A historically solid contender in the powder tech sphere, the Zcorp 3D printer does suffer from the availability of better tech and the difficulty in tracking down materials. The quality of the prints is nevertheless extraordinary, and the speed of the print process can’t be ignored.
Although manufacturer ZCorporation no longer exists, the company’s range of printers stays a reference in the annals of 3D printing history for bringing full-color printing to the forefront of 3D possibilities.
Among the shining lights of this revolutionary series of printers is the ZCorp Z450 and today we’ll focus on this very model to determine how well it stacks up to trials and tribulations of time. Let’s jump in and find out what this 3D printer has to offer.
|Printing Area||203 mm x 254 mm x 203|
|Layer Resolution||90 – 100 microns|
|Supported Filament||ZP130 Powder and ZB59 Binder|
|Printing Technology||3DP/ZPrinting/ColorJet Printing|
|Resolution||300 x 450 dpi|
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Design & Features
Visually, the ZCorp Z450 isn’t the most appealing and is very much a product of tech production of the early 2010s with a rather uninspiring grey scheme covering the entire unit only interrupted by a questionably stylish orange near the control panel.
Rather than relying on Fused Deposition Modelling, the Zcorp Z450 is based on a patented additive manufacturing technology known as 3DP, ZPrinting, or ColorJet Printing depending on who you ask.
The basic tenet of the process involves a print head – very similar to that found in traditional inkjet printers – selectively laying down a liquid binding material on a thin layer of powder causing it to solidify into a specific shape and design. The main upside of the technology is a near limitless use of color because the inkjet selectively colors the binder from a range of 180,000 individual shades before applying it to the powder.
When the shape has been etched into the powder, the print bed lowers down ushering in a fresh layer of powder spread thanks to a roller for the process to repeat itself. Add up all these layers, dust off any extra powder, and you get a full-color 3D model. The results can include graded color fades, intricate patterns, and near lifelike color renditions.
The innards of the printer are divided into two chambers one for building and one for fine-powder removal. Nearing the end of the build process the first chamber runs a cursory powder removal cycle that removes the bulk of the excess powder. When the model is dry, it is moved to the second chamber where a stronger, deeper removal process cleans off any remaining powder.
The build area of the Z450 totals in at 203 mm x 254 mm x 203 for an entirely respectable surface area that is in line with similarly sized printers, but doesn’t set any records. A happy middle ground if you will. It can print up to 23 mm per hour with a layer resolution range of 90 to 100 microns and a print resolution of 300 x 450 dpi.
In what is undoubtedly the most significant negative of the Z450, the printer is only compatible with ZP130 Powder and ZB59 Binder materials. In itself, this isn’t an issue as there are many printers on the market with proprietary material limitations. The problem here is that buying the powder and binder is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Vendors are out there, but they charge a pretty penny for the materials.
An LCD controlled by a wheel knob sits on the front of the printer providing an array of functions ranging from de-powdering, status details, and platform raising controls. Connectivity is assured via Ethernet.
The printer runs alongside the ZPrint software that acts as both a slicer and interface to communicate with the printer. It can read STL, VRML, PLY, 3DS, ZPR file types and is compatible up to Windows 7 or older. The software isn’t innately shoddy but does show its age with an absence of functions and tinkering options we’ve come to expect from modern slicing software.
Assembly & Unpacking
Due to its 193 kg total weight and 122 cm x 79 cm x 140 cm dimensions, the Z450 falls into the crate shipped printer category, and this is precisely how the model was delivered when it was still being manufactured and how we took custody of it second hand.
The printer comes fully assembled other than fitting a new printhead and replacing the binder/powder cartridges. Both operations are straightforward and reminiscent of a standard inkjet printer in their simplicity.
The Z450 produces high-quality prints with an eye-watering range of colors that put standard FDM 3D printers to shame. The printing process is also extremely streamlined due to the arrangement of the chambers and their various dry, vacuum, and print functions. The printer is also very waste conscious and automatically reuses excess powder. The added vacuum nozzle also works admirably for manual powder clearing.
Where this printer truly shines is in the speed of the printing process. In what is near enough twice the rate of traditional 3D printers, the Z450 is the fast prototypers dream with the ability to produce conceptual parts very quickly.
The models look and feel amazing, but there is a certain frangibility to them that is absent in PLA or ABS models for example. There’s a distinct sense that beyond being a visual representation of an idea or model, the prints from the Z450 won’t fare well being handled for practical uses or mechanical purposes, even as a functional proof of concept.
In light of 3D Systems taking over Z Corporation and manufacturing of the Z450 long since abandoned, official support is unavailable. Any warranties for new units have long since expired with the chances of obtaining one is confined to merchants and auction sites flogging the printer second hand. These vendors may offer other warranties so check before committing to a purchase.
It is, however, possible to successfully hew through successive Google search pages to find advice and tips for using the Z450. Among these are niche communities of users who vow by the Z450 for all their printing needs. The difficulty lies in tracking them down.
The user manual is also a great source of information for troubleshooting problems and maintenance guidelines.
In our eyes, the Zcorp Z450 is geared towards fast prototyping for design concepts, architectural models, form-and-fit prototypes, and demonstration pieces. Within these spheres, the Z450 performs admirably, but the questionable reliability of the end product with a propensity for being unduly brittles means practical uses are out of the picture.
Equally, a hobbyist who wants reliable models for either ornamental purposes will find use in the Z450 but venture even slightly into application based printing, and this model falls short.
The real allure of the Zcorp 3D printer is that it is possible to pick one up for a fraction of the retail price (approximately around $40,000 at its peak price). We are talking less than a $1000, if not less.
A hobbyist who wants a printer with powder/binder-based technology to add to their workshop should strongly consider the Z450 for its reliability and low cost.