Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Techy Tuesday - 3D Printing is Growing Up

3D Printers have been riding high on the Gartner Hype Cycle for a while.  At least once a month, the engineering trade magazines have an update on The Latest Thing in the field.  Gartner themselves posted that 3D printing hit the hype cycle peak in 2012.  That puts the technology today closer to the "Trough of Disillusionment" than the Peak of Inflated Expectations today.

Of course this is a bit misleading.  3D printing is in day-to-day use in industry and has been for a quite a while.  As a field, the term 3D printing can be applied to the Stratasys printers that produced the first 3D printed, all metal 1911, the giant machines used to print concrete houses, or it can be applied to small desktop printers. The field is growing and new approaches are coming online regularly.

Design News presents a feature on some new technologies coming into this growing field, with 10 new printers to look through.  They feature a way to print silicone like Room Temperature Vulcanizing (RTV) compounds, new UV cured resins, filled plastics, ceramics and more.  One printer, the Cybot 330 Pro 3D printer from Vancouver-based Cybot 3D can print 95% of filament types available, such as PETG (polyethyelene terephthalate glycol-modified), carbon fiber PLA (polylactic acid), NinjaFlex, PC-ABS (polycarbonate-acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), wood fill, copper fill, aluminum PLA, and stainless-steel PLA. Another printer head produces material with properties that vary around the print area.

A far out-there development that you probably won't see on the market any time soon, the Wyss Institute designed a new multimaterial printhead based on active, rather than passive, microfluidic mixing of a wide variety of materials to produce gradient architectures. Materials like silicone rubber can be printed in gradient architectures composed of soft and rigid regions. The team has also demonstrated the ability to mix and print reactive materials, such as two-part epoxies, with this printhead and to mix conductive and resistive inks on demand for embedding electrical circuitry inside 3D-printed objects.  (The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is part of Harvard University aimed at creating materials and devices to solve critical medical problems).

Not quite as far out is the four printhead printer from Cultivate3D with a print volume large enough to print a toddler.  It's more like the conventional home printer, only really big.

(The Beast from Cultivate3D).


  1. The opening sequence of the movie "Small Soldiers" (1998) shows a 3D printed statue rising out of a vat of resin.

    Later in the year I went to a defense contractor trade show in San Diego, and the same company was there handing out little model fighter jets that were being "printed" while-you-wait.

    Back then everybody called it "Rapid Prototyping", but it sure was neat to see the laser dance around in the vat of resin, and watch the product rise up out of it!

  2. The problem with 3D printing is mostly that the consumer versions latched onto PVC and other plastics that aren't useful for much.

    I would rather invest money in a small CNC router or even a laser cutter. The finished products are at least useful.

  3. Transform he graph. I have been looking for this for awhile

    Printer sales are very slow rit now and the market is flooded with chinese junk that does not work.

    You can not print PVC except by laser sintering btw.

    I do use my printer all the time in the shop to make parts. It is a extremely handy machine to make a lot of parts that I am unable to make on my CNC router.

    PLA plastic , the most basic plastic is not as strong as HDPE or Delrin but it has it's uses. Often times you just don't need that strong.

    PLA is good for trim, spacers, bushings, covers, and it can even be used as investment cast mold.

  4. I'm with Admin on this one. There are are entry-level printers that do a fine job and produce usable parts. It all comes down to understanding the parts, though: how accurate and how strong they need to be. I think ABS produces tough enough parts for many applications.

    But I have a small CNC mill and I'm working on converting a bigger mill to CNC, so I sure don't have anything against that approach!

    DrJim - the first one I ever saw prints from was prior to '96 when I moved to my current job. It was an SLA print of a mechanical assembly they did at Southeast Defense Electronics Company. We have an ABS printer at Major Avionics Manufacturing Company, and use it for all sorts of prototype checking and visualizations.

  5. Even a entry level 3d printing machine can do good quality as long as it is properly set up. The best prints i have seen came from a $700 solidoodle 2 machine that was modified with a better print head and m3 threaded rod to move the z axis. The prints were better than the samples Stratsys displayed at the trade show here I attended.

    So far this week I have made 2 Z axis nuts, 4 stepper motor mounts, a ball screw nut holder, and a big batch of plastic clips on my printer. I expect to print several more parts before the week is out.

    I can only imagine how much more expensive it would be to run my business if I did not have a printer and CNC mill. Just the parts I made today if I was to send out would cost me well over $200

    Having experience with 3axis CNC machining, and printing, yes printing is not as accurate, however I have parts coming off my machines that are within 0.2mm tolerances.

    Some parts that require a much finer finish it is not very hard to print a little oversize and send to be cut with a fly cutter, or turned on a lathe. I also regularly drill and tap printed parts and I regularly print so that I can insert nuts into parts.

    The more you can do in house the less you have to spend and waste time having someone do for you.