Call us surprised; McorTechnologies seems to have released a new 3D printer without a lot of fanfare.
You may recall Ireland-based Mcor Technologies produces the only 3D printer in existence that uses plain paper as its model material. The company launched with a worldwide following in 2007. Since then the company has continually refined their unusual technology, and announced a full-color 3D printer – again using paper as material – in 2016.
The full-color Arke 3D printer encountered some bumps on its way to production, as we learned from a discussion with then-CEO Conor MacCormack, where he explained that delays were driven by the need to rework the internal design of the machine to better facility proper production manufacturing processes.
We hadn’t heard much since then, believing that the company was still reworking the machine design.
But then at formnext we caught a glimpse of an apparently new Mcor device in a random exhibitor’s booth. The machine was labeled as the “ARKePro”, a machine we’d never heard of.
Evidently Mcor Technologies has been busy.
But what is this new ARKePro? What is different? We asked Mcor Technologies to explain and were provided with some information about the new machine.
Like all their 3D printers, the ARKePro uses paper as its printing material. Each sheet is deftly cut by razor sharp knives in the outline of the specific layer. Subsequent “pages” or layers, in this case, are also cut and glued to the previous page. For speed, the paper is provided in roll form and cut for each page. Gradually an entire object is built up in 3D. At print completion you receive a solid block of paper from the machine’s build chamber, but you simply pull off the loose chunks to reveal the printed object inside.
Their method of applying full color is quite ingenious: before each sheet is cut, the outline of the layer is printed in full color by a standard 2D inkjet mechanism. It’s only a thin edge of color, but when seen edgewise after printing, you have yourself a full-color 3D printed object.
The new ARKePro can 3D print in a build volume of 184 x 168 x 125 mm, and their resolution is specified mechanically as 0.2mm for XY axes, and 0.1mm for layers, which is in fact the paper sheet thickness.
For color resolution they offer 4800 x 2400 DPI on the XY axis, which corresponds to the inkjet system’s capabilities. On the Z axis the color resolution is, of course, 254 DPI, or 0.1mm, the same size as the paper thickness.
We’re told the company started shipping the production ARKePro units only a few weeks ago in November, and it’s priced at approximately US$23K, depending on accessories and options selected.
This is perhaps the least expensive full-color 3D printing option available. While there are some multicolor desktop 3D printers available, they generally cannot produce color gradients or textures in any practical way. There are some rather expensive full-color 3D printers on the market, but while they produce unbelievably realistic prints, that equipment is literally 10X the price of Mcor Technologies’ ARKePro.
Material costs on the ARKePro system are very inexpensive, simply because it requires only common paper, glue and ink. All of these are low-cost commodity items that are vastly less expensive than the proprietary color resins required by alternative equipment.
Full-color 3D printing is definitely not for everyone, however. While most 3D printed prototypes are testing the mechanical aspects of a concept, full-color prototypes can be used to test the “look and feel” of a proposed design.
The ARKePro can definitely do that.