Now that we’ve gone over the different “classes” of 3D printers and dived into an exploration of the top desktop 3D printers on the market, the next logical step would be to introduce the most popular ranges of Office, Professional Grade, and Production 3D printers. These printers are more expensive, high-powered and (usually) much larger than their smaller counterparts.
We will begin this overview with Objet-Stratasys. A few months ago, Objet and Stratasys were two separate companies. But in April 2012, they merged, while retaining two separate headquarters in Israel (Objet) and Minnesota (Stratasys). The newly merged company is now estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, with Stratasys shareholders owning 55% and Objet shareholders owning 45%. While Objet-Stratasys may streamline both their product lines so that they’re not competing with each other in the future, for now at least, Objet and Stratasys have distinct lines of 3D printers.
Objet Connex 350 Stratasys Mojo
Stratasys is known for its patented Fused Deposition Modeling technology, which allows their printers to produce parts made from highly durable thermoplastics, which are used in digital manufacturing and prototyping. Objet printers, on the other hand, produce products with very high-surface finish and feature detail, but they have a lower durability. (This means they are great for companies that need visual verification of concept models and prototypes)
As Shane Glenn, Stratasys’ investor relations director says, “when we combine the two companies, we can go to the customer and offer them the best of both worlds. We can offer them platforms that will enable them to do visual verification and at the same time offer them a commercial product that allows them to conduct fit and functional testing of their designs.”
Objet, in recent years, has come out with three separate families of 3D printers. These lines of printers have helped Fortune 500 companies such as Adidas, P&G, and Michelin create their various product prototypes. The first line of Objet 3D printers, which they have dubbed “Desktop”, is a high-powered 3D printer line for the office.
This is not to be confused with the DIY desktop 3D printers many hobbyists are familiar with. These are much more expensive printers, designed for companies with additive manufacturing in mind. Though the Desktop line does not need full-time technicians in order to run them, as is the case with their larger counterparts, companies do need employees who are somewhat familiar with the technology.
Objet’s next family of printers, Eden, is also used for professional rapid prototyping applications. Unlike the Objet Desktop line, though, these are quite large machines. They do still fit in the office, but as seen below, they obviously wouldn’t fit on a desk.
Objet Eden 260
Objet Eden printers have high accuracy, printing objects with “ultra-thin” 0.0006” layers. Additionally, the Eden line also offers high resolution, particularly in the y-axis of up to 600 dpi. With four 3.6kg jumbo cartridges of material, the Eden line have two cartridges for Model material and two cartridges for Support, which allows for at least 72 hours of continuous unattended printing!
Objet’s third and final family of 3D printers is the Connex line. These are the largest and most expensive of the Objet printer lines. (That’s not to say the other Objet printers are cheap) Like the Eden line, the Connex line uses model and support materials to print 3D prototype objects with PolyJet printing technology. However, unlike the other lines of Objet printers, the Connex line uses its model and support materials in order to create over 60 different materials (with up to 51 Digital Materials). These materials range from “rubber to rigid, opaque to transparent, and standard to ABS-grade engineering plastics.” The user (in other words, you) can adjust all these materials, so that you can arrive at the perfect material for the job at hand. In order to be more efficient, the Connex 350 can even print multiple small objects during the same printing cycle along with its multi-material printing capabilities.
Objet Connex 350
These machines produced by Objet would all fall under the “Office” class of 3D printers. The same can be said of their partner’s (Stratasys) printers, among them the Mojo. A recent addition to the Stratasys pantheon, the Mojo costs $9,990. A replacement for the waning uPrint 3D printer, Mojo requires no training, and the company expects it won’t just be of interest to engineers and educators, but designers and entrepreneurs as well.
The Mojo’s build envelope is only 5 x 5 x 5”, but Stratasys claims that 80% of all prototyping jobs fit into that volume. They also claim that it takes just 30 minutes to set this printer up and have it printing. Using their “intuitive” CAD software program, Print Wizard, which comes with the Mojo, the user can specify exactly what they want it to print. The Mojo is supposedly a quiet printer, and support removal is included in the bundle, in the WaveWash 55. The Mojo’s biggest selling point, however, is its Print Engine. “For the same price as a comparable amount of Dimension material, the Print Engine gives you material and a disposable print head. In making the print head a consumable, Stratasys has removed the most common cause of poor part quality.” All in all, the Mojo is a good option for small shops (or smaller groups within larger corporations). A separate line of Stratasys printers is Soldiscape printers, which, according to the company, “are primarily used to produce ‘wax-like’ patterns for lost-wax casting/investment casting and mold making applications.”
While Objet and Stratasys, at least for now, are focused on Office 3D Printers, 3D Systems (producers of the brand new Home 3D Printer, the Cube) are heavily involved with the “Industrial Grade” class of 3D printers. We’ve touched on 3D Systems before. They are the largest player in the 3D printing industry, and have been buying up many companies (large and small) in the market at a rapid pace. Among their larger acquisitions has been Zcorp, makers of Industrial Grade 3D printers. These printers are capable of printing parts with many different colors, prototyping machines and 3D scanners. Zcorp (3D Systems) printers are much more powerful, giving the objects they create much greater detail and durability.
3D Systems’ ZPrinter 850
The most recent Zcorp printer, the ZPrinter 850 (which came out at the end of April, 2012), is “5 to 10 times faster than other systems, enabling parts production in hours, not days.” With 600 X 540 dpi, ZPrinters are capable of printing in full, vibrant color simultaneously. The 850 includes clear, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black print heads, which allow it to create objects in “390,000 unique colors plus hundreds of thousands of possible color combinations.” Even if you don’t think you need or can afford the ZPrinter 850, there’s a whole line of printers in the ZPrinter family, which you could choose from.
Among 3D Systems other “Professional Grade” 3D printers are the ProJet line, which are smaller and less expensive, and Desktop Factory, which “uses powder, [which] is applied to a roller and a halogen lamp etches the pattern for a single layer onto this coating. When the layer is complete, it’s rolled off into a build area, the roller is cleaned, and the process begins again for the next layer. Layers are joined in the build area using heat and pressure.”
ProJet 5000 Desktop Factory
Not only are 3D Systems involved with Home, Office, and Professional Grade 3D printers, but they are also involved with the “Production” class of 3D printers as well. Owning the North American distribution rights to Voxeljet (a German company’s) 3D printers, 3D Systems have their hands in a little bit of everything. Voxeljet’s vision is the future of digital production. These printers aren’t just meant for prototyping, but for printing and producing final products. They are “ultra high-speed large format” 3D printers, meaning they can print a massive amount of material, very accurately, for a long period of time. These are not Home or Office or even Professional Grade 3D printers. You need a whole warehouse or workshop and a full time technician to store and run one of these babies!
Indeed, Dr. Ingo Ederer, CEO of Voxeljet, says: “the past few years have seen veritable quantum leaps with respect to printing quality as well as printing speed. The high-performance print heads of the new machines achieve excellent resolutions and printing speeds that are five times higher than even just a few years ago. In addition, with our VX4000 we are now able to generate moulds of the size of a sports car – something that would have been unthinkable not long ago.”
The VX4000 can even produce sand moulds with an eight cubic meter volume with dimensions of 4 X 2 X 1 meters. Not only does this print space allow for the production of very large moulds, it also gives users the capability “for the efficient production” of large amounts of smaller objects. It’s even printed designer furniture!
The Voxeljet and other Production and Professional Grade printers aren’t the only wave of future 3D printing technologies. The possibilities are endless. Just ask Dr. Ederer. “For us, as the pioneers of 3D printing technology, it is nice to see how this trend-setting method is establishing itself in more and more industries. And it appears that the sky is the limit with respect to potential application areas. Sometimes even we are surprised by the creativity of our customers. From exclusive birthday gifts and reconstructed temple models to complete vehicle models and components for racing, designer furniture and architectural models – we are discovering new application areas for 3D printing every day.”
Photos Courtesy of Objet/Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Voxeljet