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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

3D Printers Rule at SolidWorks World — Part 1

February 13th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or just don’t care, 3D printers and what they can do have become some of the hottest technology topics I can remember. Although its potential has only begun to be realized, the technology has matured beyond the curiosity stage and is being embraced by a wide range of users with a wide range of budgets. Like anything else, you get what you pay for, and 3D printing is no exception. By that I mean, sure, you buy a 3D printer relatively inexpensively, but there are always limitations with regard to material choice, part quality etc.

That’s changing, though, based on a couple of new 3D printers that were introduced at this year’s SolidWorks World. The Partner Pavilion had a few less exhibitors than previous years, but the level of traffic was high. A lot of attention was paid to a couple of new 3D printers that really set themselves apart from competing multi-material machines — the MarkForged Mark One and the Stratasys Objet500 Connex3.

This time around, we’ll take a look at the MarkForged Mark One, and will examine the Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 in our next edition.

MARKFORGED Mark One Carbon Fiber 3D Printer

Especially on the relative low end of the price range for 3D printers, one of the biggest limitations has been material choice for 3D printing. That’s a thing of the past with the MarkForged Mark One 3D printer that can print parts with carbon fiber filament. The filament is key, because there have been 3D printers that can handle chopped carbon fiber or glass, but the incredible physical characteristics of carbon fiber filaments really put the Mark One in another league.

The Mark One was designed to overcome the strength limitations of traditional 3D printed materials, because it can print continuous carbon fiber. With the Mark One you can print parts, tooling, and fixtures with a higher strength-to-weight ratio than 6061-T6 aluminum.

Speaking of aluminum, the Mark One is fabricated (unibody construction) from it and is the best looking desktop 3D printer I have ever seen. This is a precision machine you won’t want to hide because the industrial design is that good. The machine measures 22.6″W x 14.2″H x 12.7″D. The build envelope is 12″W x 6.25″H x 6.25″D.

The Mark One uses a new 3D printing process the company refers to as Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF), combined with traditional Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF). Parts made with CFF are reinforced by continuous strands of fibers embedded in a thermoplastic matrix.

Resolution for FFF is 100 microns, and 200 microns for CFF.

I like the aspect ratio of the parts handled by the Mark One — long x-axis, much in the same way CNC machines are designed to work.

MARKFORG3D Carbon Fiber 3D Printer Short Demo

The company says parts containing carbon fiber filaments printed with the Mark One are 20 time stiffer than equivalent ABS parts, and five time stronger. The company passed around two identical parts — one made only of nylon and one made with nylon and a low percentage of carbon fiber. It was incredible how much stiffer and bend and torque resistant the latter part was, and seemed slightly lighter in weight, as well.

Materials for the Mark One include:

Carbon fiber filament– Highest strength to weight.

Fiberglass filament– Highest strength to cost.

Nylon– Tough engineering plastic.

PLA– Low-cost and biodegradable

Pricing for these materials is coming soon, according to the company.

Additionally, as far as materials go, there are no additional chemicals or post-curing required.

If your part doesn’t require composite reinforcement you can print in just Nylon or PLA.

The machine features a dual printhead design — one head for printing composite filaments (CFF) and the other, traditional thermoplastic filaments (FFF). Parts can be printed either by a single head or a combination of the two.

The Mark One is capable of printing geometries that require support material, because the included software automatically detects areas that require support and creating breakaway supports.

The software that comes with the machine was specifically designed to provide the ability to specify and control fiber orientation in each layer and thus, directional strength. The software can automatically determine the orientation of fibers, or you can specify the orientation on a layer-by-layer basis.

At this time, the Mark One can does not print composite filaments in the Z-direction, only X and Y, but the person I spoke with said the company is working on the third axis.

Only one model is required for each part; there is no need for a separate model file for each material like some other multi-material printers?

Once adjusted, the Mark One’s bed positions itself into the same place every time within 10 microns. That’s the reason the Mark One’s kinematic couplings are a major deal for leveling the build bed — repeatability. This ability, along with a superior material choice, overcome a lot of the complaints heard about other low-end 3D printers.

When it hits the market, supposedly the second half of this year, it will cost $5,000.

This product received a lot of attention at SolidWorks World, and for good reason — it’s unique and very capable. The Mark One is one to watch.

The Mark One is currently available for pre-order here.

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