Azul 3D announced their first commercially available 3D printer, the LAKE.
The company was founded in 2016 and has been developing the product based on technology work developed at Northwestern University. Since their founding, they’ve received some US$12.5M in investment, which has apparently been sufficient for them to develop their first machine.
The LAKE is a resin 3D printer, where photopolymer resin is selectively solidified using UV light provided by an LED light engine. Their 3D printing process is a bit mysterious to me, and I intend on gathering more information in the near future.
However, their process is called “HARP”, which stands for “High Area Rapid Printing”. HARP is indeed quite rapid, as they explain:
“At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Azul 3D used the LAKE printer to print 5,000 face shields in 60 hours for healthcare workers. That meant every 6 minutes, Azul 3D was able to get 8 face shields off the printer and begin starting the next round of printing.”
That is quite impressive for a single machine.
The LAKE has a build volume of 254 x 305 x 610 mm, which is quite enormous for a resin 3D printer, which typically have small print volumes.
The light engine is powered by a 385nm DLP source that results in 16M individual pixels, each of which is 0.072mm in size. The system apparently allows Azul 3D to crisply project these pixels without the need for shifting pixels, which is perhaps one reason why the machine can provide rapid print speeds.
For materials, Azul 3D explained they:
“Have developed a wide library of resins and post-processing technologies fast enough to keep pace with our printing technology.”
They have not yet released the specific material types, but given the huge range of possibilities with resin, it’s very likely they have some interesting materials to offer.
One interesting feature on the LAKE is a perfectly clear build chamber hood. Normally resin 3D printers use an orange transparent material, which blocks UV light from fouling prints and resin. But in the LAKE, Azul 3D has somehow figured a way to block the UV without using the orange color. I wish more 3D printer manufacturers would use this approach.
There’s two features of the LAKE that intrigue me: the rapid print speed and the rather large print volume. When these two are combined, it is pretty clear this machine is targeted directly at manufacturers. If it is able to produce 5,000 units in 60 hours as they say, imagine what a fleet of LAKEs could do over the course of a month.
Azul 3D CEO Cody Petersen said:
“In the past year, manufacturers have been throttled by supply chain disruptions. At the same time, everyone is demanding more highly engineered solutions immediately. The LAKE printer offers a revolutionary solution to both problems and is the first step in industrializing additive manufacturing at scale.”
This is true: many manufacturers have been scrambling for alternate sources for parts as their supply chains have been disrupted or in some cases destroyed due to the pandemic. Many have turned to 3D printing as a way to locally produce parts, and it seems that Azul 3D wishes to capitalize on that need.
Finally, what’s with that unusual product name? Why would you call a 3D printer, “LAKE”?
The answer is here:
“The LAKE printer is the first in a series of printers that Azul 3D will unveil in the coming years. The next generation printer, called the SEA, will offer four times the print area, allowing manufacturers to print even bigger parts or products.”
I presume the product after that will be “OCEAN”.
Via Azul 3D