By Kevin Hannon
From homemade guns in the US to Asda’s new “mini me” printing service, no doubt you’ve heard all about 3d printing. In order to help you better understand the technologies behind these stories, we’ve picked 5 of the most revolutionary 3d printers on the market, so you can get the lowdown on 3d printing, the different methods and what they’re capable of.
1. The Form 1 – Form Labs (€2800)
The Form 1 3D printer was created by a group of relatively unknown MIT graduates and launched on Kickstarter on the 26 of September 2012. After a couple of hours it exceeded its goal of 100,000 dollars and gathered momentum, unseen by any tech crowdfunding campaign before. The Form 1 went on to raise over 2.9 Million Dollars in one month, becoming the 9th biggest Kickstarter campaign of all time and the most successful in the technology category.
The Form 1 is one of the first desktop SLA (Stereolithography) printers to be targeted at DIY hobbyists, small businesses and 3D printing enthusiasts. Stereolithography printers direct high precision laser about a tank of liquid resin, solidifying layers as thin as 25 microns (0.025mm) which is 75 times thinner than many of FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) printers in the same price range. Unlike many other 3D printers in the same market, Form Labs have presented an attractive product. It's shell is comprised of an aluminium body with an eye catching transparent plastic orange lid which encloses the build area and offers the user protection from the UV light and protects the resin from hardening. This new high definition print technology and its aesthetic package is set to make 3D printing more accessible to the home user and lay the foundation for a home printing future.
Above: The Form 1 3d printer
2. IRIS – Mcor (€11,300)
The Mcor IRIS by Mcor Technologies Ltd from Co. Louth in Ireland has made breathtaking advances in full colour 3D printing that have to be seen to be believed. Mcor separates itself from most other 3D printing manufacturers through its unconventional use of paper, rather than plastics, powders, resins or liquids. This choice or raw material enables their machine, the IRIS to produce amazing high resolution (5760 x 1440 x 508 dpi) true colour prints in over a million colours.
The IRIS produces these prints by processing each sheet through a 2D colour printing process which is followed by laying paper layer by layer, cutting each sheet into cross sections and joining them together using water based adhesives until a high resolution full colour 3D print is achieved. Unlike almost all high end 3D printers the material cost of running an IRIS is minuscule as it utilises standard 80gsm A4 office paper for high quality prints and 160gsm paper for lower resolution prints.
Above: Full colour IRIS paper prints
3. 3D printing pen – Lix (~€100)
Although the Lix is not the first 3D printing pen to enter the market, its incredibly compact size and admirable finish make previous 3D printing pens, such as the 3Doodler and the 3Dsimo seem extremely impractical unattractive and unnecessarily large. The Lix pen, like other 3D printing pens, allow the user to control a 3D printer at their finger tips and create rigid free standing structures. This cross over between modern 3D printing, drawing, painting and modelling form a new medium of creative expression for artist, professionals and hobbyists alike. Its slimmed design surpasses previous 3D printing pens which were physically clunky and received mixed reviews from users who claimed they felt unnatural. The Lix pen is capable of producing 3D structures using 1.75mm ABS and PLA filament and receives power from any traditional USB port making it comfortably portable.
Above: The Lix pen in Action
4. M 290 – EOS
EOS are the world's leading manufacturer of laser-sintering systems, systems for rapid prototyping, and additive manufacture. Many of their machines use an additive process they developed called DMLS (direct metal laser sintering). This process uses a fibre optic laser inside a build chamber to fuse metal powder into a solid part by melting it locally. During this process parts are built up additively layer by layer, typically using layers 20 micrometres thick. This process allows for highly complex geometries to be created automatically in hours and without any tooling. The EOS M 290 is their latest DMLS machine and disruptive technology paving the way for a paradigm shift in product design and manufacturing. It has the ability to print in some of the strongest materials known to man such as nickel alloys, hardened stainless steel, cobalt chrome and titanium. This is allowing engineers around the world to exceed the boundaries placed by traditional manufacturing methods on the aerospace, automotive and medical implant industries with previously unachievable material properties.
Above: Implantable titanium screw made from DMLS. Also shows the rough surface which is useful for rapid bone bonding and growth.
5. Prusa Mendel - Reprap
Repraps are the general-purpose self replicating manufacturing machine that takes the form of a desktop 3d printer capable of printing plastic objects. Since many Repraps are made from plastic, a Reprap can self-replicate by making a kit of itself that anyone can assemble given time and materials. For this reason, the first reprap was called Darwin! One of the latest and most popular Repraps, the Prusa i3 has a large build area and a bill of materials that keep costs and ease of sourcing/manufacture in mind. This gives makers and enthusiasts around the world the power to locally source parts and assemble multiple 3D printers for between €200-1000. It enables people and communities to create (or download from the Internet) complex products without the need for expensive industrial infrastructure and distributed manufacturing. They intend for the Reprap to demonstrate evolution in this process as well as for it to increase in number exponentially. A preliminary study has already shown that using Repraps to print common products results in economic savings, which justifies the investment in a Reprap.
Above: Reprap Prusa printed parts