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Stereolithography, Metal 3D Printing, and A Look to the Future

This month, a few 3D printing technologies have begun to show clear signs of evolution.  Among these evolving technologies is undoubtedly stereolithography, one of the most innovative methods of additive manufacturing.  In fact, it’s so innovative you may not even consider it to be additive manufacturing – thinking of it as something well beyond that realm.

3Ders has caught wind of a brand-new launch of a stereolithography 3D Printer.  Wave3D, which is based in Toronto, Canada, has “just unveiled its first commercial stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer: the Wave3D Pro.”

The Wave3D Pro has been developed “for professional applications such as rapid prototyping and design.”  This stereolithography machine has been in development for the past two years.  Wave3D’s aim with this machine is to offer “an affordable and relatively compact system – something that can enable small and medium-sized businesses to integrate 3D printing technology into their day to day.”

“The 3D printer is a bottom-up SLA machine, which has been rethought and re-engineered in a number of ways.  For instance, the Wave3D Pro integrates a proprietary build tray made using optically clear film rather than silicone.  This film enables users to more easily replace the build tray if it becomes damaged or suffers any wear…this optically clear film also reduces the risk of hazing and sticking, so large prints with wide flat surfaces can be made more easily.  The Wave3D Pro’s tray is also equipped with an automatic resin circulation system, as well as temperature and leveling control for the 3D printing resin.  This means users can work with either a full resin supply or a tray with as little as 1.5 liters of resin in it.”

As for the Wave3D Pro’s build platform size, it is rather spectacular.  “Coming in at 394 x 216 x 559 mm (15.5 x 8.5 x 22 in), the SLA 3D printer is notably larger than many of its competitors…[it] also offers a resolution of 50 microns.”

Despite its large build platform size, however, the Wave3D Pro “can easily fit through any doorway and thus does not require any specialized or extensive installation processes.”

“Wave3D is preparing a ‘demonstration model’ of its 3D printer to be used in a pilot program.  The 3D printer will therefore (for now, at least) be produced on a small scale, putting its price at around $60,000.”

Elsewhere, metal 3D printing has been growing by leaps and bounds.  In fact,  Fortune reports on a startup raising serious money in this niche.

Desktop Metal, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, develop “printing systems [containing] both 3D printers that can produce small objects from metal powders and machines called sinters, which contain microwaves that heat the metal powders, causing them to become dense and useable.”

In Fall of 2016, Desktop Metal raised a surprising $45 million, but now they’ve raised so much more – on top of that!  According to the startup, they have just landed $115 million in funding.  Investment-tracking firm PitchBook “estimates [Desktop Metal] has a post-valuation of $1.02 billion.”

“Among the company’s investors for the latest funding round are New Enterprise Associates, Alphabet’s venture capital arm GV (formerly Google Ventures), GE Ventures, Future Fund, and Techtronic Industries.”

Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop explains “there is such a strong demand for the company’s 3D printers, the new funding frees [Desktop Metal] up to develop new products and meet expectations.”

“One version of Desktop Metal’s 3D printing system sells for $120,000 and was designed to be used by mechanical engineers for prototyping and printing a small number of parts at corporate offices rather than factories.  Desktop Metal is also selling a more capable version of its 3D printing system that can cost around $500,000 and is to be used at factories for mass-producing metal parts.”

“The cheaper version of Desktop Metal’s 3D printing system will ship to customers in Fall [of 2017] while the more expensive version will debut next year.”

Metal 3D printing is, in fact, getting votes of confidence from organizations and institutions all around the world.  The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports on a brand-new type of metal 3D printer which has been developed in Darwin and will be used by a team of scientists at Charles Darwin University in the continent’s Northern Territory.

A $400,000 grant by the Australian government “has allowed Charles Darwin University to acquire the LightSpEE3D printer.”  Spee3D’s Steven Camilleri, who is the co-inventor of this 3D printer, explains: “[we printed a part for an automotive supplier] and we were able to bring the 3D print time down from about 100 to 200 hours to about 20 minutes.  And we were able to bring the cost down from…$3,000-$5,000 to about $30.”  These are astonishing numbers!

As Camilleri continues: “we believe we’ve got a process that suits manufacturing better than some of the existing processes for metal manufacturing.  It’s got to do with convenience so rather than having many, many months and weeks of leave time for parts, we can bring that right down to essentially instantaneous.  Which means your production is smaller and much more cost effective and you can bring in new innovations into the market because you don’t have to worry about tooling costs.”

As for the team at Charles Darwin University, they’ll be able to get their hands on a LightSpEE3D printer of their very own in October of 2017.  Camilleri concludes: “we’ll be doing work with Charles Darwin University essentially looking into different applications for the printer.  We want to scale various uses for the printer that might exist very quickly, so we need more people who might be working on what those opportunities are with us.”

And, finally, we have some speculation on the future of 3D printing.  Apple has recently announced the ARKit, and a new era of augmented reality has begun.  Computerworld wonders what this new world will look like for 3D printing.

“Apple’s move to introduce AR support at a platform level with ARKit means developers – including hardware developers – can now develop sophisticated solutions for a huge market of customers.  They can rely on Apple’s core platforms to develop and deliver integrated solutions that can become part of everyday life.”

Apple’s ARKit “provides a system 3D designers working with other platforms (Unity et al) can develop to….the arrival of ARKit will inevitably kick-start evolution of 3D [augmented reality] design tools.”

“It will soon be easy and accessible for people to get into 3D printing of things they design in Apple’s 3D environments. We’ll see it becoming a key tool for fast product prototyping, and…it’s incredibly likely we’ll also see the evolution of a new form of 3D art…boosted by Apple and ARKit…the 3D industry is about to escape the hobby segment and become mainstream. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

Augmented reality “isn’t just about finding things in imaginary space, but will also enable a new industry of bringing imaginary things into the here and now.”

Just like the wonderful world of 3D printing.

Image Courtesy of Desktop Metal

Quotes Courtesy of 3Ders, Desktop Metal, Fortune, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Apple, and Computerworld

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