Burlington, MA —The next time your office runs out of coffee cups, you could, in theory, print yourself a new one using stereo lithography. It's been around a while. But for those of you who find seasonal Dixie Cups®more appealing than the bland styrofoam look, Z Corp. is about to release a machine that could bring rapid prototyping from monochrome into the wonderful world of color.
You can't eat them anymore, but they sure do look
Their new Z402C 3D Color Printer and software create 3D parts from VRML files. The unit is a bit slower than its black, white, and gray predecessors, but the company is betting people will be willing to wait a few more minutes for color—or just choose the unit's monochrome option. Advantages to multi-colored parts include being able to distinguish stress and temperature distribution in models, and other finite element analysis applications. Molecular modeling comes to mind too.
The material used to make the models has also been improved. A plaster base has replaced the once edible sugar and starch concoction. It's formulated to be three times stronger, allowing delicate parts—like models of injection molded plastic—to be printed and handled, and even mailed. Presently the machine's prototype, which was on display and operating at the recent RPM show, prints in eight colors. But future developments are forecasted to offer as many as six million colors. The unit is expected to be on sale late this summer. "Someday we want to replace the common printer," says Marina Hatsopoulos, CEO of Z Corp. To get you hooked, the company has plans to print one free part for anyone visiting their website with a CAD work-in-progress. Another advance appearing on the horizon: printing materials with elastomeric properties. CAD users may want to draft their holiday wish lists early.
New versions of BASF's Ecovio line are both compostable and designed for either injection molding or thermoforming. These combinations are becoming more common for the single-use bioplastics used in food service and food packaging applications, but are still not widely available.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.