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Currently the third most-popular 3D printer in the U.S., the $1,599 H-Series printer from Afinia, a division of Microboards Technology LLC, Chanhassen, Minn., is lauded for its ease of use and overall quality. It prints with fused-deposition modeling (FDM), a technique that generates strong and watertight parts. We recently got an Afinia machine to test and found its software and instruction manual hard to use. Once we discovered a few workarounds, though, the 3D printer performed quite well.

First some background. The H-Series is a rebranded version of the Up Plus 2 3D printer manufactured by 3D Printing Systems Ltd., Sunnyhills, New Zealand, in China. The Afinia and Up Plus 2 are nearly identical but the Afinia is sold in the Americas with slightly modified electronics and dedicated technical support. In addition, Stratasys Ltd., Edina, Minn., is currently suing Afinia for patent infringement. By most accounts, Afinia’s success in the 3D-printing market has made it a conspicuous target, as sales of the Afinia printer trail only those of printers from Stratasys and 3D Systems Ltd., Rock Hill, S.C.

For our tests, we made a MACHINE DESIGN hangtag and a hollow toy-sized replica of a RoboCop Droid. First, we loaded the Afinia 3D Print software onto a Dell laptop, and connected the Afinia printer to the laptop via a USB cord. Then within the 3D-print software, we honed the hangtag and Droid models, scaled them to suitable trinket sizes, and commanded the Afinia to print them. The quality of parts produced by the Afinia H-Series is excellent. In fact, the machine we tested held tolerances to within 0.005 in. Here’s what else we discovered about the Afinia H-Series.

Afinia, Fig. 1

Part tolerance: Within 0.15 mm (0.006 in.) with a layer thickness from 0.15 to 0.4 mm.

Print Dimensions: 5 in.3

Speed: Linear print speed is 30 mm/sec. Like most desktop 3D printers, the printing platform also has a heating element to get finished parts to lift off with less prying.

Footprint: The 9.64 x 10.23 x 13.78-in. machine weighs less than 11 lb.

Print material: ABS plastic filament is $31.99 per kg ($0.02 to $0.05/cm3). Filament size is 1.75 mm. The Afinia ships with a starter-spool of white ABS plastic. One caveat: Even though the Australian version of the Afinia (the UP Plus 2) can use ABS and PLA plastics, the literature that comes with the Afinia discourages using anything other than ABS. Afinia doesn’t recommend buying the ABS from other suppliers, either. Afinia sells ABS in natural (an ivory color), black, red, blue, yellow, and green.

The Afinia prints parts on a base of support material printed with ABS, so the only way to remove the support material from printed parts is to break it off. Luckily, the software does create "smart" support structures that are easy to snap or cut off.

Afinia, Fig. 2

Computer compatibility: The printer works with PCs and Macs. We tested the machine with a Windows 7 PC. However, check with the manufacturer for the graphics card required. One of our computer’s graphics card had too little power to properly display and allow manipulation of the RoboCop Droid model.

Assembly: Comes fully assembled, sans the spool holder. But the spool holder attaches quickly with an Allen wrench (included).

Tools needed: The Afinia ships with everything a designer needs to print and remove support material. We suggest having super glue handy for reattaching any pieces that break off printed parts. Also, as a safety precaution, we wore safety goggles to protect our eyes from bits of plastic that fly off when removing more stubbornly affixed support material with an X-Acto knife (also included).

Multicolor printing: To print multiple colors, figure out where on the model the machine should stop printing. Then, before hitting print, enter that position’s X, Y, and Z coordinates into the software. The machine will stop at these positions to let the user replace a spool of one color with a spool of a new color.

Software and preparing the CAD model: The software and instructions manual covered the most important considerations for a designer. However, we found a number of quirky obstacles.

• Undo/reverse: There’s no Undo button, so when using the Scale tool, be aware that any rescale is based on all previous rescales.

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This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.