Color does a lot more than make prototypes look pretty. It can help them mimic the aesthetics of finished products, which is important in style-driven industries. Or it can also be useful during design reviews, as a way to add annotations to prototypes or highlight part features. Some users have even used color to portray the results from FEA analyses right on the surface of the part itself. The downside to color, however, has been its cost — both in terms of the machine itself and its consumables.
Now, Z Corp. has made color prototypes more cost effective than ever. The company's patented ZPrinter 450, the winner of Design News' Golden Mousetrap Award in the Rapid Prototyping category, costs less than previous color 3D printers and also offers new ease-of-use features. The ZPrinter 450 is priced at $39,900. “It's the first color 3D printer to break the $40,000 price barrier,” says Kevin Lach, a Z Corp. vice president. Previously, color 3D printers like this cost $50,000 and up.
The new 3D printer does more than break price barriers. It also ups the ante on speed and resolution. According to Lach, the machine is also fast. It has a build speed of 1 to 2 vertical inches per hour. And it prints in high resolution — at 300 x 450 dpi.
As for the ease-of-use features, Z Corp. engineers have added new automated powder loading capabilities. The machine also handles its own loose powder. “For the first time, a 3D printer automatically removes and recycles loose powder,” says Lach. He estimates the ZPrinter 450, which also has a new quick-change material cartridge, reduces the users' “touch time” by 40 percent compared to previous models. “This machine requires very little in the way of powder handling,” he says.