Eleven Important Events for 3D Printing in 2013

It’s the end of another year and time to reflect on what has transpired. In the world of 3D printing, it’s great deal. 2013 had to have been the most momentous year in the history of 3D printing. Let’s look at some of the big events of the year.
  1. The ongoing acquisitions of smaller 3D print-related companies by the giants, Stratasys (who acquired MakerBot) and 3D Systems, who acquired companies too numerous to mention in 2013, most recently Village Plastics.  
  2. The ongoing controversy of 3D printed weapons as triggered by Defense Distributed. Most recently the US government extended the ban on such weapons
  3. The explosion of 3D printing into the retail space, including new stores for MakerBot, a dedicated 3D printing store (iMakr) in London, sales at Staples, Harrods, Tesco and more. 
  4. Stratasys’ lawsuit against Afinia, in what could be the beginning of a series of legal actions that could fundamentally reshape the personal 3D printing industry. 
  5. The beginning of a release for intricate 3D scans previously held privately by major institutions
  6. New personal 3D scanning equipment, such as MakerBot’s digitizer and 3D Systems’ Sense handheld scanner
  7. The explosion of attendance at 3D printing conferences, including London’s 3D Printshow.
  8. The new focus on unusual 3D print materials, by both small hobby equipment makers and the big guys.
  9. The massive success of Kickstarter-based 3D printing companies, including Formlabs, who just raised USD$19M, Pirate 3D and the world’s first USD$100 3D printer.
  10. The rise of crowdsourced 3D print services from companies such as MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs.
  11. The incredible public interest and awareness of 3D printing, which even reached presidential levels

Africa’s Octo-Choco-Printer

We’ve heard about chocolate 3D printers before, but never one like this. Fouche Chocolates of South Africa, and specifically its engineer Hans Fouche has developed an eight-nozzle chocolate printer for producing custom delicacies. 
A detailed report on htxt.africa takes you through Fouche’s development process, which explains how the printer is used to create “edible name plates” and custom-lettered chocolate bars. 
Fouche will also produce custom designed large chocolate sculptures if asked. However, there are challenges: 
A lot of the designs were very ambitious. It was only through our experience with 3D printing chocolate that we were able to help the artists to realise what is actually possible. The best are always simple and not over complicated, because chocolate is difficult to work with, it does not support itself very well.
But here’s something even more interesting:  
His most impressive achievement, however, is a giant RepRap 3D printer which stands well over two meters tall and takes up most of his garage. Originally designed for making giant, one off chocolate sculptures, Fouche retired it as the economics of using it to make sweets didn’t work out.
And the extra calories, too, we suspect. 

Wait, How Big Will 3D Printing Become?

Market Intelligence company IDC forecasts 3D printing will grow “ten times” by 2017 and that “worldwide hardware value will more than double in the short term.”
They suggest that 2D printer companies such as HP and Konica Minolta may enter the 3D market by partnering with existing 3D printing companies. 
The forecasted growth seems almost ridiculous, but we suspect it may come true. With  observed market momentum, huge research and development budgets from the big companies and seemingly endless experimentation from smaller startups, it’s clear that things are about to happen. 
Stay tuned. 

3D Printed Underwear?

A UK firm has revealed plans to produce a line of apparently 3D printed underwear. Tamicare has developed a new process that is said to enable 3D printed fabric, which they intend to produce underwear with, at least at first. 
The fabric generated through this process is trademarked as “CosyFlex”. It’s not entirely clear to us how this process works, but they say: 
Patterns, perforations, embossing and decorations may be created by printing on a 3D structured base plate. Our innovations in equipment components, the production process and fabric characteristics are protected by patents.
They claim they can produce “instant” creation of fabric products with their “fully automated process”. They can produce fabric from “natural latex, silicon, polyurethane, teflon, cotton, viscose, polyamide” and more. 
A look through this video of their production process doesn’t reveal much. We can’t see a 3D printing-like activity, although the process seems to take place quite quickly, suggesting their mass production capability could be true. 
If this process is truly 3D printed, it could be the beginning of a new phase in 3D printed fashion, which up to now has been limited to more-or-less solid objects. 

3D Printing Tall!

Most 3D printers have a significant limitation: size. The build volume dictates much about the things you produce on your device. 
Typically stated as a three axis volume, and rarely in liters, your standard personal 3D printer likely has a build volume of between 100-200mm per axis. Some machines have a relatively small volume, say 120 x 120 x 120mm, whereas more expensive machines have larger 200 x 200 x 200mm volumes. 
In every case you have to find 3D models that fit within that volume - or you’re faced with the prospect of segmenting your model into pieces and gluing together separate prints later. 
That is, unless you have access to a tall 3D printer. 
We’ve been checking out some delta 3D printers recently. These machines use a different mechanical concept for moving their extruders during builds, a concept that often permits printing of very tall items. One such printer, the Delta Tower, actually can print items up to 580mm in height. 
However, while delta printers exhibit tremendous height, their build volumes usually aren’t much wider than any other 3D printer. So you print tall, slim things. Is that bad? 
We think not. Having examined multiple tall prints up close we’re coming to the conclusion that there are a great many objects that fit into tall, slim volumes - perhaps more so than short, wide objects. It may be that “tall” is the right build volume for most people. 
Are we correct? Take a look at your shelf of 3D prints (and we know you have one; all 3D printer owners love to display their successful prints). Look at the shape of your typical prints? It’s likely they are more tall than wide. 
Wouldn’t they look spectacular if printed 500mm tall? 

Design of the Week: Spider Table

This week’s selection is the “Spider” table created by UK designer Daneil Widrig, who produced this work as a private commission. It’s made from 3D printed titanium, using an SLM process, and a slab of glass. 
The table is quite large by 3D printing standards; it’s 2.05 x 1.0 x 0.73 meters, but just right for an incredible table in your home or office. 
We’re impressed with the transformation of the design’s startling complexity at the fine detail level into clear, curvy support structures holding up the glass sheet. While seemingly made from metal toothpicks, this structure is obviously strong enough to support a heavy piece of glass. 

Something’s Going on at MakerBot

It finally hit us: something’s happening at MakerBot recently. We’ve noticed a couple of actual sales of their equipment, culminating with this rather striking Amazon deal. For the price of USD$2,799, you can obtain:
  • A Replicator 2
  • A Digitizer
  • Two spools of plastic filament
Normally, this combination would sell separately for $3,695, but they’re knocking the price down by an amazing USD$896. Quite the deal, isn’t it?  
But wait a second - with the astonishing and exponentially growing demand for 3D printers, the utter lack of discounts by almost every other 3D printer vendor, why would MakerBot drop prices? 
At first we thought perhaps they felt their prices were too high. Maybe they are, but we understand sales are proceeding well. But there’s another reason. 
MakerBot must be attempting to clear out their inventory in anticipation of announcing a new device, likely at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. It makes sense, as MakerBot tends to announce a new printer each year and the Rep2 is a year old. Likely it will be discontinued, or perhaps relegated to a second tier on their sales shelf. But the Digitizer too? It was released only months ago. Could it also be replaced with a newer model? 
We’ll find out next week. 
Via Amazon

3D Systems Steps Into Multi-Material 3D Printing

3D Systems offers a very large suite of 3D printers, from personal to industrial, but none offered before has the capability of their new ProJet 5500x. What’s so different about it? 
The ProJet 5500x can print in multiple materials. 
To put that in perspective, the only other manufacturer that’s offered such a capability is Stratasys, through their Objet line that uses the Polyjet process. 3D Systems now includes MultiJet Printing (MJP) capability in the 5500x. 
This means that you can load two different kinds of materials into the 5500 and the print head will “precisely mix” them at the instant of printing. You can print mixes of hard and soft parts, mixes of colors, etc. This is a significant capability that is now offered by two companies. 
The 5500x currently can use three different materials: 
  • A rigid, ABS-like white material
  • A flexible, black rubber-like material
  • A Clear, polycarbonate-like material
This car was printed on the 5500x, including the soft tires. 
This is an example of mixing clear with a rigid plastic. 
Choose any two and start mixing! That is, if you can afford the USD$250,000 price tag on the 5500x. 

The LulzBot TAZ 3 Personal 3D Printer

LulzBot has released a new version of their popular TAZ personal 3D printer: 3.0. The new version includes several evolutionary improvements, including additional metal parts and a quicker-to-print-ready heated bed. 
The TAZ is an open-air 3D printer, meaning the heated bed is more important to avoid warping if you’re printing ABS plastic. TAZ has some impressive specifications: 
  • Large build volume of 298 x 275 x 250mm
  • Layer size as small as 0.075mm - although prints at that resolution would take a long time! 
  • Supported 3.0mm filaments include: ABS, PLA, PVA, HIPS, Wood
We’re quite impressed with the toolkit that comes with each TAZ: 
  • Toolkit bag
  • 15 Piece Metric Hex Key Set
  • Pliers, Needle Nose
  • Tweezers
  • Standard Precision Knife
  • Dental Pick
  • Flathead Bristle Brush
  • Part Removal Knife (clam knife)
  • Metric Ruler
  • Acetone-safe Bottle (acetone not included)
The acetone bottle is a very nice touch for those that intend on smoothing their ABS prints. About the only thing more we’d want is a digital micrometer, but the TAZ toolkit will definitely work for you. 
If you have USD$2,195 burning a hole in your wallet and able to wait 1-2 weeks for shipping, you too can have a LulzBot Taz in your possession. 

Controversy Surrounds the Picaso 3D Printer?

We wrote earlier on the Russian-made Picaso Designer 3D printer. Now we’ve seen some evidence of strange goings-on in that company’s market. Picaso issued a press release stating (via translation): 
Due to the spread of false information and the advent of the Internet many sites do not have permission to sell products Picaso 3D, the company Picaso 3D officially declares the following:
1. Company Picaso 3D is the first and currently the only Russian company that develops and sells successfully desktop 3D printers.
2. Information about the company's products Picaso 3D, the list of official distributors and product certificates posted on the official website of the company http://www.picaso-3d.ru
3. Official groups on social networks are located at https://vk.com/picaso_3d and https://www.facebook.com/groups/Picaso3D . Companies and individuals interested in the official distributors or partnerships with Picaso 3D can send a request that cooperation through the form on the site http://www.picaso-3d.ru
Whew! We’re not quite sure what’s transpired here, but it seems that you’d best double check the seller of that Picaso 3D printer you’re hoping to purchase. If you don’t purchase from an authorized reseller, you may find that you have no support. 
Via Picaso

Miniature DMLS Prints Tiny Metal Parts

A joint venture between 3D-Micromac AG and EOS Gmbh has created a new micro-laser sintering technology (MLS) that can be used to create miniature metal components.
While the two firms have been developing MLS technology since 2006 under the name of 3D MicroPrint, it was only last year that the technology was mature enough the begin operations in a research setting.
According to Han J. Langer, CEO of EOS, “Demand for very small parts which are difficult to manufacture using conventional processes is rising tremendously. Micro Laser Sintering provides solutions for three major trends: individualization, functional integration, and miniaturization.”
Read more at ENGINEERING.com

China Filament for your 3D Printer: Yes or No?

Owners of personal 3D printers require a supply of plastic filament to fuel their favorite device, but where should they purchase it from? 
The obvious and first answer is to simply buy it from the manufacturer of your printer. Most manufacturers, especially the larger manufacturers, often have a division that will sell you a selection of filament spools that “fit” your machine, both physically and chemically. The thinking is that by controlling the chemistry of the filament, they can tune the machine and software configuration to extrude optimally. 
But often the cost of filament is high - and sometimes very high if it’s packaged in proprietary containers. So are there alternatives? 
Aside from the usual sources, we took a quick look at going direct to China for filament using the popular manufacturer sales site, Alibaba. As an example, we checked out the offer from Guangzhou Flythinking Macromolecule Material Limited, who sell a variety of ABS and PLA filament. 
For PLA, GFMML sells 1kg spools at a cost between USD$5 and USD$15 per spool. This is significantly less expensive than conventional sources, who can charge USD$30, USD$50 or more for a 1kg spool of PLA. 
GFMML provides volume discounts, with the highest volume receiving the lowest price: USD$5/kg. However, they do offer the ability to purchase a single spool at USD$15. Note: if you’re looking through such offers at Alibaba, be certain to verify the minimum order requirement. Some manufacturers require minimums of quantity 1000, for example. You might order a shipping container of plastic by accident! You’ll also have to pay for shipping and any import duties imposed by your region. 
GFMML offers PLA in a decent set of colors, so why not go ahead? There are a couple of potential concerns: 
  • Color consistency between batches may be an issue. Sure, the filament is only USD$15 per spool, but you might get surprised after loading the next spool. 
  • Filament diameter should be very consistent to avoid jams. GFMML specifies pretty good characteristics in this regard, but some manufacturers don’t mention it. 
  • Colors are sometimes implemented with toxic lead-based pigments. You don’t want lead particles floating around your home. Look for a safety statement from the manufacturer. 
And if that isn’t enough, you also may wish to support local plastics manufacturers instead of going overseas. 
If you can find a manufacturer that provides a safe and consistent quality filament at low cost, that’s should be your choice. But you may be surprised to find that it’s a local manufacturer. 

Public or Private? How Ownership Affects 3D Printing Companies

There are two kinds of 3D printer companies these days: privately held or publicly traded. We believe the company type affects how they interact with the rest of the industry. 
Most small firms are privately held by the founders or a small group of investors. The largest companies, most notably Stratasys and 3D Systems, are publicly traded on stock markets. If you like, you could actually own a piece of either or both. Over the past few years you would have made quite a return on your money. 
But what does it mean to be publicly traded? It means that the company must follow a fairly rigid set of financial reporting rules set down by relevant governments and regulatory agencies. Essentially, their actions must be transparent to the shareholders; they cannot misrepresent any financial data or they might be guilty of attempting to manipulate their stock prices. 
In practice, it means they must report to their shareholders and the public (who are all potential shareholders) on a regular basis. Quarterly reports are issued with statistics on what’s happening. 
Should anything negative happen, public reaction could be to sell their shares, thus driving down the price of the stock. This would be a bad thing, so publicly traded companies do everything they can to maintain consistent growth. No surprises. 
In a sense it does tie their hands. Should a company need to make a major transition to a new technology that requires significant investment (and therefore temporary losses or reductions in income), publicly companies are at a disadvantage. They can’t really do that without blowing out their stock price. 
On the other hand, privately held companies can do more or less what they wish, so long as they convince their small set of private shareholders they’re doing the right thing.  
Privately held companies can be more nimble than public ones because of this. 
Ironically, however, the two largest companies in 3D printing, 3D Systems and Stratasys, are going gangbusters developing new products and acquiring new talent and companies. 
It just demonstrates how intensely competitive the 3D printing market is these days. 


Three Delta 3D Printers: How To Tell Them Apart

Recently we’ve seen an increase in the number of “delta” 3D printers being produced. “Delta” refers to the rather unique extruder mechanical movement: arms attached to three towers intelligently coordinate “tipping motions” to smoothly move a level extruder platform through the build volume. 
These machines are easy to recognize: three tall posts with an armature suspended between them. They’re often 3D printing fantastically tall objects, far larger than can be done in conventional “XYZ Cartesian” 3D printers. 
But sometimes they’re hard to tell apart. We at Fabbaloo see a great many new 3D printers coming by, but something confused us recently. There’s the Delta Tower, Deltaprintr and the DeltaMaker. They’re all delta printers with very similar names. 
How can you tell them apart? Here’s a quick guide.
The Delta Tower is designed for commercial use. It’s an expensive unit, but it should be as it provides the tallest print volume of any personal 3D printer (580mm) - and includes a self-leveling bed. We examined this unit in person at the recent 3D Printshow in London. It’s priced at USD$8000. 
The Deltaprintr is a very inexpensive way to get into delta printing, at only USD$500! For that price you’ll receive a complete kit to build the printer yourself. It’s possible to purchase an assembled version for USD$655, also a great deal. The Deltaprintr cannot print as tall as the 580mm Delta Tower, but can accomplish 305mm. Deltaprintr also offers an XL version able to print even higher, but as of this writing its height is “To Be Determined”. It should be a simple matter of lengthening the three aluminum supports. By the way, their Kickstarter campaign remains open until January 4th, if you’re interested in this machine. 
The Deltamaker is said to be a “clean and elegant personal 3D printer built on a delta robot platform”, and it certainly appears to be so. The USD$1,999 device can print up to 279mm tall, somewhat less than the other two deltas described here. 
If these three don’t suit you, there are plenty of alternative delta printers available that don’t happen to include the word “delta” in their name, such as the Rostock. 
Three delta 3D printers, each with very different characteristics. Choose wisely. 

The Picaso Designer 3D Printer

Region manufacturers seem to exist in every area. That paradigm continues with the Russian-made Picaso Designer personal 3D printer. 
It’s a filament-based device, like many regional machines, capable of printing either PLA or ABS plastic, offering fairly typical specifications: 
  • Build volume of 200 x 200 x 200mm
  • Layer size of 0.05mm
  • Minimum wall thickness of 0.19mm
  • Standalone machine using USB or SD card gcode input
  • Two nozzles sizes, 0.30 and 0.15mm
  • Display panel to monitor print operations
But then you’ll notice a few advanced features: 
  • Enclosed (and heated) build chamber to minimize ABS warping effects
  • Automatic calibration of the print bed
  • Russian-specific software interface
We’re quite interested in the heated chamber; this is likely a violation of Stratasys’ patents, but as the Picaso is not sold directly in USA so we do not expect lawsuits. 
The fully-assembled unit can be obtained for RUB 99,000, or USD$3000. 
Should you consider the Picaso Designer? If you’re located in Russia, certainly - the company can provide service, support and handle enquiries in Russian at the correct times of day. 
If you’re not in Russia or even Europe, it might be a stretch to go for a Picaso. But that’s the beauty of regional manufacturers: they can provide excellent support tuned to the area they market within. 
Via Picaso

Lulzbot Simplifies Life for a Mouthguard Manufacturer

We’re reading a case study in which manufacturer Megalodon Sports managed to save considerable cash and time by 3D printing prototypes of their new mouthguard product. 
Now, we know you’re thinking that this is going to be one of those standard stories where a manufacturer saves thousands by moving their prototyping from expensive CNC milling processes to 3D printing. 
It isn’t. 
Megalodon Sports actually was using 3D printing for prototyping - but they were using large-scale industrial 3D print services. Their discovery was that they could produce viable prototypes using a basic Lulzbot personal 3D printer at far lower cost than the “conventional” 3D print services. They moved from a cost of USD$200-400 per prototype to around USD$5 each. The LulzBot paid for itself “within a matter of months.”
This move is not one that can always be made by small manufacturers; it depends on the nature of your product, as the personal 3D printers are not as capable as large-scale commercial devices. But they will work in some circumstances, as Megalodon Sports discovered. 

The Growth of 3D Printing Stocks

This blog has a number of years under its belt. We first published on October 27th, 2007, a period when 3D printing was not well known outside of a small set of industrial users. Much has happened since then. 
At that time there were two major 3D printing companies, 3D Systems and Stratasys, who had independently invented different 3D printing processes in the 1980’s. You could buy shares in those companies back than. 
But what if you had? How has the growth of their stock prices been? 
Spectacular. But let’s examine a potentially real scenario. Let’s say you had USD$1,000 to invest. Say you bought USD$1,000 in shares of Stratasys on October 27, 2007. Where would your investment be today, had you held on to it? 
Stratasys stock price Oct 26, 2007: $30.27
Stratasys stock price Dec 20, 2013: $125.87
This is a multiple of 4.15X, meaning your USD$1,000 would have become USD$4,158 today. It would have been even larger had you purchased during the 2008 downturn, where Stratasys’ stock price bottomed out at $11.84 in November 2008. 
Not a bad deal. Too bad we didn’t put USD$100,000 in back then… 


London's Science Museum Goes Online with 3D Printing

The London Science Museum, whom we visited recently, is displaying a huge collection of 3D printed objects in their "3D Printing The Future" exhibit. That massive collection is apparently not sufficient for them, as they've launched a new Tumblr blog for folks to post pictures of their best 3D prints. 
And what a set of designs you can see! 
While there are a few "basic" 3D printed objects, there are many very complex designs and frequently they've been finished in unusual materials or paints. We're particularly fascinated by several suits of Japanese armor that currently top the list. 
A good place to see great designs - and submit them if you have some. 

The Kevvox 3D Printer

We had a close look at the Kevvox 3D printer at EuroMold. It uses a resin-based process, as so many new 3D printers seem to these days, but the results are quite spectacular. 
Three years in development, the Kevvox uses long-lasting LED lighting to cure the several resins offered. They offer a wax resin for casting, an ABS-like resin and a high-temperature-capable resin. Two models are offered with differing build volumes and resolutions: 
  • Kevvox SP4300, 56 x 35 x 100mm 0.043mm resolution
  • Kevvox SP6200, 80 x 50 x 100mm 0.062mm resolution
The larger is priced at USD$25,500, while the smaller unit goes for USD$21,500. So far, Kevvox tells us they've sold "hundreds" of them. 
What got to us was the incredible detail on the prints, as you can see here. This fellow, for example, is only 80mm tall. Click on the image to see the full level of detail. 
If you need this level of resolution, you might want to check out Singapore-based Kevvox. 
Via Kevvox

Who Will Stratasys Acquire Next?

While attending EuroMold the other week we happened to listen in to a media talk by Stratasys CEO David Reis, who spoke about Stratasys' progress over the past year. But one part of his talk was more intriguing than the rest. 
Reis explained that Stratasys had issued shares several months ago to raise funds. This, we knew already. The public offer closed on September 18th and apparently raised some USD$463M. That's a lot of money, and we assumed it was to fund the MakerBot acquisition. 
Apparently this is not the case. Reis explained that the offer was to raise money to "fund future acquisitions"
Now the question is, who, exactly are they intending to purchase? Our guess is that Stratasys will pursue a company able to produce metal 3D printers, as that is: 
  • A capability not currently in Stratasys' arsenal
  • Is a capability of their competitor, 3D Systems, who recently acquired Phenix Systems
In fact, 3D Systems made a big splash showing off their five-ton metal 3D printer at EuroMold (image above). Stratasys doesn't have anything like it.