A reliable workhorse designed for professional grade prototyping, the Fortus MC250 rivals the quality and build quality of industrial printers priced twice as much. The compact design makes it far more viable for enterprises for whom space is limited than alternatives with a bigger footprint.
Here at 3D Beginners, our bread and butter are consumer-level 3D printers so getting our hands on the industrial grade Fortus 250MC model is a real treat. What does this goliath of the printing world have to offer and is it suited to withstand the demands of a high impact professional context? Here’s our review of Stratasys’ mighty Fortus 250MC.
|Printing Area||254 mm x 254 mm x 305 mm|
|Layer Resolution||178, 254 and 330 microns|
|Supported Filament||ABSplus and Stratasys Support Material|
|Achievable Accuracy||241 microns|
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Design & Features
Stratasys has established a reputation for producing some of the best looking 3D printers around, and this tradition unquestionably carries over to the Fortus 250MC. Dark grey and white acrylic panels cover all sides of the enclosed chamber to form an amazing, prim summation of its parts that bleeds precision-oriented industrial production.
With a footprint measuring in at a commanding 838 mm x 737 mm x 1143 mm and a total weight of 326 lbs, the Fortus 250MC would nestle into the hallowed halls of a design workshop at MIT with ease alongside other high tech devices. Such is the extent of its visual appeal and imposing profile particularly when sitting atop the optional cabinet that Stratasys offers alongside the Fortus 250MC. It is, however, far more convenient than similar industrial grade printers but with all the high-end technology and accuracy still intact.
The heavy-set hinged door is more akin to a vault door than a 3D printer panel and works wonders to ensure the build chamber remains wholly sealed for the optimal ABS printing environment and to contain unwanted odors, not to speak of significantly reduced operational noise levels. The door is also see-through making it perfect for print monitoring aided by the classy low blue in-chamber lighting that illuminates the model.
In terms of industrial application, the Fortus 250MC sits in the middle ground between prototyping and end-use production striving for results that rival those of more established plastic processing methods like CNC-machining and cast molding. The Fortus 250MC isn’t so much a 3D printer as a 3D production system with not only a print chamber and dual filament cartridge slots, but also a support removal solution tank.
Diving deeper into the specifications of the printer, the Fortus 250MC crutches on established additive FDM technology using the guide rods and lead screw based belted stepper motor system. What differs it from entry-level consumer equivalents is the quality of the parts and precision of the engineering.
The printer boasts a spacious 254 mm x 254 mm x 305 mm build area and offers three layer-resolution settings at 178, 254 and 330 microns with an overall achievable part accuracy 241 microns. Suffice to say the 250MC is geared towards precision.
The extruder is of the dual tip variety with one tip exclusively geared towards laying down ABS, while the other manages the extrusion of support filament. The extruder includes an automatic cleaning system that eliminates clogs and sweeps away stringed material.
Although the Fortus 250MC is limited to ABS filament, it isn’t your customary acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. The printer uses Stratasys proprietary production grade ABSplus engineered for mechanical strength, impact toughness, and stability. Stratasys claims ABSplus is 40% stronger than standard ABS.
Stratasys ships ABSplus in enclosed cartridge form in ivory, red, fluorescent yellow, white, blue, black, olive green, dark grey, nectarine, and bespoke custom colors on request.
Stratasys dispatches each cartridge in a moisture-proof, anti-static bag for added longevity and when opened wards off humidity for up to 30 days reducing the propensity for brittle filament unfit for printing that is so common in third-party budget filament. The cartridges aren’t refillable or recyclable, but Stratasys does a respectable job of recuperating spent spools and reusing them.
Additionally, the printer is also designed to accommodate Stratasys’ hands-free soluble support material for use on models with tricky overhangs, openings, or large structures. Both ABSplus and support cartridges are loaded into 56.3 cubic inch bays that automatically feed the filament through to the extruder for printing. The bays sit just below the build chamber and are accessible from the outside for easy loading and unloading.
As is routine with Stratasys products, the Fortus 250MC is paired with the Insight pre-production software compatible with Windows only. Insight is among the most powerful 3D printing software suites out there with a mind-numbing selection of print parameters to tinker with from quality, precision, strength, width, monitoring, fill style, support style, and everything in between.
Insight is equally geared towards less technically minded users with the tweaking options being just that, optional. It will do much of the heavy lifting by taking an STL file of a model, optimizing and scaling it before converting it for the printer to read. Insight also works to create supports automatically if required and can correct structural design issues to ensure the print is successful.
On-printer controls are embodied in a five-panel monochrome LCD screen. The top screen offers monitoring and status information such as filament cartridge levels and model details, while the other four single-line displays have functional uses such as controlling the chamber lights, pausing the printing process, unloading filament, displaying the remaining print time and error codes, and powering down the Fortus 250MC.
The functionality of the auxiliary panels change based on context and are triggered by a set of keypad buttons running along the right-hand side.
Connectivity is limited to 10/100 base T Ethernet, but this isn’t uncommon for industrial-sized 3D printers that depend on a reliable tethered connection which Wi-Fi can sometimes fail to provide. Ethernet allows connection to an office or lab network for easy integration with workstations.
The Fortus 250MC comes packaged as would as a brand new refrigerator with an ample helping of plastic banding, styrofoam, cardboard pallets, foam tubes, and wraps. Stratasys has incorporated a set of forklift pads into the bottom of the printer making it easier to transport the printer and position it in its final resting place.
The package includes a pair of insulated leather gloves, two power cords (US and EU sockets), crossover network cable, ethernet cable, model and support extruder tips, eight tip shields, four tip cleaning assembly, 10x magnifier loupe, two Allen wrenches, bronze brush, needle nose pliers, cutters, system software CD, user guide CD, Insight software CD, ABSplus cartridge, and support material cartridge.
The printer itself comes fully assembled, so there’s no faffing around attaching extruders or the like. Installation is limited to connecting the ethernet cable and power cord, installing Insight, Control Center (communication software between PC and printer), and the printer firmware, then sliding in the build platform and latching the plastic retainers, and finally inserting the filament cartridges.
Overall, the process is well directed through a clear and concise user guide, and we encountered no issues whatsoever other than sliding in the cartridge the wrong way, which was entirely our fault.
Although not strictly linked to assembly, it’s worth noting that the Fortus 250MC requires its fair share of care and maintenance, namely clearing away debris in the chamber on a regular basis, cleaning the air filter, removing and emptying the extruder purge container from accumulated ABS debris, and periodically replacing the extruder tip shields and tip cleaning assembly. The costs can rack up quickly, but this isn’t too far removed from the ongoing costs of most industrial 3D printers.
The quality of the prints is all about accuracy and pinpoint precision. Our numerous test prints all came out near flawless with only the occasional blemish that was quickly washed away in post-production.
We have here a printer that is reliable, stable, and incredibly strong in terms of its versatility. From small detailed parts destined to mechanical ends to large scale models with intricate overhangs, the MC250 performed admirably at every turn.
It does have its limits and won’t reach the heights of SLA tech industrial printers or even more expensive FDM printers, but the quality of the prints is without a doubt equivalent to the price range. The MC 250 delivers.
The Fortus 250MC is coupled with a one-year warranty from Stratasys that covers the usual workmanship and defective parts. The company does also offer extended warranties linked to businesses that need additional support such as repairs, servicing, and maintenance. The extra service plans don’t come cheap ($100 k or so), but given the price tag of the MC250 that extra piece of mind is worth the additional cost.
The Stratasys website is teeming with guides and documentation covering setup, maintenance, usage and the like, but lacked any substantial troubleshooting articles. The company is also somewhat lacking in terms of customer service support with a day-time only phone team, which seems incongruent with the time conscious and target based demands of industrial production.
The affordable industrial grade market is a growing facet of the 3D printing sphere, and with the Fortus 250MC, Stratasys puts in a strong argument for the best sub $50,000 model. It’s perfect for precision realistic functional prototyping, low-run production molds, and end-use parts in anticipation of large scale manufacturing.
There isn’t much to dislike here, and if we were to be picky, the proprietary ABSplus system is a little constrictive, but the hassle-free cartridge system works so well we see the appeal.