By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Design
A new 3-D printer is the size of a milk carton and can produce smaller objects that require exceptional attention to detail, such as spare parts or jewelry.
Despite all the hype over 3-D printing's potential to revolutionize manufacturing, the one thing that just doesn't sit well with me is that very term: "3-D printer."
Just the name can give this misleading impression that these "printers" can be set up right next to your desktop computer or installed at a local Kinko's, when in reality they're hulking machines that weigh several hundred pounds and are primarily geared toward industrial projects. Even the relatively new desktop versions weigh as much as the average adult.
However, a new portable device developed by scientists at the Vienna University of Technology may change all that.
The 3-D printer, which researchers claim is the world's smallest, has the form factor of a milk carton, weighs about 3.3 pounds and is expected to cost $1,700 dollars, which is remarkably affordable compared to the six-figure price tag of some of the heavy-duty machines.
The device obviously can't be used to print out furniture like the bigger boys; It's designed to produce smaller objects that require exceptional attention to detail, such as spare parts or jewelry.
Three dimensional printers "print" out objects using “additive manufacturing technology,” a process in which the source material is layed out one layer at a time based on design specifications. In this case, the object is printed in a small tub using a special form of synthetic resin as the source material. Focused beams of light causes the resin to harden at specific spots. When one layer hardens, the next layer can be attached to it, until the object is completed
One advantage of additive manufacturing is the fact that it offers users the ability to produce tailor-made and adjustable items. The individual layers hardened by the light beams are just a twentieth of a millimeter thick, making it suitable for objects that require a high degree of precision – such as construction parts for hearing aids. And unlike previous models, the printer at TU Vienna uses light emitting diodes or high intensity light that can be focused at very well-defined positions.
Additionally, the researchers are experimenting with a variety of different 3D-techniques and materials. These include special ceramics or polymers and eco-friendly biodegradable substances. They're also working on ways to shrink the printer down even more, which would make even inkjet printers look like big, clunky Goliaths.
“We will continue to reduce the size of the printer, and the price will definitely decrease too, if it is produced in large quantities”, says researcher Klaus Stadlmann.
Image: Vienna University of Technology
More 3-D technologies:
- 3-D printing advances, producing a flute
- Video: smart navigation system turns car dashboard into interactive 3-D display
- 3-D to make window shopping more interactive
May 17, 2011
The best example was the one provided in the article, the creation of a custom fit hearing aid. I can likewise see the creation of custom make up as well temporary crowns for teeth, etc. I can also see it being used to fix things. Someone chips an object and you use this to create an exact fitting component. Sort of like bondo is used for a car. It would still need finishing, but it would allow for a more intricately shaped replacement to be made.
I'd like to see an article addressing the material used in these things and how it will effect the quality and value of the object printed (for the non-scientists among us). What I'm interested in knowing is, if furniture is printed on one, what will the furniture be made of (I assume not wood)? This article talks about jewelry. How valuable will a piece of jewelry be if it's made of this "resin"? Exquisite detail is probably less important than whether the piece is gold, silver or "resin".
A smaller and more accurate device is highly possible. utilizing piezo electric positioning and a linear encoder with normal 20,000 lines per inch resolution and make each line have 16 binary bit resolution. Sub micron positioning repeatability is within reach. Randy
Reproductions, whatever the size, will only be practical for things where the physical characteristics of the hardened resin - strength & resistance to heat come to mind - are adequate for the use. For uses that are visible - such as jewelry - rather than hidden - such as spare parts - the reproduction will be painted or even metal plated before it is put to use.
Ultimately, all the materials used will do is create a base line of "value" for those materials ability to be reused. For the initial object the cost will be higher because you need to pay for the designers time. Additional copies or the right to exclusivity will effect the price since the design cost is spread out. With regards to materials, you are dealing with a completely separate issue. Jewelry sells for much more than the "melt" value of the raw materials. "Value" will vary depending on the perception of the potential buyers more than the mere materials. Consider a Baseball card. One with a popular player sells for much more than one of someone of less popularity even though the materials used to create those cards are identical. Likewise, the same applies to the art world. People pay quite a bit for ordinary materials used in "new" ways. Personally, it seems stupid to me, but that's not relevant. Yes, in all likelihood the one made from gold will sell for more than the one made from silver, given the exact same design and print runs. But if the silver one is a proto-type of extreme limited edition it may in fact sell for more than the gold, provided there are 2 sufficiently monied collectors willing to fight over it. Some guy spent, I think, $50,000 for a sealed copy of a Nintendo game that was rare simply because it was so terrible that no one wanted it at the time and thus became rare since they were made in limited quantities and the unsellable remaining pieces thrown away.
although, it would probably end up taking months to print one thing if it's at that resolution. But it would be pretty awesome to have a printer that has all of the base elements in little containers and throw them all together to print out literally anything. But that's more than a little ways off. :P
Resin isn't the only way to go. Selective Laser Sintering can fuse metal powders. So you will one day be able to print gold earrings, steel bolts, etc. The "collector's value" will cease to mean anything, as anybody will be able to own an identical copy. One day... Mona Lisa copies, hanging in every home, identical to the atom with the original. And combining different metals will create super-strong materials. Fuel valves with the toughness of steel, the corrosion resistance of titanium, vanadium, and the slickness of Aluminum Magnesium Boride alloy.
Wouldn't the need to metal plate the finished product considerably reduce the advantages of "printing" it in the first place?
Are you saying these "printers" will use silver, for example? That they can use any material they like to print the product? I get the impression they only use this nebulous substance referred to in this article as "resin" and, if so, the question would be: is "resin" better or worse than what the product would have been made of otherwise. I mean we're reading what wonderful things these 3D printers are but what are they really practical for? In the case of furniture, wood is most often the material used. The question is: will "resin" be better or worse than wood as a practical matter? Will it last as long? Will it tarnish more or less easily? Will it ignite more or less easily, etc., etc. In the case of jewelry, it's unlikely this "resin" stuff is going to command the same price as gold or silver. In fact, nobody is likely to want jewelry made of "resin", even if someone, at some point, adds gemstones. If such is the case, in the matter of jewelry, these printers will create only what goes in bubble gum machines. I'm just trying to find out what stuff that gets "printed" is going to be made of.
But "resin" is what fiber-glass is made of. Well, resin and glass. Ordinary glassing resin is clear and will harden if heated, so laser-ing it with a point focus is an easy way to "print" something. What results is a plastic part, not fine enough for real jewelry. This would be great for modeling... one could just fabricate the parts, since resins are a common modeling material. The fabricator would have to be bigger, though.