NF Smart Review: Bi-Metal Hotend Upgrade
Most of the stock hotends you get with a cheap printer are low quality. The NF Smart is a new hotend from Mellow which incorporates the Bi-Metal technology developed by Slice Engineering to offer a low cost all-metal hotend upgrade.
In this review I will cover both the NF Smart CR10 and the NF Smart Volcano to better understand if they are a worthy upgrade for your 3D printer.
Why get a NF Smart hotend?
Upgrade to an all-metal hotend
The main reason you would buy the NF Smart is to upgrade your current PTFE lined hotend. These hotends are not the best when it comes to thermal performance and because the PTFE tube goes right up to the nozzle, you are limited on the max temperature it can safely reach.
Usually, it’s not recommended to go over 250C with a PTFE lined hotend because the PTFE tube starts to degrade and release harmful fumes. So, you are limited to mostly printing PLA but PETG and ABS can also be fine for a small period of time.
People who choose to upgrade to an all-metal hotend usually want to make sure the PTFE tube is not getting damaged because of heat and they also want to go over ~250C during printing.
There are popular alternatives like the Micro Swiss hotend for Creality machines but they use a titanium heat break which has less performance compared to a bi-metal heat break (still need to test this for confirmation). I haven’t had the chance to test one yet, but I am almost sure the NF Smart offers better thermal performance for a lower price.
Smaller size, better thermal performance and lower noise
The NF Smart hotends are a merge between a regular V6 heatsink and a bi-metal heat break. Because the bi-metal heat break improves the temperature performance, there’s no need for a big heatsink to take off the heat so the heatsink can be smaller.
If you are looking to learn more about the bi-metal heat breaks, you can read the Copperhead Heat Break Review.
To make things more compact, the stainless tube from the bi-metal heat break is fused directly to the heatsink eliminating another layer of metal which also improves thermal performance.
With a NF Smart you will also be able to lower the noise of your printer. Because thermals are better you can use a more silent fan without risking a clog.
Higher temperature operation and less ooze
If you choose a NF Smart hotend with a copper heatblock and also buy a better thermistor you will also be able to print at higher temperatures with ease.
I also noticed that with the new NF Smart hotend I get much less ooze from the nozzle and I was able to lower retractions quite a bit. This is all thanks to the bi-metal design.
No more PTFE coupler issues
Another benefit of the NF Smart is the use of a better coupling for the PTFE tube. There are a lot of reports online where regular push fittings lose their grip and the PTFE tube gets pushed out of the hotend. This causes retraction issues, clogs and all lead to a failed print.
I used to hate bowden setups in the past but since I started using these couplings, I never had issues with loose PTFE tubes. I highly recommend these.
NF Smart CR-10
The NF Smart CR-10 comes in a white box with information about the hotend. It’s a really nice packaging for a relatively cheap hotend. This version is made specifically to be a drop in replacements for Creality printers which use their stock hotend.
I got the Set 2 copper version which has a copper heatsink with plated copper heatblock (with silicon sock) and nozzle. It also includes two hex keys, a wrench for tightening the nozzle, two PTFE tube couplers and a pair of plastic retainers.
You can see in the pictures below that the machining quality of the hotend is really good and there’s nothing to complain about.
I also took a close up of the hot zone and as you can see the machining looks good. Not the best, but good enough for the money.
My only concern is the fitting between the stainless tube and the copper thread. I had a bad experience with the Mellow bi-metal heat beak where it failed and plastic started to leak between the tube and the copper thread. Hopefully this will not happen with the NF Smart hotends.
I’ve used the NF Smart CR-10 for about 50 hours until now and it worked great without any kind of issues. Maybe the bi-metal heat break was just a bad one and that’s the reason it failed. Anyway, I thought this should be mentioned just to know what to expect.
Ender 5 Plus and NF Smart CR-10
I installed the NF Smart CR-10 on my Ender 5 Plus and the whole installation process was really easy. It took me about 10 minutes because I used the stock thermistor and heater cartridge. Because it’s a drop-in replacement, the fit was great and even the Z offset was barely changed.
When installing the nozzle, make sure you follow this guide: How to Change The 3D Printer Nozzle?. It’s really important you don’t overtighten the nozzle and if possible, use a torque wrench. Bi-metal heat beaks are a bit more fragile and copper can easily be stripped if you apply too much torque.
The NF Smart CR-10 comes with a 40W thermistor and a HNTC thermistor. If you are looking to also improve the maximum temperature of your hotend, the HTNTC thermistor can be purchased for 1$ which allows for up to 320C.
So, if you are looking for a better hotend for your Creality machine, and don’t want to mess with a complicated installation process then the NF Smart CR-10 is a great choice.
I won’t go in much detail for replacing the stock hotend because the process is easy and you can just follow the images below. Basically, you remove the stock Creality hotend and then install the new one.
Thermal performance for the NF Smart CR10
In order to properly test the thermal performance of the NF Smart CR-10 copper hotend, I measured the temperature inside the heat-break using a multimeter with a temperature probe. The probe was inserted in the heat break just above the transition zone and the end was touching the inside metal wall.
The ambient temperature was 26C. For each test, the hotend temperature was set then I waited 10 minutes for the temperature to stabilize. After 10 minutes, I checked the temperature from the multimeter probe.
The hotend was installed on my Ender 5 Plus in its stock mount using the stock Creality Fan.
|Hotend Temperature||Setup||Duration||Heatbreak Temperature|
|180C||NF Smart CR-10 Copper||10 minutes||43C|
|210C||NF Smart CR-10 Copper||10 minutes||46C|
|250C||NF Smart CR-10 Copper||10 minutes||51C|
|280C||NF Smart CR-10 Copper||10 minutes||54C|
Unfortunately, I can’t test the thermal performance with the stock Creality hotend because my thermal probe doesn’t fit the PTFE tube. But the measurements should give you some idea about the thermal performance of the NF Smart CR-10.
NF Smart Volcano
The NF Smart Volcano is the V6 alternative with a Volcano heatblock and nozzle. It comes in a similar packaging like the NF Smart CR-10.
Included in the box is the copper V6 heatsink with a plated copper volcano nozzle and heatblock (silicone sock included). The same accessories are included: two hex keys, a wrench for tightening the nozzle, two PTFE tube couplers and a pair of plastic retainers.
The machining quality is just as good and I really like the mirror-like plating on the Volcano heatblock. Below you can see the NF Smart Volcano in all its glory compared with the NF Smart.
To maintain the V6 compatibility, the NF Smart Volcano has a longer heatsink with more fins which can only translate in better thermal performance.
Because of the Volcano heatblock and nozzle, this hotend will be better suited for people who are looking to print faster with bigger nozzles.
It’s worth noting that the NF Smart Volcano is not compatible with the regular V6 clip-on fan because it’s much thinner so make sure you check your mount before buying it.
If you really want to keep costs low, and you already own a V6 hotend there’s the possibility of purchasing only the heatsink and keeping the heatblock. That way, you can get mostly the same benefits for less money.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to install the NF Smart Volcano but I will update the review as soon as I test it out. Considering it has a bigger heatsink, it should perform even better.
Test prints with NF Smart hotend
First print was Judge Dredd from Eastman. I had a small layer shift caused by me bumping in the printer but otherwise the print looks good.
- Printer: Ender 5 Plus
- Material: Eryone Silver Silk PLA
- Layer Height: 0.15mm
- Nozzle Temperature: 210C
- Bed Temperature: 45C
- Print Speed: 60 mm/s
Second print was Sub Zero from Wekster. The bust was printed using the NF Smart while the support was printed in PETG on a different printer.
- Printer: Ender 5 Plus
- Material: Extrudr BioFusion Blue Fire
- Layer Height: 0.12mm
- Nozzle Temperature: 210C
- Bed Temperature: 45C
- Print Speed: 50 mm/s
Where to buy the NF Smart hotend?
The NF Smart hotends can be purchased from the following stores:
Is the NF Smart a good upgrade?
In my opinion, the NF Smart is worth upgrading to. For around 30$ you get a quality all-metal hotend with good performance. In the case of the NF Smart CR-10, the upgrade process is really easy for any kind of Creality machine which uses the same format.
The NF Smart Volcano is a good upgrade for any V6 users who want a better heat break and a smaller hotend overall.
Hopefully, this review helps you when deciding to purchase a new all-metal hotend for your printer. If you get one, I would love to hear your thoughts about the NF Smart in the comments section.
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