“They” say that bigger is better. And in the case of 3D printing systems, engineers have long wanted to move beyond the 12” x 12” x 18” average build size of many 3D printers.
At the recent ATX West show in Anaheim CA, PBC Linear introduced a 3D printer that offers about twice that build size—1 meter x 1 meter x 0.5 meter. Taking advantage of the linear components the company specializes in, Joe Binka, senior development engineer, and Dwayne Williams, lead engineer at PBC Linear, decided to see how difficult it would be to develop one of their own. (Both gentlemen are now working for PBC’s new business, 3DP Unlimited.)
A few main concerns about size have been how to you maintain accuracy, especially over the long travel range? And how do you accomplish such size at a reasonable part cost and then price it affordably?
In addition, how will such sizes affect some of the more common printing materials? Printing with simple materials may not present the same challenges that printing with more advanced thermoplastics and metals, where environmental needs of the materials come into play.
However, as it turns out, it’s not too hard to build a larger print bed, especially when you have access to all the linear components, motors, encoders, and so on from your employer, in this case, PBC Linear.
Thus, Joe and Dwayne built the open-source platform X1000 extrusion 3D printer, which prints with PLA material at the moment. For accuracy determination, layer resolution is 50 microns. Plus, it will have two print heads, so that you can print multiple parts simultaneously. The price is $15,999.
Of course, the bigger the part the longer the build, unless you design a part in pieces that can be assembled after the build. For large parts, you are talking days instead of hours. So tradeoffs still exist.
Even so, this printer could be competitive with other 3D printer developers, including MakerBot, Stratasys, and 3D Systems, especially with its size. The open sourced design will appeal to many fans of 3D printers. For basic early stage prototyping needs, it is a viable system for an engineer’s office. (Just as an FYI, Stratasys offers the Objet1000, with a maximum build size of 39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 in., and 3D Systems offers the Projet 5000 with a build size of 21.65 x 15.5 x 11.8 in.)
I’m seeing a number of innovative 3D printers, like the X1000, that will likely put price pressure on the major 3D printer vendors. We are at a point in the 3D printer cycle where vendors will need to make a good case for the prices of their systems. From the people I hear from, users want to know specifically what they are paying for, and can it cost less.