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The rise of the super-fast industrial 3D printer

The rise of the super-fast industrial 3D printer

by Signe Brewster

JUN. 19, 2014 – 3:49 PM PDT

Oak Ridge National Laboratory and 3D Systems have been working on two very different takes on how to make 3D printers faster.

3D printers are slow; so slow that in the time it would take to print a screwdriver, you could just drive to the store and pick one up with a half hour to spare. And that’s a problem when a manufacturing job calls for creating units as quickly as possible.

And the frustrating thing is that existing 3D printers could technically print faster. It’s just a matter of using an extruder that puts out thicker ropes of material, allowing the printer to lay down more material with the same number of movements. But thicker layers means sacrificing the printer’s resolution, because the place where one layer ends and the next begins becomes obvious.

So a national lab and a corporation set out in the past year to completely reinvent the concept of the 3D printer. Here’s what they are working on.

Oak Ridge’s monster machine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory decided to make a faster printer by embracing thicker layers. Using Cincinnati Inc.’s huge BAAM 3D printer, it is working toward a machine that could print 200 to 500 times faster than a standard desktop 3D printer.

A few more details about the Oak Ridge-Cincinnati partnership emerged today on 3DPrint.com, which reported that BAAM is capable of printing objects as large as tables and chairs by extruding plastic in layers 0.3 inches wide. Chairs recently on display at the RAPID conference each took about 2 hours and 30 minutes to print. On a normal printer, a chair would take days to print and need to be printed in pieces.

The site also reported that Oak Ridge is considering processing 3D printed objects after they are printed so that they appear smooth. This could involve sanding or treating the plastic with a chemical like acetone, which is commonly used to make desktop printed items smooth.

The lab plans to take orders for the machine around the end of the year, according to 3DPrint.com, and will be capable of producing just a handful every year.

3D Systems bets on the assembly line

Tasked with printing the tiny, highly customized modules that will go into Google’s Project Ara phones, 3D Systems turned to an old concept: the assembly line. The resulting machine, which was described this week, is basically a series of 3D printers along a track. The printers deposit different colors and types of materials on phones whizzing past them on an oval-shaped track.

The system is an ingenious way to work around the typically tricky process of building a full-color 3D printer, which uses just one or a few nozzles to switch back and forth between colors. 3D Systems does make a line of color printers, but even the largest units would have trouble keeping up with the volume of phones Google expects to need.

We’ve become accustomed to plastic-based 3D printers that use one extruder to slowly go back and forth laying down layer after layer of material. But Oak Ridge and 3D Systems are proving that there are other ways, and in the future other techniques could trickle down to desktop 3D printers. The Robox, for example, uses one extruder that prints a large volume of plastic, while a second extruder prints thin strands to add detail.

The first desktop 3D printers, which have driven heavy interest in the 25 year old professional printer industry, only appeared 10 years ago. As the industry continues to mature and become more competitive, it’s safe to say that even more approaches will emerge.

 

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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