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Open Source Systems Emerge in 3D Printing

Open Source Systems Emerge in 3D Printing

New, less costly 3D printers based on open source technologies are starting to shake up the market for systems used in rapid prototyping of early product designs.

"One intriguing advance has been the rapid emergence of systems that originated from open-source developments," says Terry Wohlers, a consultant who delivered a keynote address at Rapid 2010 held May 18-20 in Anaheim, CA. "An impressive number of systems, mostly kits, were sold in 2009 by Bits from Bytes, MakerBot Industries, and the NextFab Store (aka [email protected])."

Panther 3D printer

The Panther is a fully assembled rapid prototyping machine that is priced at $3,995.

The Panther is a fully assembled rapid prototyping machine that is priced at $3,995.

A commercial version of one of the new machines was on display at the show at a price of just under $4,000, less than half the price of the least-expensive 3D printer previously on the market. Called "Panther," the fully assembled 3D printer is being sold by Purple Platypus, an equipment reseller based in Santa Ana, CA.

The materials currently available to make models from the printer are ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), polylactic acid (PLA in solid and translucent colors), uPVC (polyvinyl chloride), polypropylene, high-density polyethylene, and low-density polyethylene. Availability of the bioplastic PLA is particularly interesting since the open-source printers can print a wide variety of materials with suitable viscosity, even chocolate.

An executive summary of Wohlers' research report shows that Bits from Bytes, a British company, had 17 percent of the global market for additive manufacturing systems, behind only Stratasys. Wohlers estimated data for some of the 35 systems manufacturers, including 3D Systems, one of the major players. A spokesman for 3D Systems said Wohlers' data is inaccurate.
The recently developed open-source printers are based on the RepRap project that originated at the University of Bath in England. Previously, most of the users were enthusiasts and students, many of whom used the kits for art or do-it-yourself engineering projects. The emergence of the Panther at Rapid 2010 shows that the machines will now be a factor in the commercial, industrial market.

According to Wohlers, 3D printers now account for 89 percent of the market for additive manufacturing equipment up from 84 percent in 2007. CAD-driven systems that build models for prototyping are now included in the total market for additive manufacturing systems, which also includes increasingly powerful machines used for low-volume series production.

See other Design News' coverage of Rapid 2010:
TAGS: Materials
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