Report on 3D Printers
In the last few years Rapid Prototyping(RP) has become more automated and much cheaper. Machines suitable for offices and academic environments have appeared on the market and have been christened 3D Printers. A range of different RP technologies exist and two companies have come to dominate the market, Stratasys & ZCorp. A quality 3D printer from either of these two will cost in the order of £30,000. Each has its advantages but to me the color capabilities of the ZCorp 510 makes this easily the most desirable machine. It is the machine currently used by the majority of the top UK 3D print bureaus. Also Bristol Fine Print Research have a couple of ZCorp machines. If you had a larger budget (£100,000+) then you could look to go to the high end Rapid Prototyping machines again from Stratasys which can build to a much larger size and precision and also use a bigger variety of build mediums. There are also some cheap and cheerful approaches you could take with a budget of a few thousand pounds.
UAL Central St.Martins currently own a Prodigy Plus machine (a few years old) which was an early Stratasys model. It uses Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) where heated plastic is squeezed through a nozzle and is fused to the previous layer. The plastic requires a support structure to be built as it goes along otherwise it would just squirt into a big puddle. The support structure is removed afterwards. The models i saw were mainly hollow and made of a monotone (white/green) plastic. reasonable quality and build size of 200*200*250mm. Resolution looked under a millimeter. Models were slightly dull looking but this was suitable for architectural or design models which is the main use of the machine. The costs to run the machine are made up by charging students a rate for production which included a set amount to ‘fix’ the model (ie plug the holes etc.) and then an hourly rate for the production. This charge is about half the commercial rate. A technician is required to prepare models and operate the machine. Building a model 10 inches high might take about 10 hours.
Here are the types of model that i saw had been made by the Prodigy Plus.
Here’s a more recent model from the FDM 400 mc.
The fact that i can’t find many decent models by the recent machines is frustrating, they seem to be more geared toward engineers than artists.
ZCorp’s 3d Printers use a different technique they boringly call Three Dimensional Printing. This involves a multi-headed ink jet system which places colored powders in layers (about as fast as 2D printing). There’s a good demo video here . So there is no support structure to remove, just a lot of powder, 80% of which is recycled.
By the way Fripp design are a UK company who sell the ZCorp machines and also a bureau service they did have an ex-demo model going cheap a few hours ago.
ZCorp have three models here they are:
ZPrinter 310 Plus (monochrome, affordable, easy to use)
8*10*8 inches 300*450 dpi 1 printhead
ZPrinter 450 (full color, automated, office friendly automatically cleans model up)
8*10*8 inches 300*450 dpi 2 printheads
Spectrum Z510 (premium color, highest resolution, largest size)
10*14*8 inches 450*600 dpi 4 printheads
Here’s some images from Zcorp’s gallery:
There’s a slight powdery quality to some of these – but i think that can be smoothed in post processing, or you have a choice over the surface texture when you print. I’m not clear if the color variation is continuous but it is certainly quite nuanced. And the level of detail in the bottom one is amazing.
There is a great diagram from EMS website which compares the detailed quality difference of the major current 3D Printers:
Cheap and Cheerful Approaches
( Mostly lifted from Additive3d.com )
RepRap is short for replicating rapid-prototyper, an open-source 3D printer design project initiated by Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath. RepRap uses robotic thermoplastic extrusion similar to fused deposition modeling at present, but ceramic, metal and other materials may also be possible at some point. The ultimate intent of the project is to eventually produce a machine which can make copies of itself. Parts kits and individual items are now available from these sources for about $600.
Looks like a bunch of rods but the white joiners were made by the machine itself, here are some parts:
It is now a tradition that – when anyone makes a RepRap machine – the first item they make is this shotglass, so they can toast the machine using something that it itself has made.
This would be a great buy if it came with a student to build it!
An ***open-source*** project to design, develop and manufacture an inexpensive syringe-based additive fabrication machine and related software. The components to build the device can be had for as little as US$2,500, and a variety of materials can be used for building, from silicone to chocolate. The project is led from Cornell University, but there are participants from all over the world. A good choice for real pioneers and do-it-yourself fans who may be satisfied with parts and models that will not achieve a high level of precision, durability or speed of fabrication for some time to come.
Here’s a house they made…
…looks like a good use for squeezy cheese.
The cheapest 3D Printer! Less than $5000!
Desktop Factory 125ci
The Desktop Factory 3D printer builds durable, functional models from the bottom up, one layer at a time. The Desktop Factory 3D printer has a build speed comparable to existing 3D printing technologies, and produces robust parts that are strong enough to be thrown across a conference room table!
Build envelope = 5 * 5 * 5 inches
Layer thickness = 0.2 mm.
halogen light source and drum printing technology
composite plastic powder
They kind of look like clay models.
Good if all you’re interested in making something solid, like a brick.
V-Flash under $10000
This is a next-generation photopolymer-based technology which is said to have many of the characteristics of stereolithography, such as good finish and accuracy, but also limited material choices and properties. The technology builds an entire layer at a time and should also be relatively fast. The first machine based on the technology is now expected be introduced late in the first quarter of 2008 at a price of US$9,900.
You can see the support structure scaffolding clearly here.
They also make some high end 3D printers but as you can see in the comparison image above the quality is behind zcorp.
I hope this has been useful, its clear my recommendation lies with the ZCorp 510. Although the model size is not huge (10*14*8 inches) the color and detail makes up for this. If you want bigger then you will have to pay a lot more (and if you have a spare $200,000 then you can build up to 1 m in height). The Zcorp machines are also faster than the Stratasys ones, and the materials cost about half as much judging from the prices on the bureaus. If you want a less messy alternative then the Zcorp 410 could almost be run without a technician at all, as the dust removal process is partially automated.
After all that research I’m off to have a drink!