Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are Open Source 3D Printers Really Suitable for Business?

I have to make a disclaimer before going further with this blog. Much of what I will write here is my own viewpoint from what I have read or from conversations I have had with others in the field of 3D printing. The topic is open source 3DP. There are a number of FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers available now in “kit” or open source form. This basically means that anyone can search the internet and find all of the components necessary to build their own FDM printer. Some have assembled the components and offer them for purchase as a kit that you assemble. At first I thought this would be a great way for technical schools to teach about using 3DP as a design tool while at the same time teaching about basic electronics, motion control, and programming. But then I started wondering how many times the kit could be disassemble and reassembled as new students enrolled in the appropriate course. Open source clearly is a way to buy into 3D printing technology at a relatively bargain price. Still, the cost is in the thousands of dollars and from what I can gather the printed part quality is not, at present, all that impressive. Layer thickness is about .012 of an inch which means distinct vertical lines throughout the part. Feature size limit is .080 of an inch which means that many small features simply cannot be printed.

In his blog last week, Al Dean of Develop3D had this to say:

“Many have been talking about the mass adoption of 3D printing for some time, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s going to turn into that world where everyone has a 3D printer in their home for a good long while, if at all. At present, there are dramatically lower cost options available, but these are aimed at the hobbiest looking to take on some new technology and give it a whirl. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when you’re a professional organisation looking to bring your prototyping needs in house, you need something that’s lower maintenance, that produces more repeatable results and that you can get high-level support for when problems occur. Z Corp admitted that its not looking to dramatically erode the price levels rather continuing to lower things gradually as it can conduct cost economics and redesign work to bring the cost down in increments. After all, these products are aimed at professionals, as they most likely will for many years to come, and that means that a robust product that produces the results, is more desirable than chopping the margins out of the machines in a dramatic manner."

Who then is buying open source FDM printers? It isn’t clear to me that there is an industrial, true business application for open source 3DP. Do you agree? Let me know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Announcing Two Additions to ZPrinter Product Line: ZPrinter 150 and ZPrinter 250

Today's guest blogger is John Kawola, Z Corporation CEO.

Today I’m happy to announce two additions to our award-winning ZPrinter product line: the ZPrinter 150 (entry-level monochrome) and the ZPrinter 250 (entry-level multicolor). These new affordable, business-class 3D printers make 3D printing available to every designer, engineer, architect and student.

ZPrinter 150                     ZPrinter 250

With a smaller footprint than the rest of our line, these new ZPrinters make great, industrial-quality parts while delivering Z Corp.’s trademark speed and affordability.

ZPrinter 150 monochrome 3D printed model
ZPrinter 250 multicolor 3D printed model (apply text, color, logos)

With our recently announced ZBuilder Ultra plastic rapid prototyping system and our comprehensive ZPrinter product line, Z Corp. uniquely provides a single source for both inkjet 3D printing and plastic DLP rapid prototyping solutions, which means we provide engineers and designers with solutions for all stages of the product design/development process – from early-stage concept modeling through form, fit and functional testing.

I invite you to learn more about the ZPrinter 150: and about the ZPrinter 250:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ZPrinter Product Differences

When we make a decision to introduce a new product, it is important to us to increasingly add value to the customer. But value can be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes more is less. For example, our entry level and education product is the ZPrinter® 310 Plus. This is a legacy product and does not offer many of the automated material handling capabilities of the ZPrinter 350, ZPrinter 450 and ZPrinter 650. So, what’s the difference?

The main feature categories for our printers are build volume, resolution, and color. There are others of course but let’s focus on these. The ZPrinter 310 Plus is a monochrome printer. It can print almost any color you want but just one color at a time. For instance you can put yellow binder in the printer and print yellow parts or you can mix yellow and cyan and print a greenish color part. By mixing yellow, cyan and magenta you can achieve almost any color of the rainbow.

The ZPrinter 450 introduced automated powder and binder handling. The build volume is the same as the ZPrinter 310 Plus (8”x10”x8”) but the loading of binders and powder is fully automated through the use of cartridges. When the printer calls for more binder the user simply plugs in a new cartridge and the printer is ready to go. Any powder that is not part of the model is automatically recycled back into the printer. The ZPrinter 450 is a full color printer. You can paste a jpg image onto your 3D data and it will be printed directly onto your model. This is any color, on demand, just like your color printer at home but in 3D. Resolution for the ZPrinter 310, ZPrinter 350 and ZPrinter 450 is 300 x 450 dpi. This measurement is similar to a home or office inkjet printer.

Automatic Powder Loading on ZPrinter 450

Model printed on ZPrinter 450

The 450 is a very powerful tool but if you need even better color, resolution and size, the ZPrinter 650 is a better choice. With a 10”x15”x8” build volume, 600 x 540 dpi, and a separate black color channel in addition to yellow, cyan and magenta, this printer offers the best color, resolution and print size, in addition to all of the automated material handling features offered in the ZPrinter 450 class.

Model printed on ZPrinter 650

This is just a quick snapshot of how our ZPrinters differ from one another. I hope it is helpful. As always I am curious about your thoughts. Which product characteristic is the most important to you? If we designed a product just for you would what build size would you want? Would it be a color printer or monochrome?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Calling for ZBlog Topics

I started this MCAD-focused ZBlog about two months ago and have talked about a wide variety of topics. They range from general topics such as “what is 3DP?” to more specific technical topics such as adding threaded inserts to 3DP parts. We’ve talked about color, the interesting research of George Hart, various uses for 3DP and some of the interesting projects by our R&D staff. The following has been strong and continues to grow which is very exciting. The comments so far have been inquisitive and supportive. When we talked about where to find free 3D model data there were many contributions adding favorite sites to the list.

As we move forward in the coming months we will be talking about many more 3DP topics in the MCAD world. Topics will include various tips and tricks to successful printing, file formats, a look inside the R&D department, guest bloggers and more. As you have probably noticed I end most of my blogs with a question. I think one of the reasons I first became an engineer is because I am naturally curious. I am curious now about what topics you would like us to write about? What are you interested in the most?