Is 3D printing truly the miracle it’s purported to be?
That’s a question I’ve asked myself numerous times, especially when I see yet another announcement from a hardware or software vendor or service provider that is often hype and little else. A lot of companies (and their marketing/PR/communications engines) count on the fact that just about anything that states or implies “3D printing” is going to automatically generate “a buzz” of notoriety, and maybe even some venture capital.
On one hand, yes, 3D printing has shown great promise and results. But, on the other, it’s largely wait and see.
Many have been lured into the promise of 3D printing with sensationalistic demonstrations as shown in the following video.
Last time we covered the introduction of the the MarkForged Mark One that can print parts with carbon fiber filament. This time around we’ll discuss the Stratsys Objet500 Connex3 3D printer that can produce multi-material/multi-color parts.
Before the conference officially commenced, Stratasys formally introduced its new Objet500 Connex3 3D printer. For a pre-event event, it was well attended by those interested in Stratasys’ new 3D printer.
The Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer features a unique triple-jetting technology that combines droplets of three base materials to produce parts with a myriad combinations of rigid, flexible, and transparent color materials, as well as color materials — all in a single print run. This ability to achieve the characteristics of an assembled part without assembly or painting is a significant technological achievement and time-saver.
Connex3 uses a print block with eight print heads — two for each material, including supports. This technique leaves six print heads for three model materials. The print heads deposit material droplets in a pre-defined pattern to create combinations from as many as three base materials. The patterns yield digital materials that are more than just a simple blending of the base materials.
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.
One of the favorite things I get to do when attending software conferences is meeting partners in the exhibitors’ hall and letting them show their stuff. At this year’s SolidWorks World I saw a number of things that caught my eye that I’ll feature in the coming weeks.
One of the more unique things I saw demoed this year was a printer that uses paper to print not in 2D, but in 3D. I know, 3D printing with paper brings back funky memories of 3D paper printers of the past, so I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I came by the booth.
I spoke with Dr. Conor MacCormack, Mcor’s co-founder & CEO about his company’s technology and strategy. Although the company was established in 2004, the Mcor IRIS 3D color printer was introduced to an American audience for the first time at SolidWorks World.
These 3D printers are unique in that they use ordinary 8.5″ x 11″ letter paper as the build material that renders surprisingly durable, stable, and tactile models — in color.
The relatively low-cost, eco-friendly Mcor IRIS first came on the market in December 2012. According to the company it can print more than one million colors simultaneously as it creates durable, photo-realistic physical objects from 3D data.
Mcor takes its unique “TRUE Color” capability a big step forward by rendering color as rich and vibrant just as it displays on a computer screen. That’s because the build material is paper, the original and natural medium for colored ink. In addition to offering this color capability, the IRIS delivers a relatively low operating cost for a 3D printer that I’d consider commercial class — owing to its use of paper as its build material.
Raw parts that I saw and handled right out of the machine had a good quality finish that could be further finished with a liquid sealant available from the company.
To make its technology available to a wider potential customer base, Mcor recently struck a deal with Staples Printing Systems Division to launch a new 3D printing service called “Staples Easy 3D,” online via the Staples Office Center. Staples’ Easy 3D will provide consumers, product designers, architects, healthcare professionals, educators, students and others with low-cost, colored, photo-realistic 3D printed products from Staples stores. Customers will upload digital files to the Staples Office Center and pick up the models in nearby Staples stores, or have them shipped. Staples will produce the models with the Mcor IRIS, the machine that was exhibited at SolidWorks World.
As to where the IRIS fits in with other higher resolution 3D printers, Dr. MacCormack said it would provide a complementary role. That’s fair, but I think it could also fit in many design environments in a standalone capacity, depending on the quality and functional requirements.
Forgive the bad pun, but seeing is believing with the Mcor IRIS 3D printer. It’s a fresh look on 3D printing with paper.
See the interview with Mcor’s Dr. MacCormack that we conducted at SolidWorks World.
Not all marriages are made in heaven, and the news that Stratasys and HP have agreed to discontinue their manufacturing and distribution agreement for 3D printers, effective at the end of 2012 proves it. The relationship lasted only a couple of years.
Stratasys said it does not expect the termination of its agreement with HP to have a material impact on its financial results for the current year and intends to work closely with HP to ensure a smooth transition for customers. I doubt, though, if the same holds true for HP.
Under the terms of the definitive agreement signed in January 2010, Stratasys developed and manufactured for HP an exclusive line of 3D printers based on Stratasys’ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology. Later that year, HP began a phased rollout of the 3D printers in the MCAD market in select European countries, but never made it over here to North America, which was both a mystery and a shame.
When Stratasys made the original distribution announcement with HP, it was regarded as a pretty big deal. The announcment also boosted Stratasys’ stock price. It truly was a big announcement for additive fabrication, but I don’t think many in the industry regarded it as the turning point for the technology. In the end, the annoucement and partnership never did fulfill the initial hype or substantive change in the additive fabrication market.
To be fair to HP, though, it only got Stratasys’ entry level UPrint and Dimension product lines. I think this was done to expand Stratasys market presence and installed base without canibalizing its more lucrative high-end 3D printer market that it wanted to keep. Fair enough.
It always puzzled me, though, why HP didn’t develop and market its own 3D printer for a worldwide market — especially at the low-end, prosumer level. After all, HP has provided 3D print heads for ZPrinters (now owned by 3D Systems) and is a market leader in 2D printers. Why not go the next step to develop and mass market your own 3D printing machine?
Admittedly, these are tough times, and no technology company knows that better than HP.