Options continue to increase for design engineers wanting to add three-dimensional printing capabilities to their arsenals, as vendors roll out new and updated models, and prices continue to fall.
Stratasys Inc., 3D Systems Corp. and Z Corp. were among the prominent rapid-prototyping purveyors touting their wares at the recent National Design Engineering Show in Chicago.
A unit of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Stratasys chose the event to introduce its latest-generation 3-D printer, the Dimension SST, at a cost of $34,900. It also slashed $5,000 off the sticker for its 2-year-old legacy Dimension printer, dropping the price to just below $25,000. Jonathan Cobb, vice president and general manager of 3-D printing, said Stratasys has shipped almost 1,000 units of the original model, with perhaps a third of those sales going to schools and universities. He claims his firm has more than a third of the 3-D printer market.
``Our goal is to one day make 3-D printers as common in engineering and design offices as laser printers and jet printers are today,'' said Scott Crump, Stratasys chairman and chief executive officer.
Cobb said the SST will enable the development of prototypes with more complex design geometries and deeper cavities. With the older printer, the support, or base material, needs to be peeled away manually from the completed model. The SST printer offers a system that drops the built parts - typically made from ABS or a derivative - into a soap-and-water bath that, via heat and agitation, dissolves the supports within 45 minutes.
Stratasys' new model does not include the $3,500 water bath, in part because customers can use an ultrasonic tank to achieve the same purpose. The water bath measures about 2 feet cubed, while the Dimension SST itself has a footprint of about 2 by 21/2 feet, stands about 5 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds.
Stratasys also was touting its other latest offering: the Israeli-made Eden333 rapid-prototyping system, for which it secured exclusive North American distribution rights last fall from manufacturer Objet Geometries Ltd. The Eden unit can produce ultrahigh-resolution models and prototypes from acrylic-based photopolymers. That complements the fused-deposition modeling, or FDM, method used by Stratasys' primary line of rapid-prototyping machines to build models from ABS, polycarbonate or high-heat polyphenylene sulfone.
Meantime, Stratasys also touted a new, medical-grade PC prototyping resin called PC-ISO that can be used in its FDM systems to make food-, pharmaceutical- and medical-equipment models.
Valencia, Calif.-based 3D Systems showcased the new InVision three-dimensional printer that it began shipping to U.S. customers late last fall at the price of $39,900. The unit uses 3D Systems' patented multijet modeling printing technology with a durable acrylic photopolymer model material.
3D Systems also was promoting a new engineered composite for use with its SLA stereolithography prototyping systems. The Bluestone SL material, to be available soon, is for use in models that require exceptional stiffness and strength, as well as good thermal resistance.
On the legal front, publicly held 3D Systems on Feb. 4 reached an agreement with Munich, Germany-based rival EOS GmbH. The firms agreed to waive all claims for damages and licensed various patents to each other. 3D had sued EOS in March 2003 for patent infringement shortly after the German firm started selling its laser sintering machines in the United States.
The other major player in 3-D printing, Z Corp. of Burlington, Mass., touts that its printers use off-the-shelf Hewlett-Packard inkjet print-head technology. Its lineup ranges from an entry-level, $25,900 ZPrinter 310 system all the way up to the $180,000 Z810 system for large-scale, full-color physical models that measure up to 20 by 24 by 16 inches high.
The 7-year-old, privately held company uses a powder-binder technology patented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create parts directly from digital data.
Z claims more than 1,000 customers and said its new orders grew by 24 percent in 2003.