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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Wednesday 7 December 2011

An Incremental Improvement Maybe, but a Good One.

One of the latest developments on the materials front for 3D printing has come from Stratasys in the form of its soluble release for support materials for polycarbonate builds: SR-100. Until now, the WaterWorks soluble support material has only been available for the ABS materials for the FDM printing process, restricting the use of polycarbonate — a material with more durable mechanical properties.

Soluble support materials permit automated part removal from the supporting structure, eliminating hand tools and breakages, as well as a finer layer thickness (higher resolution) with the highly robust PC material. I am reliably informed that this is really good news for engineers on the ground in terms of improved application, turn around times and productivity — or as it was put to me, “this is what I needed, it makes FDM an easy choice”.
So, not a huge breakthrough per se — I’m sure, like me, you hear the comments about incremental developments not being very exciting, and I can empathise with that. But, at the end of the day, it is these incremental changes that will eventually lead to a sea change in the way that things are made. Stratasys has obviously been listening to client feedback, always a good thing, and I have no doubt there is a lot more to come from this company. 

Monday 5 December 2011

Three more 3D printers that came to light last week.

There has been a surge of new additive machines recently — all demonstrated at Euromold last week. I reported on five in my blog last week. Here are three more! 

The BluePrinter comes from a Danish company of the same name, and is “an affordable 3D printer with new ‘Selective Heat Sintering’ (SHS) technology.” In terms of capital costs, it has an introductory price tag of 9,995 euros, which does make it affordable for small and medium size enterprises looking for additive technologies for product development. And for a sintering machine, this is an attractive price. My spies on the ground have also reported that the quality of the parts coming off the machine is very good, with a print resolution of 0.1mm. The real eye-opener though is that the machine is supplied with thermoplastic powder materials costing just 49 euros per kilo – which equates to 3 euros for an average sized model. This is very impressive and an extremely attractive selling point.

The SHS process (trademarked) distinguishes itself from laser sintering (LS) by using a thermal printhead rather than a laser to sinter the plastic powder. The powder bed also negates the need for support materials and clean up of the models is similar to LS; ie excess powder removal. Can be messy. But with a web-based interface and a neat, desktop sized foot print, this is a 3D printer that could attract industrial users and the maker movement.

The second is actually a series of machines from a new technology company — RapidShape — based in Germany. The series includes the S60 mini, the S60 midi and the S60 maxi. So, essentially the same machine, from what I can tell, each offering different resolutions — ultra fine, super fine and fine respectively. The design of the machine itself is very reminiscent of the Envisiontec Perfactory, the process is resin based, and the prominent target market looks to be jewellery, so I am thinking there is some collaboration between the two here, but that’s just a guess. The parts out of the machine look extremely impressive with fine details and a range of materials for specific applications. Another impressive feature is the speed of the build — quoted as 10mm in 10 minutes. I haven’t found a price yet, but let me know if you do!

Finally, I have heard that DWS Systems, based in Italy, has added to its range of machines with the 030d model. I don’t have any details on this one yet, but just as soon as I do, I will get them up.

So, that is eight machines in seven days! Really can’t ever remember a week quite like it. It’s brilliant to see the additive sector proliferating in this way. And for anyone that saw the 3D Systems acquisition of ZCorp as having a contracting effect on the sector, I think this last week can set any fears to rest. 

Frogs in the Post!

Actually, a courier delivered them to my door, snuggly packaged in oodles of polystyrene pieces. The bin men are going to have fun with my recycling on Wednesday!!

The frogs, yet to be named, are the latest addition to my 3D printed collection, courtesy of Gary Miller (aka @RPGary) from IPF Ltd. Frogs have been a 2011 3D printing theme for us, as well as Vanessa Palsenberg (@belgiancanuck) at imaterialise — a bit of an in joke really, since I noticed one on the imaterialise blog earlier in the year. Not exactly sure how it escalated, but it did, and now I have two 3D printed frogs, which make me smile, a lot.

The frogs are brilliant but even better is finding kindred spirits when it comes to positively promoting 3D printing & having fun doing it.

Gary is a fantastic ambassador for 3D printing and additive manufacturing. His company is working with industrial grade 3D printing processes — specifically those from Objet, Envisiontec and Stratasys — building prototypes and models for designers, engineers and manufacturers across a wide range of industries. His success, I am sure, comes from a rare combination of in-depth knowledge, out-going personality, a penchant for social media and fun that both engages and reassures simultaneously.

The frogs were accompanied on their journey by an eclectic mix of other 3D printed bits and pieces — all of which demonstrate the versatility and material options from the additive processes IPF has in house. The dominant feature was the digital materials from Objet — the ability to print multiple materials within the same build and therefore incorporate different material properties within the same part. This is still unique in the industry and an excellent selling point for the PolyJet process, via the Connex platform, particularly for cost-effective prototype builds. IPF is still the only bureau in the UK with a Connex machine. In addition the 3D printers at IPF are supported by other services including CNC machining and laser cutting/engraving — all geared to supplying superior quality parts.

Anyway, it is great to have, in my living room, a daily reminder of just how far 3D printing has come and what it can do. I can’t help wondering what the collection will look like in 10 years though?