Advances in performance, and the durability and range of materials used in additive manufacturing and stereolithography offerings, are enabling companies to produce highly durable prototypes and parts, while also cost-effectively churning out manufactured products in limited production runs.
New printer platforms equipped with expanded build areas, and which offer the ability to combine materials, are also opening doors to a whole new range of applications, including leveraging 3D printing to prototype things never thought possible, like entire cars.
Click on the photo below to view a wide range of 3D printers, from half-million-dollar rapid prototyping systems to $1,000 home units:
Brought into the line via its acquisition of Bits from Bytes, 3D Systems' 3DTouch is a sub-$4,000, fully-assembled 3D printer, which offers a touchscreen for ease of operation. (Source: 3D Systems)
3D printers are clearly mainstream now, both on a cost basis and wider deployment throughout industry. This slideshow is an example of the still-fairly-early stage -- but technologically advanced -- products hitting the market. The interesting question now is what this is going to enable in terms of product development by companies who heretofore had not had the resources to do as much prototyping as previously. 3D printers are equalizing the playing field.
This slide show demonstrates what a wide spectrum exists with 3D printers, This industry seems to have popped up out of nowhere and now it looks fully formed. One of the surprising aspects is the relative low price of much of this equipment. Amazing.
Thanks, Beth, this slideshow has some fun machines in it, like that Mcor machine that uses paper as a material. Alex' note on increasing the access to more prototyping for companies who could not afford to do as much before makes me wonder: will that produce better products from either large or small companies? Several other recent comment threads have noted low product quality and the apparent lack of real-world design testing, like the monoxide detectors:
I think the combination of more readily available and inexpensive 3D printers coupled with more accessible simulation packages are really changing the game with how companies can explore design options. It's not just improving and facilitating the creation of a handful of physical prototypes, it's allowing companies to explore more design options allowing them to key in on optimized designs. In theroy, that entire process should boost quality and product innovation.
More time spent on prototyping in the form of more time spent exploring design options should help optimize those designs. And that should at least give the opportunity for better testing and quality. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.
I have already seen some 3D projects in chocolate and pastes. I believe you can order custom "prints" from a sweet shop on the west coast.
Thanks Beth, Love the slide show format as a way to demonstrate the breadth of work being done within a specific technology area. Certainly with the growth of 3D visualization, effective output is an important part of the iterative design process. Thanks again.
LOL, but seriously, fast forward a decade or two and you might not be far off. Okay, maybe you won't be printing your entire new car, but say your windshield wiper breaks or you need a new part for seatbelt. Instead of having to go back to the dealer or comb the aftermarket sites for an expensive replacement part, you will simply go online to some parts catalog in the sky, purchase a CAD model, download from the cloud to your PC/3D printer, and presto, part printed and repair done.
You are so right. I remember watching an old Flip Wilson show where he was pretending to talk to someone on what he calls a pocketbook phone. He handed Mohammad Ali the phone saying someone wanted to talk to him. When he took the phone Flip made a comment like, can you believe he thinks you can talk on a phone that's in your pocketbook? The audience just laughed. Don't remember when the show was originally taped but I'm guessing most the audience didn't have any idea that phones would have evolved to what they are today.
I often wonder what other things we find far fetch in the current day that one day will be a reality.
I think 3D printing has potential. Might not be the most efficient way of doing things currently but i am willing to bet that there are processes that will benefit from 3D printing still. I did some research in Nano-lithography using AFM microscopes. And yes even in scale of 1nm 3D printing has its uses. And a handful of people do it. It has been very helpful for physics and quantum mechanics to build 3D structures at nano scale and study the affects that light or electric fields have on them.
3D printers are nowadays accessible to a wide range or users and costs are affordable, I produce ABS parts in low volume and the investment is very low compared to producing the same parts by injection molding. I hope this machines become even more accessible to all people because they incentivate design and innovation. Thanks for the sideshow!
@Droid: Starting to happen already. There are hobbyist 3D printer kits for between $1,000 and $2,000, and 3D Systems recently rolled out a more office-friendly, packaged 3D printer in the ball park of that same price point. I think we'll be seeing a lot more options in this category over the next few months/years.
Now you've hit on a subject near and dear to my heart--food! As some of the others noted, 3D printers are already actually being used in food preparation and presentation. I wrote about one particular project at MIT years ago. Cornucopia is a concept design for a personal digital food factory, which stores, mixes, deposits (and even cooks) layers of of ingredients, essentially "3D printing" them into the final product.
I suppose I should have guessed that MIT's Media Lab would come up with 3D food printing and cooking. I was half-joking when I mentioned 3D Easter bunnies. I wouldn't have imagined that anyone was actually doing that sort of thing.
Amazing selection of 3D printers - just thought it would be worth adding the UP! 3D Printer as there weren't many mentioned in the lower price bracket. It's approximately $2,500 and you can find it here.
I have been a utilizer of RP since the early days. it is great to see offerings with bigger build envelopes, more and varied materials, and reduced (in some cases) machine costs. What I would have loved to have seen in the article is a spreadsheet listing all of the available machines, and their relevant features, i.e.: machine cost, build envelope, build material, build material cost/sq. cm., software required/included, type of build process (sintering, extrusion, paper layering, etc.), and time to build a sq. cm.
Solidoodle has a 6" x 6" x 6" printer for $499 to $599 assembled and tested. I've never seen one firsthand, but I'm seriously considering the $549 Pro model for some simple demonstrations in the classroom.
Whatever you do, don't buy a 3D systems "Cube", if a shape isn't small and round with gentle slopes the results are woful. I get a lot of shrinkage and distortion with anything that has sharp corners and the integrated supports suck as do the overhangs.
I have a Solidoodle and have been making all sorts of things with it. Here is a short list of some of the things I've made with mine in the four months I've had it:
- Speaker and microscope mounting brackets.
- Pogo pin beds for electrical test fixtures.
- Electrical enclosures that snap onto 35mm DIN rails.
- Toy train cars for my daughter.
I even made a valentine for my geek loving wife!
It's not perfect and needs a certain amount of care/feeding, but every RP system I've used requires this to some degree.
Tolerances on it vary based on the feature shape and proximity to other features, but generally I can get +/- 0.005". These FDM systems tend to push parts toward maximum material conditions, with thicker features and smaller openings. This actually works in our favor, in that material removal during post-print cleanup is generally easier.
MIT students modified a 3D printer to enable it to print more than one object and print on top of existing printed objects. All of this was made possible by modifying a Solidoodle with a height measuring laser.
Siemens released Intosite, a cloud-based, location-aware SaaS app that lets users navigate a virtual production facility in much of the same fashion as traversing through Google Earth. Users can access PLM, IT, and other pertinent information for specific points on a factory floor or at an outdoor location.
Sharon Glotzer and David Pine are hoping to create the first liquid hard drive with liquid nanoparticles that can store 1TB per teaspoon. They aren't the first to find potential data stores, as Harvard researchers have stored 700 TB inside a gram of DNA.
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