Industrial 3D printing supplier ExOne's M-FLEX midsized metal printer is three times as fast and has a build volume more than seven times as large as the company's previous midsized machine. (Source: ExOne)
Increased build volume and faster speeds are obviously important, enabling these printers to be used to create a wider variety of parts and components. What about price? Have they been able to do anything to bring pricing down and is this printer designed more for prototyping or for the production of actual commercial parts?
Ann, this is interesting, but how long does it take to make a part that would mostly fill the buiild volume. Some of the numbers I have heard in the past seem quite long. Those layers are very small, aren't they? For many shapes one could make them on a CNC machine much faster. Of course, there are some that are easier done with 3D printing.
You are correct on the time required to build large parts. ExOne specs a minimum thickness of .1mm(.004") which could yield quite large build times, on the order of 2 hours per inch of thickness. Also, print precision is listed at .06mm(.0025") in the X/Y direction. In a lot of industries that would not be considered high precision so some post build machining might be required. All that being said, this is still exciting technology that is relevent now and will continue to improve in the future
Beth, this machine is a different animal from most of the 3D printers you and I have covered. It's in the industrial class, along with some I wrote about from Paramount and EADS Innovation Works in my October feature, "3D Printing Flies High" http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=251526 Most of those use metal, since they're primarily aimed at aircraft components. This ExOne machine's capabilities include not only metals, but ceramics and glass, and its big brothers also use sand. It's for prototypes or short runs of multiple and/or custom metal parts in mining, automotive, and energy applications.
Chuck: With these higher end industrial printers, absolutely. With the lower end printers I've been writing about along with Ann, just starting. It's really a question of the quality/durability of the materials used and available and with the tolerances that the printer can handle. The manufacturers are making progress, but it's stil more experimental, in my view, than significant, widespread momentum. Perhaps Ann has a different view?
Beth, that's a good summation, although much of the low-volume production parts used in high-end race cars and aircraft can no longer be considered experimental. I'd also emphasize that the higher end of the industry is on the cusp of some pretty big changes, due in part to expanding build volumes and better materials, as also mentioned in this recent article, "Biggest, Fastest Titanium 3D Printer: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=251754
I'm not as familiar with what's happening on the higher end as that's your domain, but I'd concur big changes are happening on the low-end as well. Perhaps we're at a tipping point on both the high and low ends when it comes to advances both around materials and the ability to bring down price all leading to some very exciting times in the world of 3D printing.
I have to agree that the 3D part printing world is getting pretty exciting, especially with developments like this. Anything that can shorten the time between concept to finished parts speeds up time to market and potentially improves the design by finding problems early in the design cycle. Thanks for profiling this industrial tool.
Beth, I think you're right, that a tipping point is approaching all across the spectrum of these technologies, due to materials and processes. I also think the raised awareness of them and what they can do is also a big factor, and that's been boosted by the NAMII initiative and funding, as we mentioned in this article:
Two new technologies from Stratasys, created in partnership with Boeing, Ford, and Siemens, will bring accurate, repeatable manufacturing of very large thermoplastic end products, and much bigger composite parts, onto the factory floor for industries including automotive and aerospace.
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