As far as I remember, I always claimed that 3D printers should be expensive. The demand for this type of devices is still relatively small, so is the sale, and at the same time, the high margins will ensure a stable growth of the 3D printers manufacturer and protect it from financial troubles. The following years only confirmed my theory – all Polish companies attempting to conquer the market with cheap 3D printers (Idea Lab, Pirx, 3NOVATICA, Jelwek), have either ceased operations, either tightened it up or completely changed, focusing on other business areas. The same happened with international companies – Pirates3D, TIKO, or Peachy Printer are symbols of mismatching the price of the device to their announced capabilities as well as market expectations.
Last year made me slowly change my approach… On the market, more and more incredibly inexpensive 3D printers began to appear, not only successfully printing, but their manufacturers were doing pretty well, successively extending the offer. However, I still had a feeling that cheap devices are anyway worse than those sold at the price of a few thousand Euros. Until finally I hit the Panowin F1 and my view on this matter has completely changed… 3D printers should be expensive – unless they are made in China… Then everything starts to look different…
Panowin F1 is a self-assembled 3D printer. At first glance it looks the same as Trinus – $ 1.6 million winner of last year’s Kickstarter campaign. There is no mystery or controversy here – Kodama Inc., the creator of Trinus is a partner of Panowin Technologies Co., Ltd. and Trinus is a modified version of F1. As far as both versions are different from each other – I do not know? What I know for sure is that given the price of this device, it is without a doubt the best consumer 3D printer I have ever come across.
The 3D printer came to us just two weeks ago, so my experience with it is rather low. But I can safely say we are dealing with professional equipment and well thought out product. Starting from the design itself, through the way it is made, up to the own original software – Panowin F1 is an ideal consumer product.
In this article we will focus on the 3D printer assembly and the so-called: “first impressions” of its usage. In the next articles we will look at the specifics of working on it and at some point we will try to get an official review.
Before we get any further – short technical data:
- 3D printing technology: FDM
- working area: 12 x 12,5 x 12,5 cm
- filament: PLA
- filament diameter: 1,75 mm
- nozzle diameter: 0,4 mm
- optional heated table (we have one)
- optional laser engraver (we have one)
- communication by SD card or USB laser; optional LCD touch panel (we have one).
The 3D printer comes to us in two cartons. The one containes a 3D printer and besides we find a box of filament and protective glasses for laser engraving.
In main carton we find:
- ready-to-install 3D printer components: XYZ axes, extruder, work tables (plastic and heated), laser engraving head, a case with screws and SD card, electronics and other components
- two adhesive pads
- power supply
- power cord and USB cable
- work accessories: tweezers and Allen keys
- two filament rolls (each for about 50 g)
- LCD display
- user manual in English.
The manual is written in a very clear manner and it is difficult to make any mistake when mounting the device.
Panowin F1 consists of 9 components +4 rubber feet. These components are:
- four assembled axes: X, Y and 2 x Z
- mounting plate for extruder
- working table (plastic or heated)
- 4 rubber feet.
Stage one is to tighten the legs to the bottom of the platform. The platform is large (29 x 29 cm) and is equipped with a series of threaded holes.
When we screw up the legs, we mount the Z axes. How to distinguish them from the other? Cables are terminated by yellow plugs. Axes are mounted with stepper motors down.
Then mount the Y axis (red plug). The stepping motor is located at the rear, between the Z axes.
The next stage is the X-axis (green plug). We mount it so that the stepper motor is on the left side of the 3D printer. Before we do that, we have to make sure that the panels to which we are going to bolt them are at the very top of the Z axis (we had them already set up).
When the X-axis is mounted, screw the mounting plate to the extruder to which it is then screwed. There is no room for interpretation as well, because it has a special tab at the bottom that we slide into the hole in the mounting plate.
At the rear of the Z axis we install electronics. It is equipped with four distances in which screws are screwed.
Then we mount the build table. The manual describes the assembly of the original plastic table – we immediately installed the heated. It is two times lower than the plastic one, which later generated a small problem, but we will come to this in a moment.
When everything is ready, connect the cables. The color of the specified plug corresponds to the color of the electronics input. There is no way to go wrong with this.
Electronics has inputs from four sides:
- Bottom – colored inputs for control cables for XYZ axles and extruder
- Top – slot for SD card
- Left side – power cord, USB and HBP cable
- Right side – laser and LCD panel.
Finally, glue the adhesive pad onto the table. The 3D printer is ready. Total assembly time – 35 minutes for 3D printer and less than 5 for electronics. The whole took us about 40 minutes.
Installation of the 3D printer and software on computer
At first we need to connect the 3D printer to the computer and open the supplied SD card. It contains both the manual in PDF as well as the 3D printer drivers and the PANGO software. The driver installation process is so simple and obvious that I did not even know what I could write about it? We just select the installation file and confirm it’s running. Pango works directly from the SD card – we do not install it on the PC. We just lose the directory to computer’s hard drive and can use it right away.
Start up the 3D printer for the first time
Unfortunately, Panowin F1 has one (minor) drawback – there is no START button. The 3D printer turns on / off directly from the power cable that we insert into the electronics. When the device is on, we open Pango and click the CONSOLE button.
From its level we can control the 3D printer. Before we press HOME to set the printhead to its starting position, it is important to make sure that the printhead does not hit the table. This did not happen, largely because our heated table was definitely lower than the default plastic one.
When positioning the head in the starting position, position the head relative to the table. We use the function Z OFFSET, where we simply raise or lower the head by 0.1 mm. We can max out the head by -1.5 mm. Unfortunately, our work table was even lower, so to lower the head we had to do this mechanically by lowering the clutches in the Z axes. After that the 3D printer was fully calibrated and ready to work.
If not for testing different variants of head positioning, the whole process would take us several minutes. So we ended it in 30-40 minutes.
First 3D print
By default, the “autoprint” file on the SD card starts the 3D printing the filament holder for Panowin F1. The printout is quite long, so it finally hit the Zortrax M200, where I printed it from the black Z-ESD (the STL model is also included on the SD card). My first print on Panowin F1 was the classic 3DBenchy boat.
Generating the file from software was no problem. Pango is easy to use, but has one small catch, which we must remember. When the model is loaded, two outlines appear – smaller for the model and the larger one generated by the “Combined Printing” option. I have no idea what it serves, I only know that its activation will cause the 3D printer to pause automatically during operation and prevent it from continuing. After consulting the manufacturer, I received an instruction to simply turn it off – in further articles I will try to describe this functionality broadly or determine what it suits?
When we load a model and turn off the Combined Prinitng function, we can edit it (orienting it on the table or scaling) and slicing. To do this we click the “View Layer” button – the model is sliced and we can see its individual layers.
We also have the ability to set advanced parameters:
- in the BASIC profile:
- print height and 3D printing speed (default 0.15 mm and 30 mm / sec.)
- generate support (YES / NO)
- options for the surface (NONE / SKIRT / BRIM / RAFT)
- in the ADVANCED profile:
- filament settings
- strokes and infill settings
- speed setting
- temperature setting.
When we slice the model, we save it on SD card. Surprise! Pango does not generate us GCODE only PCODE. We start the 3D printing either from a computer through console, or directly from a 3D printer, using the touch panel.
As for the device for $400, the 3D printer prints fantastic. For now, we have three printouts:
- 3DBenchy boat
- part of an enclosure (3D printed on nearly entire table).
The total time needed to run the first 3D print from the start of the assembly was about 1.5 hours, but we had to take the correction for additional work on the assembly of the heated table. Without this we would close the assembly in just over an hour. Quite good time…
So much about the first impressions of Panowin F1. We will spend following weeks testing various variants of software settings, printing models with lots of supports and different filaments. So far, we are very positively surprised by the quality of the 3D printer itself and its work environment. We’ll see what happens next…?