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, 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, 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.



About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (, a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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