A small startup, Mobium Solutions, has developed what we believe could be the most important 3D printer accessory ever created.
What is it? ECHODrive is a build plate system that not only ensures print adhesion, but also creates a way to print objects continuously – without human intervention between prints.
We’ve wanted someone to re-invent this capability ever since MakerBot discontinued their work on their “Automated Build Platform” for their original MakerBot CupCake.
For those unfamiliar with the ABP, it was an optional device that consisted of a clear plastic belt that wrapped around the usual heated build plate. Prints were deposited directly on the belt surface, but when complete, the belt rolled around the build plate. When the print reached the curve of the roller, it would simply peel off the belt and fall into a conveniently placed bucket under the printer, if you were smart. Overnight, your bucket would be filled with prints.
This meant the CupCake could theoretically print objects continuously without human intervention, so long as plastic filament was available. It transformed the lowly CupCake from an experimental machine into a manufacturing device.
But alas, MakerBot discontinued work on the ABP and we’ve been left with “single shot” 3D printers ever since.
Until the fellows at Mobium Solutions came up with their new approach to the problem.
Their idea is to cover the existing print surface with a sheet of special adhesive plastic from a continuous roll. The sheet is held flat by a vacuum system, and printing continues on top of the sheet. When the print is complete, the rollers pull a fresh section of plastic sheet onto the print surface, while the completed print is pushed off the bed along with the used portion of the plastic sheet. You can then peel off the print at your leisure while printing continues. This process repeats for as many objects as you like. See how it works in this video:
This process is of extreme utility to modern cloud-based 3D print control solutions, since the Mobium Solutions print surface will permit continuous, completely remote 3D print operations. No one is required to clear the print plate before starting a job anymore! Print queues will actually be meaningful and an office could now practically share a single 3D printer.
The process was created by two engineering students from Penn State, who are commercializing the idea through Mobium Solutions. It seems that they’re intending on launching the product with a crowdfunding campaign sometime in the near future, which we suspect could be quite successful.
While this sounds quite promising, we do have some questions. First, we’d like to know how tricky it might be to remove the completed prints from the sheet. Unless it’s easy, this could prove to be an additional element in the workflow.
Secondly, we’re wondering about costs. How much will the vacuum plate and sheet feeder cost? Is the plastic sheet a one-time use item, or can it be re-used? What would it cost for a roll?
Thirdly, this process is somewhat similar to what Stratasys uses for adhesion on their FORTUS line of 3D printers. They use a plastic sheet held tight with a vacuum as well, but it’s a sheet-by-sheet process, not a continuous roll. The question is, has Mobium Solutions violated any of Stratasys’ patent in this area?
Finally, there is the question of reliability. How fail-safe will this approve be? Will the vacuumed plate prove sufficiently flat to ensure reliable prints?
The answers to these questions will be found when they launch their new product.
Via Mobium Solutions