A new company hopes to launch the first affordable SLS-based 3D printers.
Norge Systems has developed a unique laser engraving system that they’re applying to 3D printing. Their products, the ICE1 and ICE9 SLS 3D printers use the advanced laser system to selectively melt powder in layers to produce 3D objects.
This is the SLS process, or Selective Laser Sintering. Up to now, this technology has been available only to large industrial users able to afford the high cost of the machine and associated equipment. But Norge Systems says their two models will be substantially less expensive, £9,000 and £19,900 respectively (USD$15,000 and USD$33,000). These prices might be more than many people can afford, but they are certainly far less than industrial SLS machines we’ve seen and are likely targeted for architects and other professionals. However, for their launch they’ve priced the ICE1 at only £5,000 (USD$8,324).
What’s the big deal with SLS? It can provide very high resolution prints in a wide variety of materials. Theoretically, any material that can be powdered to a certain size that can also be melted by the 40W laser can be used in the ICE machines. Nylon, for example, would be a candidate material, but many others are also possible, including glass and carbon fiber. Powder-based machines also do not suffer from support issues as surround powder implicitly provides support throughout the print. Print operations also proceed at the same speed regardless of object complexity or size.
The ICE9 is the larger version, as it includes a massive 300 x 300 x 450 build volume. In this chamber you would be able to print huge objects with a layer resolution of 0.1mm. The print speed is between 10-30mm per hour.
The ICE1 is somewhat smaller, but still of very reasonable size: its build chamber is 200 x 200 x 250mm. It’s slightly slower to print than the ICE9 at 8 to 25mm per hour. However, its laser is far less powerful, only 5W.
One concern we have is regarding the environmentals of SLS printing. Industrial SLS use often involves air-sealed rooms for processing powder prints, which can become airborne contaminants. We’re hoping Norge Systems is building appropriate air filters and sealed print canisters for clean processing.
At present they’re raising funds to continue developing the machines via Kickstarter. Their target is a large £250,000 (USD$415,000) and they’ll have to sell around 50 ICE1’s to hit it. (They’re not selling the ICE9 as its price exceeds Kickstarter thresholds). So far it appears they’ve sold a few ICE9’s with many days to go. We’re hoping they succeed, as SLS technology is an area of limited exploration by personal 3D printer operators.