If you are like me, you have been watching the 3D printer space with much enthusiasm in anticipation of the moment when consumer-friendly 3D printers make their way to market at a price Joe Public can truly afford.
There has definitely been some traction in achieving that goal. Makerbot, the best-known maker of 3D printers for enthusiasts, has been steadily releasing models that raise the functionality and appeal more to the mainstream. And we recently reported on 3D Systems putting its stake in the ground with the Cube, its $1,299 consumer 3D printer offering.
Now there's a new kid on the consumer 3D printer block: Solidoodle, founded by Sam Cervantes, a former aerospace engineer who served a stint at MakerBot. His startup has just released its self-named printer, with a base price of $499.
The $499 Solidoodle is fully assembled and supports a slightly bigger build area (six inches cubed) than its predecessor. (Source: Solidoodle)
The second version of the pre-assembled printer has been refined to offer a bigger build area (six inches cubed, where the original model sported four inches cubed), and it weighs just 17 pounds. The technology, according to specs on the Website, is Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) -- another way of saying Thermoplastic Extrusion -- and it uses a 1.75mm plastic filament (ABS recommended), which costs $45 for a two-pound spool.
Solidoodle is based on the RepRap Sanguinololu v1.3a Electronics open-source 3D printer project. Accuracy, according to the documentation, is about 0.3mm (layer height) or 84dpi, but officials say it's possible to achieve 0.1mm in some cases. Cervantes says the printer software can accept models from any design tool that produces an STL file, meaning that it could be used with most popular CAD programs.
In a video explaining the product (shown below), Cervantes said his company's goal is to make 3D printers more affordable and easier to use than before. So far, the unit's been put to work to output everything from children's toys, popular household items, and architectural models to what Cervantes said is the favorite print: the bottle opener.
With entries like Solidoodle, the Cube, and even the still-to-be released Origo (a sub-$1,000 3D printer for kids we covered previously) pushing down the price point, it's only a matter of time before the decision to buy a 3D printer is no different than the decision to buy an office printer. And that's when the creative games will begin.
Sorry! But, your argument still holds for the most part, as these assemblies may not be fully functional as production parts/assemblies and their cost is relatively high, the cost of the printer, material, support, etc.
Warren, you are correct in that the tipping factor is part complexity. Also, the earliest RP parts from 3D systems, for example, were resin-based and very fragile if thin sections were in the part. But there have been huge advancements in the way differing machines work, and what materials are available. I have had RP parts made that were steel using a metal powder/laser fusing type machine. Not all parts have stresses that need to have prototype parts rendered in metal to be functional. My most common use of RP is to do parts that will ultimately be injection molded in plastic, and the RP parts allow me to test assembly fit AND FUNCTION, prior to making committments to very expensive injection molding tooling. In some cases I have been able to specify RP materials that were functionally durable enought to do Beta field testing with.
Perhaps you are right, but the $50 figure is good for small parts. Been doin' it for years.
The complex parts are another issue, but it depends upon what you want to do with the part when you get it. The material from the printer will not allow it to actually be used, where the aluminum part can be used- in most cases, of course.
I love new technologies. I even had a large cover for a medical instrument prototype made from these things. But the cover had no stress, did not have to be bolted down, and was just sitting there.
I know there are many uses for this new technology. But I am used to getting a prototype part I can actually use.
Think of these things as prototypers, not printers. Instead of paying a machine shop for a prototype, you can do it. There are a number of these "printers" that provide varying degrees of finished object functionality. For example Objet produces printers that can generate completely functional geared assemblies that do not require build, they are functional at completion. These lower end units can generate parts that can be used to verify fit, with a little bit of finishing.
Warren, just because YOU don't have an application doesn't mean others don't also. With the six cubic inch capacity of this unit, your $50 figure would likely not even cover the aluminum material costs, let alone any machining. If the part was complex (easy for a 3D printer) the machining costs would skyrocket. I know, I use a 3D printer AND I routinely send small parts out for short-run (never only one) machining in aluminum, material included, and that $50 figure is laughable. Try adding another zero.......
naperlou, I agree with you about no printing being needed. But when you create an object, at some point you want to hold it in your hands - it's so natural. I think 3D printing will always have a practical place in the design process.
What objects or type of objects would you 3D print?
Would you see yourself using this with some frequency in the future? - or eventually setting it aside in the back corner of the office?
My guess is that most people would buy this, print out a few miscellaneous items, but eventually the printer would find its way to the back corner of the office and be used only sporadically. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I would even print yet.
Maybe this type of technology isn't all that necessary for your typical engineer, designer or cad professional. Technical people are generally able to visualize based on cad drawings and/or 3d models shown on a screen.
Where I do see value is in interactions with non-technical people. Having an actual object printed in 3D will give them the chance to "touch", "feel", and "manipulate" the object to gain a better understanding of what it is and how it might functions.
I think its a mistake to equate 3D "printing" with 2D paper output; in fact I think its a mistake to call it printing at all. That was obviously a marketing ploy to make the concept more digestible. 2D paper output can never be more than a poor representation of an object, whereas the ouput of one of these machines is actually an object. It may not have all the attributes of the final product, but it can fulfill many (especially ergonometric) and therefore can make an excellent prototype. In Engineering (and especially R&D) there is no simulation, no rendering, no anything that is as good as having a physical prototype of what you are contemplating. And the ability to create a prototype quickly and cheaply is a huge game-changer. Larger 3D prototypers (i.e. "printers") have become very poular as a result. This machine brings it home. How many of us (ME's anyway) have (or lust after) machine tools in our garage just so we can build stuff? A $500 3D printer - are you kidding? I predict they'll sell a bunch.
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