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Some Questions About The PolySmoother

Some Questions About The PolySmoother
The PolySmoother 3D print surface smoothing device [Source: Kickstarter]

I’m looking at a new and wildly successful Kickstarter for something called the “PolySmoother”, which they say is “an extremely convenient tool for polishing 3D prints”.

It’s a small device that can be used to smooth 3D prints using a vapor process. The idea is to place objects inside the PolySmoother and then it will carefully heat up a solvent, producing a vapor.

Vapor Smoothing

Operating the PolySmoother 3D print surface smoothing device [Source: Kickstarter]

The vapor flows in the air all around the 3D printed part, and if the solvent correctly matches the part’s material, it will soften the object’s surface. If applied for just the right amount of time, the surface of the object will become glass-smooth.

The vapor process has long been used in 3D printing, particularly for ABS material. That’s because ABS can be smoothed with an application of commonly available acetone. You can paint it on the object, dip it or use a vapor machine like the PolySmoother to apply it to ABS parts.

However, best results are done using highly controlled setups because over-exposure will destroy details on the part. Delicate structures will weaken and depending on the geometry, could collapse. If you leave an ABS part in acetone long enough, it will literally dissolve completely into the fluid solvent.

The PolySmoother attempts to do smooth surfaces by using a sealed vapor chamber, solvent reservoir, heaters and a mechanism to control temperature and time of exposure. They include some advice for time and temperature for typical 3D prints, but the best course of action is to consider each 3D print separately due to geometrical uniqueness.


PolySmoother

PolySmoother specifications [Source: Kickstarter]

The new Kickstarter campaign offers the PolySmoother for only US$129, which would seem to be a decent price for a straightforward 3D printing accessory. However, after reading through their material I do have some questions.

First, there’s the name of the product, “PolySmoother”. This should not be confused with Polymaker’s PolySmooth 3D printer filament, which can be smoothed with their IPA device, the PolySher. You also should not confuse the PolySmoother with PolySmoother 2.0, a software utility that works with CAD smoothing groups.

Then there’s some confusing information about the solvents used. While most 3D printer operators are familiar with the use of acetone as a smoothing solvent, virtually no one chemically smooths PLA material. This is because the necessary solvents are incredibly toxic and basically should not be handled by anyone outside of a specially equipped workshop. It’s not worth poisoning yourself to get a shiny plastic dragon.

PLA Smoothing

PLA object smoothed by the PolySmoother 3D print surface smoothing device [Source: Kickstarter]

However, the PolySmoother campaign page talks about smoothing PLA, and even shows PLA printed samples before and after smoothing. They say:

“Through our R&D, and digging on the internet, we found, and we tried, some brand of PLA material will react to Acetone and some don’t, so we are not giving a definite answer for what solvent need to use. So far, we heard so much chemicals that will work on PLA, such as THF and Ethyl Acetate…etc. But here we are only giving recommendations from the result of our researches and experiments.”

As for the solvents, they say this:

“We have two different solvent, specially formulated for smoothing PLA and ABS prints. All the solvent are colorless and transparent liquid with special odor. Please open windows for ventilation while using, and need to avoid direct sunlight.”

However, when you read through the comments it appears that their “PLA Solvent” is actually chloroform. Unfortunately this is a highly restricted substance and cannot be distributed in many countries without special permissions. Answers seem a bit evasive about PLA smoothing.

I fear that many unknowing backers, seeking an easy way to smooth their PLA prints, may be ordering this device and the PLA Solvent, only to find they can’t really use it.

PolySmoother Safety

The solvents used, particularly acetone, are flammable materials that should be treated very carefully. However, there is very little mentioned on the campaign page regarding safety issues or material data sheets. They do suggest using gloves and “opening a window”, but these are likely insufficient in many scenarios. I don’t think they are properly explaining how this device should be safely used.

Kickstarter Risks

PolySmoother’s factory inventory [Source: Kickstarter]

There are multiple suspicious tells on this campaign page:

  • The wording is awkward in many places on the campaign page and has clearly not been proofed properly. Example: “Alcohol can be use for PVB material, by which we recommend you obtain it from your local or online.”
  • The campaign page has a location of Dover, Delaware, but the contact page says Chicago
  • I cannot find a web page for the company behind this project, nor even the company name
  • The contact email is a stock outlook.com email address, without a company domain
  • There are no statistics or evidence of the product working, aside from some before and after images. “R&D” is mentioned, but not described
  • The evidence of manufacturing capability is a very short video showing a CNC machine, and stacks of about 40 units only. There is no description of the manufacturing team, capacity, location or process
  • This appears to be the first Kickstarter from this group

If you’ve read our previous post on How To Avoid Kickstarter Fizzles, your spider-senses might be tingling at this point. There are a number of red flags on this project that should be considered. However, US$129 is a relatively low price, and perhaps it may be worth pursuing with these risks in mind.

In spite of the red flags, it seems this project has been quite successful. As of this writing, the campaign has collected more than US$350K from near 1400 backers. That’s a significant amount of money, and vastly larger than the tiny inventory shown in their images. There’s also still a month left in the campaign, so presumably many more backers yet to come.

I’m interested to see how this campaign proceeds.

Will you consider ordering a PolySmoother?

Via Kickstarter

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