Accuracy vs Precision. Before we get started, let's take a moment to look at the difference between accuracy and precision.
To steal a metaphor (from the image above), imagine targets at a shooting range.
Many Personal 3D Printers use threaded rod as a drive mechanism, usually just for the Z-axis, most of the rest use precision leadscrews. We've seen debate in multiple forums about which is better, and about how much of a difference it actually makes. We've even heard the argument that leadscrews are a waste of money, or that people using them in printer kits are just trying to extort more money from you. We'd like to contribute to this discussion and mention some of the reasons we feel leadscrews are a better choice (and worth the cost) for this application.
Both accuracy and precision matter in 3D Printing.
Another word that can be used for precision in this context is repeatability. This is the ability for the printer to reproduce the same movements again and again identically between layers or even between prints. The more repeatable the tool-path is in real space, the more precise it can be said to be.
Accuracy is not necessarily the ability to hit the same spot every time, but is rather the ability to get within an accepted level of precision of the place where you actually intend to be. Accuracy is the property that more closely determines accurate geometries and dimensions.
I'll apply these concepts below.
If you're interested in reading more about this distinction, please see this NOAA page on the topic. Though it is being applied to an entirely different field, the principles and terminology are essentially the same. This is also where I stole the above graphic from.
About Threaded Rod as a 3D Printer Drive MechanismThe biggest advantages threaded rod has over leadscrews are its price and its ubiquity/availability. You can walk into a hardware store and buy a sizeable length of threaded rod without breaking the bank. That's great, especially for a repstrap or a project that has an extremely tight budget or is time senesitive.
Let me stress that threaded rod DOES WORK for linear motion. There are many printers using it. In fact, the foundations of the Personal 3D Printer industry were built on printers that used threaded rod almost exclusively. Great results can be achieved with threaded rod. That said, it does have disadvantages.
Intended UseThreaded rod is designed for use in constructing things. It is meant to hold things together, to suspend things, or to run through things for internal strength. They are designed to have washers and nuts put on them and for those things to hold their place.
The goal of the design and manufacture of threaded rod is to create a product that you can easily thread a nut onto and get that nut into position and have it stay in position. In short, they are designed to bind when there is any (non-rotational) force applied to a nut (including in-axis force like the weight of a z-stage).
Tension vs CompressionThey are also designed to be used in tension (see the Wikipedia article). If a printer does use threaded rod for motion, the results will generally be better if the rods are suspended from the top of the printer (as in a common Prusa design), supporting weight in tension rather than if the motors are on the bottom (see the now outdated Mendel design) holding the rods up and supporting weight in compression. Keeping the rods in tension rather than compression will minimize bowing and bending, though a bent rod can still cause problems. While the deflection from compression may not be very visible, you can bet it's playing a role in your accuracy when your carriage is near the top. Many printer designers minimize the compression issue by using very large diameter smooth rods that are more resistant to bending, but a tensile arrangement with or without larger rods is a better solution.
Though not related to the linear motion, it's also worth noting that most RepRap designs that incorporate threaded rods utilize most of them in varying degrees of compression, rather than tension. This is a poor choice of material here, as these members can flex and bend; construction of this type will require much more constraint to make a solid frame, possibly leading to over-constraints that can cause issues. Metal extrusion (such as is used in the Mendel Max) is a much better choice for a framing element. Other newer designs, such as the Prusa i3 also avoid this problem by using a large plate of material instead of the rods.
StraightnessBecause of the usual applications of threaded rod, there are also no guarantees about the straightness of the rod to begin with. Poor handling in transportation and storage, or the manufacturing processes themselves may produce rods that have some natural bend to them. To some extent this is overcome by using solid, stable smooth rods or other precision linear motion mechanics to constrain x/y-axis motion and letting the un-driven end of the threaded rod float so it can only influence the z-axis motion, but the quality of that linear motion system (both components and design) will have a direct impact on how much or little of an impact the curvature of a threaded rod will have.
Overall QualityThe quality of threaded rod will also vary wildly, but in general won't be great as compared to leadscrews. For its standard applications, the tolerances of the rod only need to be good enough to reliably thread a nut of the proper size. There can sometimes be a fair degree of slop between the nuts and the rods. Rods of different sizes, or from different manufacturers will vary, and you can bet they're not optimizing their processes for consistency beyond what is sufficient for its intended application.
Smoothness and Surface FinishThe surface finish on a threaded rod is a combination of roughness from the treatment against corrosion, and burs that have only been removed so well as to make sure a nut will thread. Again, this comes back to the idea that they are designed to bind. Threaded rod should not be any smoother than is required to thread a nut; the roughness on the surface helps things to bind when non-rotational force is applied.
About Leadscrews as a 3D Printer Drive MechanismLeadscrews are designed for linear motion. They can certainly be costly, and as such may not be appropriate for every build, but they are a benefit to any printer you put them in.
Most of the points presented above about threaded rod are really raised in comparison to leadscrews. Leadscrews are made of strong enough materials to combat bowing and bending and can be used in tension or compression (within reasonable limits), are guaranteed to be straight (if handled appropriately and coming from a reputable supplier), are smooth, and overall are designed to keep from binding.
As an additional bonus, motion on leadscrews is also generally quieter than on threaded rod. It's worth noting that when employed for the z-axis motion backlash generally isn't an issue because of the force of gravity acting on the z-carriage and the fact that all movements are in one direction. This does benefit from gravity though, which this team undoubtedly took into consideration. In cases where you're performing fast z-movements (such as travel lifts, "dynamic z," or when using leadscrews to drive a delta bot), don't have the benefit of gravity, or when employing leadscrews for horizontal movements, an anti-backlash nut is a tremendous benefit, both to noise reduction and accuracy.
Lead, Pitch, and StartsIf you're designing a printer, or planning an upgrade for a printer you have and need to select a leadscrew setup, you need to be aware of the main properties you're going to run into.
The pitch of a leadscrew (or any screw) is the distance between adjacent threads. This might be expressed in distance, or by the inverse relationship of threads per unit distance. Some screws have multiple starts, which means they have multiple distinct threads side-by-side.
The lead is the distance that will be traveled in the course of one revolution of the leadscrew. In the case of a single-start screw, the lead is the same as the pitch.
10 threads per inch is a 1/10 inch pitch, which means one rotation takes you 1/10 inches
For a multi-start screw, the lead is the pitch multiplied by the number of starts.
For more information, see: Wikipedia: Screw Thread - Lead, Pitch, and Starts, and Wikipedia: Lead (Engineering).
In general, FFF/FDM printers use relatively infrequent, small, precise movements on the z-axis and consistent, fast movements on the x and y axes. A single start leadscrew with the tightest pitch possible (highest thread density, smallest pitch) is generally going to be your best bet for the z-axis, while you may or may not need something a little steeper to get the speeds you'd like from your x and y axes. While this may seem somewhat arbitrary given the precision of movement you can get from a stepper motor, an important factor to remember here is torque.
A more aggressive leadscrew will require more torque to drive. We have one kit printer we bought a couple years ago that has an overly aggressive multi-start leadscrew for the z-axis. The small motors included in the kit do not have the torque required to reliably start upward movement of the carriage, leaving it sitting there skipping steps until the carriage is given a little upward nudge to get it going (no, it's not a lubrication issue or a driver that needs turning up).
Application of Accuracy vs PrecisionBecause of the way they are made, and because of the requirements of their normal application, threaded rods should often be accurate enough for most applications. This is to say that the number of turns it takes to move a particular distance should be pretty close to correct. When people say decent accuracy is achievable using threaded rod, they're probably correct, generally speaking.
Threaded rod is not good, however, for precision. Because of the rough finish, the poor tolerances, potential slop between the rod and the nut, and other potential issues either in the rod itself or a printer design that utilizes the rods, you never know that each step on your motors is going to move your tool head by the precise distance you thought it would. The standard pitches on threaded rod are generally tight enough to make the accuracy high enough that the loss of precision may be acceptable, but for truly exceptional prints you'll likely find this to be a limitation.
A little extra movement in one step and a little less in the next average out to the right amount and give you overall accuracy over time, but you may wind up with subtle z-axis artifacts because layers are very slightly different heights. These artifacts will of course be much more pronounced at low layer heights (high resolutions). While you may be able to achieve successful prints at incredibly high resolutions with threaded rod, the surface finish at these resolutions will generally be much improved by the higher degree of precision achieved with a leadscrew.
Accuracy is important for getting the right overall shape and dimension of a print. Precision allows for smooth, straight edges, good tolerances on printed parts (particularly applicable when printing mating parts), and quality surface finish.
Other Options for Mechanical DrivesIt is possible to get your printer motion using a mechanism other than threaded rod or leadscrews. Some printers, especially delta bots, just use smooth rod with bearings (or rail systems), then drive motion with belts, wire, Syncromesh, or equivalent just like the X and Y axis on most 3D Printers are driven. An argument could be made that it's more difficult to get the level of precision and accuracy that you get from a leadscrew, but these options may be able to be comparable with excellent engineering and have an advantage in cost and speed.
April 30, 2014
Australian engineer Daniel Brown has been experimenting with overhangs, the bane of 3D printer operators worldwide. It looks like he’s managed to overcome them.
But first, what’s the deal with overhangs? They are geometric shapes in a 3D model that have no material underneath them, making layer-based 3D printing challenging. Most personal 3D printers must print “support” structures underneath to prevent the overhangs from immediately collapsing during printing.
Some overhangs are tolerable, though. You can often safely 3D print overhangs with as much as a 45 degree angle overhang without issue. More than that and you’re asking for trouble, which in this case means droopy filament strands.
Brown did an experiment to see how much overhang is really possible on a MakerBot Replicator. By progressively increasing the angle one could see where a failure occurs. However, it appears from the images above that he was able to tip the column to a mere ten degrees from horizontal.
The result is not quite perfect, as you can see some very slight blurbs on the bottom of the ten-degree column. But the result is very impressive nonetheless.
We suspect this extreme success has something to do with the overall geometry of the particular model being printed. Brown says:
What I think allowed this actually was the cross section of the part, that is a circular column, slanted therefore the maximum overhang only exists at the furthest point of the structure while it seemed to be held in place by the sides which comparatively we not overhanging at all.
Regardless of how it was accomplished, we’re definitely taking a much more aggressive stance on overhang angles from now on.
Global 3D Printing Market (Polyjet, FDM, SLS, SLA) is Expected to Reach USD 7,240 Million by 2019: Transparency Market Research
ALBANY, New York, February 18, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research "Global 3D printing (Polyjet, FDM, SLS, SLA) Market - Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2013 - 2019", the global 3D printing market was worth USD 2,200 million in 2012 and is expected to reach USD 7,240 million in 2019, growing at a CAGR of 16.8% from 2013 to 2019. North America was the largest market for 3D printing in 2012 owing to high adoption of this technology across different applications sectors including consumer products and electronics and automotives among others.
Browse Global 3D Printing Market Report with Full TOC at http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/3d-printing-industry.html
The market is primarily driven by increasing applications of 3D printing and decreasing cost of 3D printers for personal use. Also the technology in emerging regions such as Asia Pacific and Rest of the World (RoW) holds huge growth potential in the coming years. However, inability to print large objects in quick time and introduction of new laws and regulations to protect infringement of rights are some factors restraining the growth of this technology.
Among different applications, consumer products and electronics; and automotives represent two major segments. 3D printing is used in many consumer applications such as home décor, manufacturing toys and jewelry among others. Multiple applications of 3D printers in commercial and personal sectors have supported market growth. In automotive segment, 3D printing is used to print parts of an automobile.
Geographically, North America dominated the 3D printing market in 2012 followed by Europe. This is due to high adoption of this technology for both commercial and personal use. The market is expected to grow further, with increasing awareness among consumers regarding the benefits of using 3D printing in commercial and household applications. The demand for 3D printing in Europe has increased in the recent years mainly owing to the presence of emerging players in countries such as Germany, Italy, France and Sweden.
Stratasys, Ltd., 3D Systems, Inc., Solidscape, Inc., EOS GmbH, ExOne GmbH, Optomec, Voxeljet Technology GmbH, Concept Laser GmbH, Arcam AB and SLM Solutions GmbH among others are the key players in the market. Stratasys, Ltd. held the maximum revenue share in 2012.
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Prophets of doom say 3D printing will overturn manufacturing in China. They are both right and wrong.
Wisps of smoke rise from nowhere as an invisible beam silently traces a path inside one of the three-dimensional (3D) printers at Beijing Longyuan Automated Fabrication System (AFS).
The printer is in the early stages of making a part for an aerospace company. An infrared laser inside the refrigerator-sized machine follows a preset course as it burns a bed of powdered aluminium to fuse it into a solid layer.
It can be a slow-going process. A look through the printer’s inspection window shows what resembles pools of liquid on the bottom of the build chamber, while a nearby printout of the final part depicts an intricate concept riddled with nodules and voids.
AFS’s factory on the outskirts of Beijing in Shunyi district is small and unassuming.
But the eight machines inside the squat, nondescript buildings are blazing a trail in the process known in industry circles as additive manufacturing. Its popular moniker is 3D printing.
Founded in 1994, AFS was one of the first 3D printer makers to emerge in China. Its main line of business is selling the laser-sintering machines that turn software blueprints into objects by building them up in thin layers from particular materials. AFS’s printers can use powdered metal or foundry sand on top of each other, says William Zeng, Deputy General Manager at AFS, while other machines extrude molten plastic through a nozzle.
Additive manufacturing is not short on hype. Supporters say the technology has the potential to reshape the way we design, produce and manufacture new things— and make it easier and more cost efficient to create existing objects. That carries implications for global manufacturing and the country in the middle of it all, China. Additive manufacturing could challenge Chinaʼs attraction as a large-scale, low-cost production hub—or alternatively augment it.
More than a decade before AFS set up shop, Charles ‘Chuck’ Hall invented the first additive manufacturing technique in the United States in 1983. According to 3D Systems’ company history, the first thing Hall printed using his method, called stereolithography, was a humble teacup—which he gave to his wife.
Hall’s process sparked a slew of other 3D printing technologies that have become widely used in a range of niche industrial applications.
“It includes a whole umbrella of technologies. What they have in common is a core process of building up projects layer and layer, by laying down and patterning material,” says Anthony Vicari, Research Associate at innovation-focused consultancy Lux Research in the US.
But while enterprise use expanded quietly over the past three decades, public interest did not take off until the emergence of low-cost 3D printers for consumers and hobbyists in the mid-2000s.
“All these processes have been in development for 10, 20, sometimes 30 years, but for the most part, they’ve been limited to the industrial world, because the cost of the printers has just been enormous. Even today, if you want to print titanium alloys for aerospace, that printer is going to cost you $500,000 to a $1 million or so,” says Vicari.
Additive manufacturing has also piqued the attention of the global factory that is China. Companies like AFS are riding a wave of local interest in the process, evidenced by the excitement at the second World 3D Printing Technology Industry Conference, held in Beijing in June. “The buzz was unprecedented in comparison to other industry events,” says Tim Caffrey, Senior Consultant with Wohlers Associates, a consultancy that tracks 3D printing.
“CCTV recorded a Q&A hosted by one of its popular on-screen personalities, and the audience was snapping photos at an amazing rate.”
The Chinese government has also picked up on the trend by forming the China 3D Printing Technology Industry Alliance. The group aims to shepherd development of the domestic industry and is involved in planning 10 innovation centers in 10 cities that will cost RMB 20 million in total.
Outside of China, American firms head a pack of about a dozen major 3D printer makers that preside over the global market. Charles Hall’s California-based 3D Systems is the largest globally, followed by Stratasys from Minnesota. Both are present in China, where they vie with leading homegrown players such as AFS, Beijing TierTime Technology (which as of May was the largest producer of 3D printing systems in China), Hunan Farsoon High-tech and Wuxi FalconTech.
In China, 3D printing has carved out a niche in the advanced and high value-added manufacturing sector that involves complex parts and exotic materials. Take the automotive industry for instance—3D printing is a boon for designers and engineers because it allows objects with complex designs, like interior voids that minimize weight without sacrificing strength, to be made much cheaper than traditional methods. Additive manufacturing cuts out the long lead times and design techniques like metal cutting or molding.
“Today prototyping is still the main news. That’s the application that has really built up the industry in the first place,” says Vicari. “Things that wouldn’t be ‘machineable’ or moldable at all… are much easier to make.”
“If there’s something wrong, you can make changes directly… and make it again,” says Kim Francois, China Chief Representative for Materialise, a Belgian company specializing in 3D printing. She says the process saves time and money because molds can cost up to RMB 150,000 and take two months to make.
Turnaround can also be significantly shorter in some cases. Sitting on the floor of AFS’s boardroom is an aluminium transaxle case for a car that was printed in less than a week, but would have taken 3-6 months to machine from a block of metal.
The efficiency of 3D printing also means production costs can be a fraction of current methods. When Lockheed Martin and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US teamed up to make titanium alloy brackets for the engine of the F-35 fighter jet, they discovered the shape was so complex that machining it left 97% of the material on the floor. With 3D printing though, only 9% was wasted and the money saved from material scrap more than halved the cost of the bracket.
Rapid prototyping generates around 30% of AFS’s revenue, and the business counts some of China’s biggest companies as clients. Its most expensive 3D printers, costing RMB 1.6 million, are used by Chinese automakers Geely, FAW and Dongfeng Motor to produce experimental engine parts, says Zeng.
Aerospace is another area where 3D printing is taking off. One of the largest printers in the country is about the length of a bus and belongs to the National Laboratory for Aeronautics and Astronautics at Beihang University in Beijing.
Although AFS did not make it, Zeng says the machine is being used to design large and complicated parts for China’s home-grown competitor to the short-haul airliners made by Boeing and Airbus. AFS itself has also worked with AVIC Dongan, a subsidiary of the country’s dominant aerospace and defense contractor Aviation Industry Corporation of China.
Rapid prototyping appeals to those designing cars or jets, but another strength has entrenched 3D printing in health care. AFS’s cheapest machines—costing around RMB 680,000—are popular with medical companies and hospitals, including Peking University Third Hospital, one of the top clinics in the country.
Infinite customization is behind the health care industry’s embrace of 3D printing. The technology makes it possible to personalize products on a massive scale— useful for a sector where every patient is unique. Today’s prosthetics and implants for use inside the human body already come in a variety of sizes and designs, but 3D printing can improve them by tailoring devices to each patient’s biology or injury. Bespoke implants mean better compatibility and fewer trips to the hospital, which could potentially ease the strain on China’s already stretched social security system, and it is where Materialise hopes to leverage its expertise in 3D printing in China. The Belgian company is looking to work with doctors to design devices like jaw implants from scans of patients’ mouths, says Francois. The digital models would then be printed in medical-grade titanium.
Out with the Old
Some of the mania around 3D printing has circulated the potential threat it poses to mass manufacturing—the kind that has come to define China’s economy. It comes as no surprise then, that traditional producers have pooh-poohed the idea of 3D printing threatening ‘Made in China’.
A “gimmick” is how Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Chairman Terry Gou reportedly summed up the technology in June. Most of the 1.3 million employees at Foxconn, Hon Hai’s giant electronics manufacturer and iPhone maker, are in China and they staff the massive factories that churn out goods for Apple, Samsung and other multinationals.
“If we’re talking about the kind of manufacturing that Foxconn does, then for the most part, 3D printing will not be applicable. But within the applications where there is a case for 3D printing, it’s definitely not just a gimmick. There’s a lot of hype surrounding it today but there’s a lot of reality too,” says Vicari.
While additive manufacturing looks unlikely to supersede conventional production processes, there is scope for the technology to enhance the kind of low-cost, mass manufacturing that has propelled China’s economy over the past three decades.
What has piqued Beijing’s interest is that the vast army of traditional manufacturers in China can leverage 3D printing to produce and modify molds for production use with ease.
“It assists the conventional manufacturing processes because you can make or modify the existing mold fairly quickly,” says Vicari. “There’s definitely an adoption among some of the manufacturers there for some of those uses.”
Hasta Logistics Baby
There are other ways where 3D printers could make routine production of parts more efficient. An assembly plant—like those run by Terry Gou’s Foxconn for example—with a faulty production line would typically need to order spare parts from an injection molding company, which would then need weeks to shape and ship the items. But a 3D printer onsite could create a replacement in hours.
“You can print on demand, which is one of the big advantages of 3D printing,” says Francois. “It’s only on request, which is great because you throw away less things. You don’t need to rent out big warehouses to put in your stock, and then realize after two years, nothing has sold, [so] throw it away. It saves money and it’s good for the environment.”
The long-term impact on supply chains could be profound. As companies start using 3D printers to produce parts on demand, on site and only as needed, a plethora of players—from storage to shipping—would lose out in a shorter, simpler supply chain, while consumers would benefit through localized production and leaner inventories.
Take, for instance, an offshore oil rig that needs a component replaced. Today, that would necessitate the replacement part flown in at great expense from inventory stored at a costly warehouse. If stock no longer exists, then the rig operator will need to fork out for an expensive one-off production run of a legacy part.
With a 3D printer on hand, the same component could be ready in hours. Costs would come down as storage and shipping are no longer needed, and through the elimination of capital investments such as moulds, casts and machine tools.
In a study back in July, IBM disassembled three products—a cell phone, a hearing aid and a washing machine—and determined the cost of manufacturing and distribution in a simulated supply chain based on 3D printing. The washing machine had 63 mechanical parts, each of which can be made by a single 3D printer instead of 63 separate stamping and molding parts and a production line. IBM found that the supplier base could be reduced from between 30 and 60 suppliers to one or two.
Localized production of higher-value goods carries implications for China’s position in global manufacturing, especially if the cost of 3D printing comes down and the quality and reliability of printed parts improves. In that scenario, Vicari says there would be less reason to build a factory in China, particularly for highly automated technology.
That could accelerate the so-called ‘re-shoring’ of American and European manufacturing operations, as companies would no longer need to incur the cost of shipping raw materials and components in, and products out, over long distances.
For now, 3D printing is not about to replace mass production—not for another decade at least. “Anything in quantities of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of units [is] still going to be made using conventional technologies. The main impact of 3D printing is going to be the prototyping and design phase for high-value goods. Or potentially even down the road for replacement parts, where having something local on site has additional value,” says Vicari.
In a Material World
Judging by Terry Gou’s comments though, additive manufacturing hassomething of an image problem among China’s factory bosses. Though 3D printing can play an evident role, some limitations mean it has failed to gain traction in the mainstream manufacturing world.
Chief among them is that it can take anywhere from hours to days to print an object. While that may be an improvement for applications like rapid prototyping, it is impractical for larger-scale production. An assembly line in Shenzhen can churn out a product in the hundreds of thousands or even millions in the same amount of time it takes to print a component. “It’s an order of magnitude slower than what it’d need to be,” says Vicari.
Materials are another problem. The compounds used to print objects are expensive and only a handful can be used due to the required performance standards. Titanium is popular for printing industry-grade parts because the metal is lighter and stronger than steel, but Zeng from AFS says titanium alloys made in China cost RMB 3,000 per kilo and RMB 5,000 for imported varieties. Plastics can be pricey too: RMB 1,000 per kilo from the US versus RMB 400 from China. AFS often opts for foreign feedstock, as the better quality can be telling in the printed product.
Materials used in conventional manufacturing can cost 10 to 100 times more by weight when sourced for a 3D printer. The mark-up is partly due to the higher purity and composition standards required for 3D printing. It is also because there are still a small number of suppliers. “For many of these materials, you have to buy from the printer supplier,” like the way consumers buy ink cartridges from desktop 2D printer makers, says Vicari. But analysts expect material prices will fall and the list of options will diversify, as third-party suppliers enter the business.
Materials are not the only thing AFS imports. Laser systems made in China are too unstable to be used in AFS’s industry-grade printers, so the company imports lasers from Coherent in the US that cost more than RMB 100,000 each. The scanners in AFS’s machine used to map objects are from Germany and cost between RMB 150,000-250,000. Importing equipment is expensive and trims the cost advantage of 3D printing against today’s mass manufacturing processes.
While additive manufacturing struggles to take hold on the Chinese factory floor, the advent of inexpensive printers has spawned an expanding ‘maker movement’ of local hobbyists.
“Huge” is how Materialise’s Francois describes this enthusiast side of China’s 3D printing market, which she notes is being spurred by the growing low-end printer market. But she cautions that while there is sizeable public interest, a learning curve is involved.
“It’s not there yet that laobaixing [ordinary people] can just pick a printer up off the street and say, ‘this is my desktop printer, let’s use it.’ It’s not there yet: you need to have some knowledge… an interest. You need to be able to play with the software and the machine a little bit to be able to print out a decent product.”
Whether consumers will want to print simple goods at home is another question. Zeng and Francois both say no, pointing out that consumers today can print digital photos at home but almost never do, preferring the expensive, high-quality machines found at thousands of photo counters and shops.
“If you want to have a nice picture printed, you still go to your printer shop. It’s basically the same. If you want to print something that you have made at home, you can use your 3D printer at home. But if you want a really high-quality good, you will still go to the 3D printer shop,” says Francois.
At-home printing will not become widespread until printers become more reliable and the tools for using them more intuitive. In the meantime, so-called ‘service bureaus’ like Francois’s Materialise will bridge the gap by offering users a far easier entry point.
The company offers on-demand printing, with 90 printers of differing technologies in Belgium. Customers can upload their schematics to an online platform, select materials and have the final product shipped worldwide.
For designers then, additive manufacturing may live up to the hype. The technology opens up possibilities that were previously off-limits due to the constraints of typical production processes. “Industrial designers are educated in a way that they need to think about what they can make… with 3D printing, you can put that aside,” says Francois.
Education in general is poised to reap benefits from the spread of low-cost 3D printing, as schools and academia start integrating the technique into their lessons and curriculum.
Economies of scale and the pace of production mean China’s mass production model bests additive manufacturing for low-cost, high-volume goods. But it is difficult to say how long that advantage will last as 3D printing technology improves.
Rather than pose a threat, 3D printing could instead augment China’s factories. Opportunities exist to make mainstream manufacturing faster, leaner and more efficient. And with China moving up the industry value chain, the integration of 3D printing makes sense for improving development and central processing at factories. Not a threat, but also not a gimmick—3D printing will build upon what’s currently possible to reshape the world.
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Press Release 31.01.2013
Foster + Partners is part of a consortium set up by the ESA to explore the possibilities of 3D printing to construct lunar habitations. Addressing the challenges of transporting materials to the moon, the study is investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter.
The practice has designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.
To ensure strength while keeping the amount of binding “ink” to a minimum, the shell is made up of a hollow closed cellular structure similar to foam. The geometry of the structure was designed by Foster + Partners in collaboration with consortium partners – it is groundbreaking in demonstrating the potential of 3D printing to create structures that are close to natural biological systems.
Simulated lunar soil has been used to create a 1.5 tonne mockup and 3D printing tests have been undertaken at a smaller scale in a vacuum chamber to echo lunar conditions. The planned site for the base is at the moon’s southern pole, where there is near perpetual sunlight on the horizon.
The consortium includes Italian space engineering firm Alta SpA, working with Pisa-based engineering university Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna. Monolite UK supplied the D-Shape™ printer and developed a European source for lunar regolith stimulant, which has been used for printing all samples and demonstrators.
Xavier De Kestelier, Partner, Foster + Partners Specialist Modelling Group:
“As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials – our lunar habitation follows a similar logic. It has been a fascinating and unique design process, which has been driven by the possibilities inherent in the material. We look forward to working with ESA and our consortium partners on future research projects.”
Looking forward to tonight. First meet! Arts University 6 -9pm.
Thursday 7th November 2013
I skipped Uni today and instead visited the 3D Printshow at the Business Design Centre in Islington. What a show! There was a myriad of stands all demonstrating their wares. It primarily focused on 3D printers, 3D scanners, 3D software & filament makers. There were all manner of printers even though my research so far has shown that there are primarily only two types within the entry level FDM sector.
The Delta Tower machine put up a good show and I had a long chat with the man on the stand. He said that. It might be feasible for the company to help out with my project. I will contact them next week! The most help I had was from a company based in China. They supply all the components for manufacturing desktop printers. After an in-depth chat with the technician, it was decided that, yes, it was feasible for my project to work! That was really good news albeit I should contact a robotics specialist.
Another bonus for going was the answer to one of my primary questions : 'Does the build bed have to be perfectly level?' The answer is NO! The Delta Tower machine has a calibration system that determines the angle of the build bed and prints with compensation! Wow!
The filament maker was the only one there at the show. This intrigued me as recyclability is a big issue with the rise of home market printers. The Ethical Filament Foundation had a stand. This showed the start of the use of recycled plastics currently taking place in India. It promoted the sourcing of filament directly from waste picker groups in developing countries. Excellent!
I managed to attend just one seminar. The speaker is Richard Hague, a professor in Innovative Manufacturing from Nottingham University. The subject was 'Exploring the potential of Additive Manufacturing and the move to Multi Functionality'. Great speaker! Lives and breathes the subject. There was a great section on topology optimisation and fluid optimisation. He discussed re-optimised engineering and flow control where using additive manufacturing has the ability to put the path around the flow rather than conventionally putting the flow into the path. Great stuff! I thought I could catch him out with the 'printing in voxels' question but he already had an answer.... We already are! His vision of the future is jetting. He already has a machine with four jet heads capable of spraying four different metals! The heads heat up to 2000 degrees. Apparently, the bonding process is excellent when spraying multi metals. The beauty of this is the fact that the machine is capable of producing objects made from semi-conductor materials. Combine this with Jennifer Lewis batteries (super small - grain of sand sized; can be jetted!) and we are printing electrical systems.
The future looks promising!
Q: Can this m/c print sideways as well as vertical?
Q: Totally mobile? WiFi enabled?
Levels of importance for 3d printing
Low - up to £3000
Medium - up to £ 15,000
High - £50,000 upwards
I intend to set my project in the Low level. This is based on the fact that if one throws enough money at something it can always be achieved.
I intend to find out if it it is feasible to add another axis to an entry level 3D printer enabling it to print large objects. This has been done at the high level with a conveyor belt method. It has also been done with a novel printing method with micro - folded parts.
Q: Can a 3d printer become mobile? Look at Foster's vision of building on the moon.
Q: Can the build size become infinite and does it need to?
Q: Why can we not build a model in one go rather than in smaller parts?
Q: Do I need to look at the space program to see if this is needed?
Q: What if the unit uses GPS or Google Earth to determine the datum?Q: In other words, can the machine datum be moved to the build rather than the build envelope?
Scanned some of my ideas into the web page yesterday. These are helping to define my Project. I hope.....
I JUST BACKED THIS ON KICKSTARTER! WORLD'S FIRST 3D SCANNER FOR IPAD! CAN'T WAIT.....