3D Printing Comes To The Desktop

3D Systems Corp. a leading provider of rapid 3-D printing, prototyping, and manufacturing solutions, announced its plans to introduce a revolutionary, fast, simple and compact new office modeler, the V-Flash desktop modeler, this summer.

The V-Flash desktop modeler can build ready-to-use, three-dimensional models within hours at home, school or office workstations. The cost-effective model-maker will enable designers, engineers, hobbyists and students to imagine, design and produce their ideas at their desks.

The V-Flash desktop modeler is the first product 3D Systems plans to bring to market this summer that is based on a breakthrough fourth technology platform. This innovative and advanced technology platform enhances 3D Systems' already comprehensive portfolio of Rapid 3D Printing, Prototyping and Manufacturing solutions. The company's development of cutting-edge proprietary, Film Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology enabled the development of this simple, fast, compact and affordable desktop modeler, a solution that the company expects will surpass all other current technology 3-D printers on the market.

"The development of the V-Flash desktop modeler represents a significant and important building block in our comprehensive strategy to provide our customers with solutions that transform the way they design and manufacture new products. Today's announcement that the company plans to introduce the revolutionary V-Flash desktop modeler this summer, also marks 3D Systems' unveiling of a new disruptive technology platform, a fourth platform we intend to leverage extensively in the coming years to launch additional, innovative solutions. We believe that this disruptive technology platform will enable us to broaden our marketplace reach and accelerate the adoption of this revolutionary technology," said Abe Reichental, 3D Systems' president and chief executive officer. "The exciting V-Flash desktop modeler is just what our customers have been asking for all along," continued Reichental, "an easy-to-use, plug and play, economical model-maker that expedites part delivery and revolutionizes concept design as we know it. With the capability to create stereolithography (SLA)-like quality, three-dimensional models in the office, home or school setting, and the affordability of this solution, we believe that this modeler will usher in a new expansion era of Rapid Prototyping to a broader range of market applications. As the company that invented SLA technology and pioneered the creation of the entire Rapid Prototyping industry, we are enormously proud, yet again, to lead through another significant technology breakthrough as we make our final plans to commercialize this truly affordable desktop modeler later this summer."

The 25-by-26-by-27 inch V-Flash desktop modeler will weigh about 100 pounds and have a maximum build volume of 7 by 9 inches and 8 inches tall. With standard power requirements, plug and play set-up and simple operation, the V-Flash desktop modeler will be office, home and school friendly. V-Flash-produced models will demonstrate SLA-like accuracy, resolution and quality. The ready-to-use models will be ready for use, testing and verification within hours.

The V-Flash desktop modeler will be priced at $9,900, making it affordable to a wide range of potential customers. The V-Flash desktop modeler is expected to be available in the summer of 2007 in the United States.
More information on the V-Flash is available at www.modelin3d.com


Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

This could be good news for 3D Systems, a company that has had more than its share of revenue reporting, logistics, and production woes the past few years. With the announcement of the V-Flash modeler, the desktop is fast becoming highly contested real estate for so-called 3D printers. OK, so while 3D systems calls the V-Flash a desktop modeler, I’d classify it as a 3D printer based on its relative low cost, probable part creation speed, and its likely ease of use.

3D printing is a subset of the rapid prototyping technology that most people associate with the variation that consists of an inkjet printing system. In this type of system, layers of a fine powder (plaster and resins) are selectively bonded by "printing" a water-based adhesive from an inkjet printhead in the shape of each cross-section as dictated by a CAD STL file. This technology allows for printing full color prototypes, and is generally recognized as the fastest method for producing rapid prototypes. The company most associated with this technology is probably Z Corp.

3D printers can also feed liquids, such as photopolymer, also through an inkjet-type printhead to form each layer of a model. These photopolymer machines have a high-intensity UV lamp mounted in the print head to cure each layer as it is deposited. This type of technology is available from 3D Systems (MJM) and Objet (Polyjet).

3D Systems tends to keep their new product information close to the chest, so I’m going to have to speculate on the technology issues that follow regarding the V-Flash, not to mention its build speed, mechanical properties of the build material and finished parts, and the cost of the consumables. The machine is based on what the company terms Film Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology, whatever that is. I imagine this means that the V-Flash, as a desktop unit, does not deal with messy liquid or dangerous plastic resins. FTI seems like a film deposition method via some type of dispensed tape, building a model a layer at a time up using mechanical techniques to elevate the model as layers are added.

When the V-Flash is introduced this coming summer, it will have some competition right out of the gate with the Desktop Factory 3D printer, expected to come to market in approximately the same time frame. The Desktop Factory 3D printer measures about 25 x 20 x 20 inches and weighs less than 90 lbs. The maximum build volume of the initial product will be 5 x 5 x 5 inches. The thickness of each layer is 0.010 inch. The company also says it will retail for $7,500.

Both of these machines have real potential in the bigger scheme of things with regard to a possible increasing demand for rapid prototypes, but there is no guarantee for success. Each company could potentially sell a ton of the machines, but I would have to imagine that margins will be extremely thin. Also, having great technology is one thing, but a solid distribution channel is just as important, and with the likely razor-thin margins, both companies will be challenged in getting their machines before the masses. In other words, resellers may not be beating the doors down for a opportunity to sell the machines, but I could definitely be proven wrong. However, both machines seem to have great potential and may succeed as they fight for space on the desktops of new types of customers who previously could not afford this type of technology.

3D Systems is exhibiting at the upcoming SolidWorks World 2007 user conference in a couple of weeks. I’ll be attending and hope to see the V-Flash in action, because speculation is one thing, but seeing is believing.

The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

Eliona NV Selects CoCreate’s Software Over History-Based Solutions

CoCreate Software announced that Eliona NV, major player in industrial washing and drying systems, chose CoCreate’s OneSpace Modeling over competitive tools. The company cited three ways the software could help meet its quality and productivity goals:
  • Reduce the number of physical prototypes and errors associated with sheet metal design and manufacture
  • Support re-use of components so they could be used across projects
  • Boost productivity when last-minute changes arose
Previously, the company designed products using parametric and non-parametric 2D software. But when Eliona investigated parametric 3D CAD tools, they saw productivity problems. Last-minute, unanticipated customer input couldn’t be included without schedules slipping. Even in small teams, designs could not be shared, as the intra-part and assembly relations needed to be completely understood before any one designer could make a change. Since all machines are available in two mirrored versions, it was important to be able to change mirrored parts and assemblies with the same flexibility as the original design. With parametric solutions, the mirror operation would have lead to loss of parametric relationships.

MSC.Software's SimManager Helps TI Automotive Reduce Design Time
MSC.Software announced that TI Automotive has achieved $1.5 million in cost savings through their prior purchase and subsequent deployment of SimManager , which harnesses data produced in product development and saves time and costs with management and integration of engineering data within the IT infrastructure. The deployment of SimManager has allowed TI Automotive to gain additional collaborative abilities and create an enterprise solution that has delivered a 25% reduction in design time. TI Automotive is the only global supplier of fully integrated fuel storage and delivery systems for cars and trucks, as well as the leading supplier of fluid carrying systems for braking and powertrain applications to automakers worldwide.

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