Faster build speeds, tighter tolerances, smoother finishes, desktop size, and lower costs are just a few of the wishes of many who work with or who desire 3D printers. How can developers deliver such features? Some will argue better components. Some will argue different design. The nature of 3D printing technology is that it encourages innovation, even unto its design. Thus, sites like Kickstarter and others are filled with creative attempts to deliver on these wishes. Some designs have a lot of potential. Others will cause you to scratch your head in confusion. Here’s a look at some of the creative designs introduced so far in 2013.
1. Let’s start with smaller size, big build envelope. Even at desktop size, many 3D printers take up a lot of space when not in use. The Japicain Revolution (J-Rev) 3D printer, however, handles this issue in a unique way—it’s collapsible.
Based on fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology, this printer’s extruder is attached to the top frame of the unit. The top frame starts at near the build plate, increasing the Z axis at it builds the part. It prints in layers 20 microns thick, delivering fairly smooth parts.
This is currently on Kickstarter for funding.
2. Part of the issue with materials and 3D printers is that most printers are built to work with a specific material or specific range of material, whether that range is a type of plastic or resin or metal. All manufacturers are working to expand their material offerings, but this area is still a frustration point for many users; not only the availability, but the cost of materials too.
Medical applications have specific requirements, but what if a 3D printer used water as the build medium? This custom 3D printer uses water as the build medium. It uses lipid coated water to build the scaffolds that will then hold tissue cells, which could eventually be used to “print” organs or tissue.
According to the research, “When the machine prints lipid-coated water droplets onto a platform submerged in an oil bath, the 50-µm-diameter droplets adhere to one another. Oil-water repulsion partly drives the interaction. The researchers have been able to produce 3-D patterned networks of tens of thousands of connected caviar-like droplets. And they’ve printed more than one kind of droplet with their multinozzle printer.”
3. Today, there are two methods to printing parts in color. One uses inks that are deposited onto a powder as a part is built. The other method uses paper that is colored, then bound together and then cut to build a part. Color is one of those capabilities highly desired by the hobby/maker community. And it is useful to engineers as well.
According to some in this industry, the next development you’ll see in 3D printing is color. Botobjects has developed what it claims is a full color 3D desktop printer—the ProDesk3D. With a dual head extruder, it includes a reusable but proprietary 5-color PLA material cartridge system. You can take these 5 colors and mix them as needed to create a greater range of colors. According to the company, this printer prints to a 25-micron accuracy.
4. RepRap and MakerBot were among the first FFF-based desktop 3D printers. It has taken a while for stereolithography technology to be downsized to fit the desktop. One of the first ones to emerge was the Form 1 from Formlabs, a spinoff from the MIT Media Lab. Now, several other stereolithography based printers have emerged.
One is the B9Creator.
This 3D printer uses a home movie projector to build objects as large as belt buckles or as detailed as a tiny filigree ring. The build volume varies, depending on resolution. However, a few details are given:
Resolutions in the x/y plane (horizontal) of 50, 75 or 100 microns are possible by adjustment of the projector’s position and focus.
Resolutions in the z (vertical) build axis from 101.6 to 6.35 microns are possible via software selection. (The minimum z axis “step” size is 6.35 microns.)
The build material is a photopolymer resin that is directly castable when cured properly. The B9Creator™ will be initially offered in two versions, as a kit, which will require user assembly for US $2,990, and as an assembled machine including some consumables and extra parts for US $4,995. These prices may be subject to change at any time.
5. Another stereolithography system is the mUVe1. According to its developers, its design addresses the issue of build speed. Available as a modular, expandable kit, it uses 8 mm hardened steel linear rods and bearings for smooth motion. The laser is 20 mW.
The build space is 145 mm x 145 mm x 185 mm. It uses standard RepRap electronics and a standard Cartesian control system. Resolution is currently 0.01 mm.
Some of the key features are its print speed; 300-600 mm/s. And there are no extruder heater cores to burn out or extruder insulators that melt and are irreparable. Components include a $15 laser diode, a $4 laser driver, or an $18 reservoir heater. It is seeking funding now.
6. One of the more buzzed about desktop stereolithography 3d printers is the Unirapid III from a company in Japan. This printer delivers a minimum layer resolution of 50 microns. It uses a solid state 355 nm laser, and can build walls as thin as 0.1 mm. This printer is close to being a microprinter.