There’s a strong resemblance between the Afinia H479 Desktop 3D Printer and the UP! mini that I reviewed a few months ago, and for good reason: the H479 is essentially the mini’s brother, the UP! Plus, which Afinia has tweaked and rebranded for the U.S. market. The modifications are for the better: The software is simpler, and the documentation much clearer. The H479 is relatively easy to set up and use, and prints out objects of good quality.
Afinia is a division of Microboards Technology, a company that otherwise makes and/or distributes optical disc and flash drive-related products (disc printers, disc and drive duplicators, and the like). It orders 3D printers from Delta Micro, makers of the UP! line, and add value to them: easy-to-install software on a disc (with the UP!, you have to download the software), a clear, detailed user manual, and various tweaks to meet FCC requirements.
According to Afinia, the H479 is intended for educators (the printers are installed in grade schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities), engineers (for in-house prototyping), and creatives (jewelry, robots, drones, cartoon characters). It is easy enough to set up and use so that it’s worth considering by tech-savvy consumers, though it’s somewhat expensive for that role and for the features it provides.
This red, open-framed printer measures 13.8 by 9.6 by 10.2 inches (HWD), and weighs just under 11 pounds. It can print at any of 3 resolutions, from .15mm to .4mm. Its build area is just over 5 inches cubed, as compared with 10 by 9 by 9 inches for the Type A Machines Series 1 , the 4.7 inches cubed for the UP! mini, 5.5 inches for the 3D Systems Cube 3D Printer, and 6 inches for the Solidoodle 2 Pro.
Setting the Afinia Up
The printer’s assembly and setup are simple. You attach a spool holder to the printer’s side and place a spool of plastic filament in it (the H479 comes with a 1.5 pound spool of ABS plastic); and thread the filament from the spool through a guide at the top of the printer and into the extruder assembly. Then you clip a piece of FR-4 board—a perforated, square sheet of epoxy laminate—into place with four small clips that are provided.
The FR-4 board’s network of tiny holes serves an important role: to hold the molten (and quickly solidifying) plastic that’s squeezed into them as the first layers of a print job are extruded, and prevent the corners of the object from peeling up (a not uncommon issue when printing with ABS plastic), likely pulling the rest of the job off the platform eventually and ruining it.
Three FR-4 boards come with the printer. The manual indicates that you can also use blue masking tape as a print surface. Doing so will avoid one problem I encountered when printing with the perforated boards, which I’ll describe later in the review, although objects may not adhere as well to the tape.
Software and User Manual
I installed the software from the provided disk. It can be installed on either a Mac or Windows machine; I used a laptop running Windows 7, and the installation was problem-free. When you connect the printer to the computer via USB cable, the computer will recognize it and install it automatically.
The Afinia software is a single program that performs all necessary functions, from initializing the printer to setting the extruder height and making sure the corners of the print bed are even, to feeding filament into the extruder, to fixing file problems, to printing. (There isn’t a separate step for “slicing” an object into layers for printing, as there with most 3D printers.) When you open an object file to print, a 3D representation of it will appear on screen. You can rescale an object, or set its location on the print bed before printing.
Because of its seamlessness and ease of use, it’s one of the best software suites we’ve seen with a 3D printer, up there with the similarly user-friendly Cubify software that comes with the Cube 3D Printer.
The user manual, which comes in printed form but is also accessible in PDF format from the Afinia website, is a big improvement the UP! user manual. Although it covers much of the same material, the Afinia manual is clearer and free of the spelling and grammatical errors that riddled the UP! manual.
Setting the Extruder Gap
Once you’ve set the initial gap between extruder nozzle and print bed. You can adjust it in increments of 0.1mm to narrow the gap until the extruder head is barely above the platform (the suggested gap is 0.2mm). Then you press Set Nozzle Height, and it will lock the setting. You can reset it if need be.
Continue Reading: The H479 in Action
The H479 in Action
After you’ve opened an object file to print, you choose Print from the file menu, and then click Print from the dialog box, and you’re off. After about five minutes, when the extruder is hot enough, printing will commence. Once printing has started, you can disconnect the printer from your computer, as the job is installed in internal memory. Apart from beeping at the start and finish of a print job, the H479 made very little noise, a welcome change from some of the 3D printers I’ve tested.
One thing to note is that the printer will add supports—vertical pylons of plastic—to an object, whether you like it or not. They can be helpful in preventing overhung areas from drooping, but for the most part are unnecessarily. The best you can do is to adjust the settings so they only appear when an overhang is within 10 degrees of horizontal. They can sometimes be tricky to remove, and can leave a rough residue that usually has be sanded or otherwise smoothed away.
The H479 printed out our suite of test objects with no misprints. Overall print quality was good, with generally good detail and smooth (where intended) surfaces. There were some artifacts and roughness from the supports, including some localized discoloration. Even at “fast” resolution, print quality was decent. The quality should be sufficient for use by the teachers and designers for which the printer is intended.
Removal of Printed Objects
Removal of printed objects from the perforated board that they’re printed on proved to be a difficult task, and harder than it had been with the UP! mini, which uses a similar system. The plastic at the base of the object fills up the perforations, small round holes in the build surface, and adheres to them.
Fortunately, the printer comes with a good toolkit, including but not limited to gloves, a spatula-like “shovel”, an X-Acto knife, pliers, and wrenches. In theory, with a bit of coaxing, you should be able to slide the spatula between the object’s base and the perforated board, and sometimes I was able to do it with a good amount of flexing of the board. Then I could lever the object away from the base, little by little, until it came free of the board.
But the perforations were still full of the little plugs of plastic. I tried using the tweezers to poke them out, which worked to a point but ultimately bent the ends of the tweezers. I ultimately got them out mostly using a thumbtack, but it was a tedious and time-consuming task. You need to remove the plastic (or at least most of it) from the holes for the board to be ready for another print job. With three boards (and you can order more from Afinia), you have some flexibility, but you still have to keep them clear of stray plastic.
I tried widening the gap between the extruder nozzle and the board before printing in hopes that less plastic would fill the perforations, but the issue persisted. Pre-heating the build platform seemed to help somewhat, but removing an object from the perf board without damaging it or spending undue time in removing the excess plastic remained a challenge.
The H479 can print with either ABS or PLA plastic filament, though Afinia only sells ABS. It comes in two grades: Premium ($44.99 for a 1.5-pound roll), which is designed for the H479 and melts at 260C, and Value Line ($31.99 for a 1.5-pound roll), which melts at a lower temperature and can be used across a range of printers. The downside of ABS is that it can emit a sometimes strong odor, and that it’s mildly toxic as some people have reported headaches after being exposed to its fumes, and its particles can build up in the lungs. Once it’s cooled, though, ABS is safe enough; it’s the plastic that LEGO pieces are made from.
The Afinia H479 Desktop 3D Printer has a lot going for it as a 3D printer intended for teachers and professionals. It’s easy to set up, the software is a cinch to install and use, and the printing process was fairly problem free. The Editors’ Choice Type A Machines Series 1 also was easy to set up and use, though its software isn’t as smoothly integrated. However, the H479′s build area is much smaller than that of the Series 1.
The H479 comes with sheets of perforated board to hold the object to the build platform while printing. Its drawback with this method is that it can be hard to remove printed objects from the platform, and the excess plastic from the board. Afinia suggests blue masking tape as an alternative. The Series 1 uses a blue tape-like build surface, which works relatively well.
The less expensive 3D Systems Cube 3D Printer requires that you coat the build surface with glue, and then soak the printed object in hot water until the object comes off. The Cube was easy set up, with a software suite comparable to the H479′s, but its print quality was uneven, and the extruder gap had to be frequently recalibrated.
The H479 costs much more than the Solidoodle 2 Pro, which is geared to professionals as well as consumers. Although it worked well once we got it up and running, its setup was onerous, and could try the patience of even the most dedicated professionals.
Although the Afinia H479 Desktop 3D Print can’t match the Series 1 in bang for the buck, having a much smaller build platform, it scores points for its easy setup, good software and documentation, and ease of printing. Prying printed objects off the perforated board that Afinia supplies proved to be a hassle, but you may having better luck by using the blue tape that the company suggests as an alternative.
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