A Few Interesting Products Among the Mundane!
Author: Robert Zollo- Publisher of ProForma 3D Printing
Last Friday and Saturday (Feb 1 and 2, 2014), roughly 10,000 attendees trekked to Burbank CA to see the latest in 3D printing from 40 odd exhibitors.Coming on the heels of CES three weeks earlier, the only real difference was the addition of a number of smaller exhibitors who did not exhibit in Las Vegas.
While the enthusiasm was high, and the booth demos were crowded, this show reminded me of how few people understand what desktop 3D printers are actually capable of and what is required to successfully operate them.
That being said, a few products caught my eye. The OWL Nano desktop printer from Old World Labs is promoting its “SLI” technology thermoset plastic printer at $4,900. Unlike traditional fused deposition printers that input thermoplastic filament and print strings of hot viscous plastic to the print bed, the stereolithic process uses lasers to selectively cure liquid thermoset plastic as it is drawn up out of a vat by a flat printing plate the liquid adheres to.
The lasers precisely cure only those locations that correspond to the print, and the rest flows back into the vat.While limited in the size of objects that can be made by this process, the laser technology is capable of better detail, fit and finish. The OWL printer claims 0.1 micron definition.This is one of the few commercial grade prototyping printers we have identified that sell for under $5,000. For more information: http://oldworldlabs.com
San Diego based Robo 3D exhibited their $700 fused deposition printer that supports ABS and PLA. While based on the traditional open source printer technology, the printer is rated at a 720 cubic inch build volume with a deposition resolution of 100 microns (note the 1,000 x difference in tolerance with the OWL printer). This is fairly standard, however the vendor claims to support Ubuntu Linux, as well as Mac and Windows operating systems. For more information: www.robo3d.com
Formlabs was exhibiting its Form 1 SLI (stereolithography) based printer at $3,299. This laser based reflective fusing approach offers higher precision and better finish than fused deposition printers, but the build platforms are small, and the material costs are quite high; Formlabs claims a minimum layer thickness of 25 microns and a minimum feature height of 300 microns. This is an important piece of information that most printer vendors don’t provide. There is a difference between layer height of deposition and the resolution of features. List price: $3,299. Per their web site: “shipping soon”. For more info: http://formlabs.com.
Little new was exhibited in the fused deposition printing category, but two new entrants to the stereolithography category merit a closer look.
If they can deliver on their claims, these new printers may have a place in the commercial sector. The caveats are: carefully research their resin pricing.