, I pressed the “Slice” button and I was able to select the slicing profile. With only two settings in this Wizard, the AIO guys made it simple for users not to have to worry about the 10s if not 100s of different settings that slicing software usually requires. I selected the 0.2 mm layer height and 30% infill profile and the slicer went away and prepared my GCODE right there on the printer. It did not take much longer than on my desktop and after about 20 seconds my model was sliced and ready to go. Seems the ARM platform chosen has enough power to also slice more complex models.
The printer comes with a UHU Glue Stick and I applied a small amount of glue to the center of the smoked glass print plate. The Glass has a slightly rough surface. I will try later without the glue, as adhesion would probably be good enough without it.
After pressing “Print” the ZEUS started heating for the first time. Heating took about a minute, maybe, and then the extruder started with an automatic bed calibration routine. For that purpose, a microswitch is attached to the extruder to sense the distance to the glass build plate and adjusts the Z height accordingly.
After reaching the target temperature the printer also executed a head cleaning procedure. For that purpose the ZEUS has a rubber-like contraption on the right front side of the chassis. The extruder moved over it a few times and the excess filament was wiped off. It would have been nice to have a container underneath to catch excess filament and to keep the print room pristine. But it’s easily accessible and I just grabbed it with my fingers and removed the small blob from the rubber.
What you see above is indeed the **very first** print I made after unboxing. Filament stuck well to the build plate and the perimeter laid down cleanly. While this is what a consumer expects, I do remember tinkering with my Ultimaker and the Da Vinci for quite a few hours before I even got a remotely decent print out of it. The ZEUS is definitely well calibrated from the factory and together with auto-calibration and the nozzle wipe I have the feeling that totally un-supervised prints may, finally, be a reality.
By default the printer ran at a decent speed. Without looking at the details it seem to be around the 100mm/s mark, which is a remarkable speed for a non-bowden extruder. There was quite a bit of noise owing to the fast extruder moves, however after closing the top cover, that reduced to an acceptable level. Still you probably would want to keep it away from very quiet working environments. Which is easy, due to its wireless printing features. There are lots of little design features that are not obvious on the first look, like the built in belt tensioners for example. Things that a lot of printers are lacking out-of-the-box.
And here is the finished print:
It’s a small tag we usually print for promotional and demonstration purposes.
I also like to use it to compare prints. Below an older example from the Ultimaker 1 at the same resolution and speed. I certainly can see quite some improvement. Smooth surfaces and well defined outlines of the embossed company name and logo. Retraction seem to work very well on the ZEUS, which is probably due to the direct drive design on the ZEUS compared with the Bowden system on the Ultimaker.
That’s all I have time for right now. There are still quite a few other features to try like the scanning but that has to wait for another day.
At a retail price of US$2499 the ZEUS is not a cheap printer by any means. But my first impressions are very good. Taking into concern that you also get a 3D Scanner similar to the MakerBot Digitizer, which retails separately at US$800, it’s price becomes quite reasonable, to me at least.
We have created a sub forum for the ZEUS, to share our experiences on an ongoing basis. Unlike the Da Vinci, the ZEUS is a nice open platform and I can see lots of user contributions on the software side specifically.