Stratasys-owned 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot has announced a “restructuring plan” that will see 30 percent of its workforce laid off. The New York City-based 3D printer maker went through a downsizing of similar proportions in 2015.
GE Additive, General Electric’s 3D printing-focused venture, recently increased its 3D printer arsenal at its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, New York with the addition of a Roboze One+400 3D printer. The 3D printer will help GE to further its R&D of 3D printing technologies, as the branch is consistently searching for new and innovative ways to integrate additive manufacturing across GE.
Roboze, an Italy-based FFF 3D printer manufacturer, has become recognized within the 3D printing world for its innovative beltless 3D printing system. Not only beltless, the Roboze One+400 also integrates extruders that can heat up to 400 degrees Celsius, making the 3D printer compatible for use with a wide range of materials, including “techno-polymers” such as PEEK, polycarbonate, nylon 12, and more.
“We are excited to have this new 3D printer,” commented Scott Miller, Manager of the Material Systems Lab at GE Global Research. “It will let us explore ways to take advantage of 3D printing from high-performance polymers such as PEEK. We will also be able to evaluate new designs with greater complexity enabled by 3d printing in areas where we already use high-performance polymers.”
According to GE Additive, its first order of business with the Roboze 3D printer will be to explore the potential of PEEK for a range of applications, notably within the aviation sector. As a 3D printing material, PEEK has seen a rise in popularity, with companies such as Germany-based Indmatec manufacturing top quality PEEK filaments which have shown promise, most recently in the auto manufacturing industry.
Alessio Lorusso, Founder and CEO of Roboze, expressed excitement about providing GE with one of Roboze’s 3D printers, and plans to work with GE to not only promote the use of PEEK and other thermoplastic materials for 3D printed metal replacement parts, but to further improve his own company’s 3D printing technology. He said: “I’m very proud of what we have accomplished in the past year after tremendous effort in research and development. Successfully delivering our Roboze One+400 to the laboratories of GE Global Research in Niskayuna, points out to one main conclusion – our innovative 3d printing technology will be part of the global industrial revolution, offering ways to substantially reduce manufacturing costs, which is a primary goal of all large industrial corporations . We will work closely with our customers to follow their changing needs, and provide them with new solutions focusing on reinforced metal replacement materials. I’m honored to help and support GE in their journey of leading once again new industrial revolutions.”
Just before the new year, we reported that Cyprus-based 3D printer developer Ilios was regrettably closing its doors. The company’s founder, Demetris Zavorotnitsienko, attributed the closure to a lack of funds and operational difficulties. In a surprising turn of events, however, Zavorotnitsienko has just announced he is determined to keep his company going and is hoping to change his luck with the development of the new Ilios Photon 2 UV DLP 3D printer.
Ferrari’s F1 team are ramping up preparations for the 2017 season by using 3D printing technology to develop pistons for their new engine. Ferrari has collaborated with fellow Italians Magneti Marelli to produce the new engine design. Magneti Marelli are a company focused on the “design and production of hi-tech systems and components for the automotive sector”.
We’ve previously seen how 3D printing has been used in F1 with an interview with Force India’s Robert Fernley. Fernley explained how F1 teams use 3D printing as a prototyping tool. However, as the technology has advanced beyond prototyping and into production, particularly with additive manufacturing functional metal parts like this piston.
At the conclusion of the 2016 F1 season we reviewed the use of 3D printing technology and previewed upcoming car changes for this years F1 season. Preparing for this year, McLaren recently signed a four-year agreement with 3D printing company Stratasys. The 3D printer manufacturer will be the official supplier of 3D printing solutions to McLaren.
Ferrari’s 2017 engine
The engine using this piston is expected to be ready for Ferrari’s car launch at the end of February. The new engine changes Ferrari are perfecting for the upcoming season will put an increase strain on the engine, testing every component. F1 cars this year will experience increased pressures and higher temperatures following the use of new turbulent jet ignition technology.
To handle more these demands Ferrari turned to 3D printing to create a new stronger piston made from steel alloy. Traditional methods use the lighter material aluminium, however aluminium has a greater likelihood of failure when subjected to high temperatures and stress. While heavier, the steel alloy will provide greater strength and heat resistance. 3D printing can be used with topology optimization to create components in materials like steel with the same, or better strength characteristics but with less material. This means the component can have a comparable weight.
The F1 team are understandably guarded about the specifics of the design but hope 3D printing will propel them to a higher finishing place in 2017. The team came third in the constructors championship last year and driver Sebastian Vettel expressed concern about the car mid-season saying, “we’re not as competitive as we want but we know to what to do.”
Speaking about the 2017 F1 season Vettel said, “It is a different project and the cars will be very different but there are still some things that we can learn and understand this year which will help us next year.”
How additive manufacturing has helped development
Using 3D printing technology means Ferrari were able to develop this piston quickly and efficiently, iterating the design and adjusting according to performance data. 3D printing enables the creation of complex geometrical structures that can provide more strength while reducing weight. This would not have been possible using traditional manufacturing techniques such as casting.
the Fuel3D 360 Scanner
Let’s start with the Fuel3D 360 Scanner. This high-speed imaging and measurement system captures high-res, 360-degree 3D data in just 0.3 seconds with excellent accuracy (to 0.2mm).
Construction startup Millebot has introduced Mille, an industrial-sized 3D printer and mill housed within a shipping container. The company sees the giant manufacturing machine being used in construction, disaster relief, aerospace, and more.
Use of 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology in the construction sphere is increasing on a daily basis. Thanks to a wider range of 3D printable materials than ever before, construction and architecture companies have been able to fabricate huge 3D printed structures, including houses and offices, that will be able to withstand prolonged use. There are, however, a few obstacles left to overcome for construction-focused 3D printers, one of which is mobility. Since the kind of 3D printer required to print parts of a building is usually on the larger side, getting those printers onto a construction site can be a mammoth task—and that’s before considerations like powering and weather-proofing the printer are taken into account.
Companies in the additive manufacturing industry are approaching this mobility problem in different ways. Dutch company CyBe Construction, for example, has developed a concrete 3D printer that moves around on caterpillar tracks—perfect for navigating the difficult terrain of a construction site. But there are other solutions too: Millebot Inc, a company based in Winter Park, Florida, recently created a massive 3D printer and mill hybrid that is housed within a standard shipping container, making it transportable via sea, rail, or other means. The incredibly cool-looking manufacturing machine was exhibited at Maker Faire Orlando back in October 2016.
The standardized shipping container system, developed after World War II, has enabled companies from all over the world to greatly reduce shipping costs, and has served to massively increase global trade. Since shipping containers have standardized measurements, they can be loaded, stacked, and transported easily over long distances, while numbering and tracking systems ensure that each unique container is easily identifiable. By buying into the containerization system, Millebot can send its unique 3D printer anywhere in the world with ease, while the recipient can also be confident that the machinery inside will remain undamaged over its many journeys, before and after delivery.
Billed by Millebot as a “factory of the future” concept, the Mille 3D printer gives users on-demand additive and subtractive manufacturing capabilities, thanks to its multi-head fabrication tool that can both print and mill. Using a proprietary clay material that is self-curing and hardens on demand (or other materials, such as a sand mixture or a recycled glass and plastic mix), the Mille 3D printer can create objects and structures that are purportedly 3-5 times harder than cement or red brick. Moreover, these structures can measure up to 70” x 265” x 70” (on the company’s “light duty” 40’ 3D printer). The proprietary clay material was developed by Millebot and Dr. John Pojman, a cure-on-demand polymer expert and president of Pojman Polymer Products.
According to Millebot, the Mille 3D printer and mill hybrid offers another advantage in addition to creating large and strong structures: speed. The new machine can reportedly print at 200 mm/sec or mill at 500 inches per minute, making it surprisingly fast for such a large and versatile machine. The Millebot team are also pretty fast themselves, as they claim they can deliver one of the huge printers to a customer in 60-90 days—presumably via standard shipping container routes. The 3D printer and mill hybrid is available either in a 20-foot or 40-foot container, and can be optimized for heavy duty or light duty use.
Despite being a fairly complex and substantial piece of manufacturing equipment that offers both additive and subtractive capabilities, the Mille 3D printer is apparently fairly easy to use. “With any new machine, there is a slight learning curve,” Millebot says. “But with Millebot’s easy-to-use interface and easy-to-follow user guide, learning to use the Mille won’t be difficult.”
Millebot hopes to have the Mille 3D printer and mill available for commercial use within the year.
Mille 3D printer build sizes:
- 40’ heavy duty: 65” x 265” x 65”
- 40’ light duty: 70” x 265” x 70”
- 20’ heavy duty: 65” x 132” x 65”
- 20’ light duty: 70” x 132” x 70”
Tropical Labs, an electromechanical systems lab based in Washington, DC., has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Mechaduino, an open-source industrial servo motor for 3D printers and other machines. Mechaduino can be used as a drop-in replacement for NEMA 17 stepper motors and drivers.
Dubbed the “Arduino for mechatronics”, Tropical Labs’ Mechaduino servo motor looks set to bring affordable, closed-loop motion control to a new generation of 3D printer and CNC mill users—in two distinct ways. The device can function either as a self-contained motion control platform for developing custom servo mechanisms or as a drop-in servo motor for 3D printers and CNC machines, and having already smashed its $7,500 Kickstarter Campaign goal, the clever gadget will be in the hands of backers by September.
Servo motors are used in robotics, CNC milling, 3D printing, and other disciplines in order to precisely control the motion of moving parts. For many consumer machines, cheap and simple servos will suffice, but a far greater degree of accuracy can be attained by using industrial servos, which often support advanced motion control modes. Unfortunately, industrial servos can be incredibly expensive. That’s why Tropical Labs has developed the Mechaduino, an affordable open-source industrial servo which leverages the low cost of mass-produced stepper motors while achieving high resolution via 14b encoder feedback.
Initially conceived as a personal project, the Mechaduino story goes back to when members of Tropical Labs were looking for affordable servo motors that performed at a high level. Having little success in their search, the tech experts started to develop their own servos, documenting their progress on Hackaday and accruing a significant fanbase in the process. As the project gathered steam, the team’s ambition’s grew, with further objectives made for the new servo. These included anti-clogging capabilities, PID auto tuning, and adjustable commutation profiles. The team decided to launch a Kickstarter in response to the positive messages coming from Hackaday, and reached their target goal long before the close of the campaign.
The Mechaduino has already been tested on a RepRap Prusa i3 3D printer, functioning as a drop-in replacement for each stepper motor and stepper driver of the printer. “Closed loop motors run more efficiently since they only apply the required torque to track a position command,” explained Tropical Labs’ [jcchurch] in a Hackaday project log. “Stepper motors must apply their maximum torque all the time. This means that the closed loop motor will run much cooler and can apply much higher peak torques.”
While Tropical Labs has already raised more than double its Kickstarter goal, backers from anywhere in the world can still secure early copies of the Mechaduino until the campaign closes on July 21. A Mechaduino PCB can be secured for $45 and a Servo for $60, with discounts on offer for larger orders. Estimated delivery for all orders is September 2016.
The beginning of the DIY 3D printing movement was a heady time. There was a vision of a post-scarcity world in which everything could and would be made at home, for free. Printers printing other printers would ensure the exponential growth that would put a 3D printer in every home. As it says on the front page: “RepRap is humanity’s first general-purpose self-replicating manufacturing machine.” Well, kinda.
Just to set the record straight, I love the RepRap project. My hackerspace put our funds together to build one of the first few Darwins in the US: Zach “Hoeken” came down and delivered the cut-acrylic pieces in person. I have, sitting on my desk, a Prusa Mendel with 3D parts printed by Joseph Prusa himself, and I spent a fantastic weekend with him and Kliment Yanev (author of Pronterface) putting it together. Most everyone I’ve met in the RepRap community has been awesome, giving, and talented. The overarching goal of RepRap — getting 3D printers in as many peoples’ hands as possible — is worthy.
But one foundational RepRap idea(l) is wrong, and unfortunately it’s in the name: replication. The original plan was that RepRap printers would print other printers and soon everyone on Earth would have one. In reality, an infinitesimal percentage of RepRap owners print other printers, and the cost of a mass-produced, commercial RepRap spinoff is much less than it would cost me to print you one and source the parts. Because of economies of scale, replicating 3D printers one at a time is just wasteful. Five years ago, this was a controversial stance in the community.
On the other hand, the openness of the RepRap community has fostered great advances in the state of the DIY 3D printing art. Printers haven’t reproduced like wildfire, but ideas and designs have. It’s time to look back on the ideal of literal replication and realize that the replication of designs, building methods, and the software that drives the RepRap project is its great success. It’s the Open Hardware, smarty! A corollary of this shift in thought is to use whatever materials are at hand that make experimentation with new designs as easy as possible, including embracing cheap mass-produced machines as a first step. The number of RepRaps may never grow exponentially, but the quality and number of RepRap designs can.
THE EXPONENTIAL ARGUMENT AND THE ECONOMICS OF REPLICATION
One of the key early design goals for the RepRap was to be able to replicate quickly, which would lead to the exponential growth of RepRaps around the globe. Adrian Bowyer, the founder of the RepRap project, gave a keynote address at the Seventh National Conference on Rapid Design, Prototyping & Manufacturing
All current engineering production generates goods in an arithmetic progression. Sometimes this is very fast − suppose an injection moulding machine makes plastic combs at the rate of 10,000 an hour. Suppose further that a RepRap machine can make one copy of itself a day, and also just one comb. After merely 18 days, the RepRap machines will be making more combs than the injection moulder, assuming people give them house-room.
Ten years later, the RepRap project is a phenomenal success — there are RepRap printers in the hands of hobbyists everywhere and the advances in the later models have come entirely from that community. But RepRap is by no means an exponentialsuccess. At any of Adrian’s proposed rates of replication, there would be a bazillion times more RepRaps by now than there are atoms in the known universe. I bet you even know some people who don’t own one. Proof by contradiction.
What happened? Almost nobody is replicating. The missing ingredient in the exponential-growth formulation is the number of people driving the machines (never mind the fact that you’re looking at a non-negotiable one-time outlay of a few hundred dollars for motors and electronics). Running a 3D printer of any design or make, as anyone who shepherds one knows, requires a deal of maintenance.
Almost nobody is printing RepRap parts because they are, like I am, trying to keep the machine working while printing the cool stuff that they wanted in the first place. Or they’re printing new and improved parts for their current machine. Or they’re printing the parts for their next, improved, machine. But they’re not wasting their time simply replicating.
Ironically, in that same keynote speech, Prof. Bowyer gets this part of the argument right but doesn’t follow its logical conclusion. He mentions that, as more people started printing parts for RepRaps, the price of these parts would drop to the material cost, which is nearly zero. This means free RepRap parts for everyone, right? Nope, it means that as long as anyone has anything else to do with their time that they value more than printing RepRap parts, they’ll do that because there’s just no money in printing RepRap parts.
And this is exactly what happened. Four years ago, when the Prusa Mendel design was busting out onto the scene, a set of printed plastic parts cost around $120. Two years later, it was more like $40 or $60. Now, even cheaper parts can be obtained for something like $10-$20, but those sets that are imported from overseas where the cost of one’s time, as measured in the average hourly wage, is a lot lower than it is here. At that price, for a few hours of running my machine, including the cost of plastic and maintenance, I’m not replicating.
The biggest misunderstanding of the RepRap project is that people’s time isn’t free and unbounded. A large number of folks just want to print something with their 3D printer, and they want it to print nicely without significant tuning. That’s why we see a wide variety of machines that will never be able to replicate themselves for sale in the $1200 – $2500 range, when anyone can build a RepRap themselves for around $500 or less. The expensive machines are being built for out-of-the-box usability, and the purchasers of these machines are trading money upfront for the time that they would otherwise have to spend tweaking and maintaining the machine.
At the same time, inexpensive mass-produced machines based on the RepRap design compete with replicated machines at the lower end of the market. Simply put, economies of scale make the average cost of producing a RepRap lower as the quantity produced goes up. It makes absolutely no sense for me to replicate plastic printer parts when my potential buyer can get everything for the entire build cheaper from overseas. And I’m not complaining. This is a good thing because it means more machines, faster, in the hands of the DIY experimenters who will make the next breakthroughs.
ECOLOGY AND THE REPRAP
Another part of the RepRap’s founding inspiration was biological, and this was implicated in the view the RepRaps had to replicate. After all, all biological life on the Earth perpetuates itself by reproduction. (Deep thought: reproduction is what life is.) So the RepRap in Bowyer’s ideal vision should be made out of parts that it would be able to make. This lead to early design choices including the use of the dreaded, threaded-rod frame, and an emphasis on simplicity and fab-ability over precision. The reliance on non-printable parts, “vitamins” in the biological metaphor, was to be minimized even if that meant making a less robust machine that was fiddly to calibrate.
In insisting on self-reliance, Bowyer misunderstood the ecology of the RepRap. Do bees produce everything they need to survive? No, the flowers help them out a lot. Flowers don’t exist in a self-reproducing vacuum either — they rely on bees and other insects to reproduce. The point is that nothing in nature is self-reliant, even for reproduction. Everything relies on something else. Why shouldn’t a RepRap evolve to be the cheapest and best possible device given the parts available, printed or otherwise? (A factory turning out inexpensive aluminum extrusions and shipping them across the globe is the flower in this twisted metaphor.)
Our DIY ecosystem has become rich in “vitamins” since the founding of the RepRap project. It’s now easy and cheap to get even relatively sophisticated parts like aluminum extrusions and linear motion slides direct from factories in China. One-off PCBs used to be prohibitively expensive to produce, but that’s no longer the case. Motor driver circuits, motors, and even niche parts have become cheaper. In a nutrient-rich environment, it makes sense biologically to evolve to take advantage of them.
Fortunately, insisting on building a frame yourself entirely out of threaded rod has become an anachronism — all of the new printer designs since the Mendel 90 to the Prusa i3 use an easy-to-calibrate design that’s based on large cutouts of metal or plastic for parts of the structure that require stiffness. One of the first salvos in this revolution was fired by the MendelMax, which is essentially a Mendel made out of extrusions. Then came the various delta bots, epitomized by the Rostock and its brother, the Kossel, that left replicability entirely behind.
I’m enthusiastic to see the directions that the community has taken over the last five years or so — relying as they do on more “vitamins” and resulting in higher quality and less time wasted in calibration, tuning, and maintenance. It’s to the point now that the use of aluminum extrusions isn’t even given a second though.
One of the important early ideals of the RepRap movement — universal replication and free printers for everyone — was pretty much a failure. Still, to quote again from the website: “RepRap was the first of the low-cost 3D printers, and the RepRap Project started the open-source 3D printer revolution. It has become the most widely-used 3D printer among the global members of the Maker Community.” This is all true, and then some. RepRap has spawned a truly global community of enthusiasts all working on advancing the state of the art in DIY 3D printing. The number and quality of people working on the project is really amazing.
But in my mind the biggest advances have been in the designs of the machines themselves. A decent 90-degree-frame RepRap-style bot today is significantly better than a Prusa of only four years ago, and infinitely better than the original Darwin of ten years ago. And it costs around half the price to assemble one. In addition, the ecosystem has grown to include out-there designs like the delta bots. All of these machines are awesome, but none of them are replicating to any serious degree, even the ones that could in principle. But who cares?
What’s awesome about RepRap is that, even though the founding replication idea behind RepRap has been a failure, the community and the machines that they’ve made have adapted to our “vitamin”-rich environment. Perhaps the utopian story of the replication-driven end to scarcity was useful or necessary in attracting people to the project in its early days. But ten years out, the community has already proved its value, and that’s not in making infinite numbers of printers, but in making shared, DIY design innovations: the nature of RepRap evolution has itself evolved.
Headline image courtesy [ccecil], design by [loubie]. And thanks to Freenode’s #reprap channel for the good discussion.
After entering the offset value, the display value has a .005-.007 deviation.
Now that metal 3D printing technology is advancing so quickly, we’re seeing a lot of companies jump on the bandwagon. Suddenly it seems as though everyone is offering metal printers and materials. 3D Systems has been in the metal game for a long time, though, and they’ve just introduced the sixth addition to their ProX line of direct metal printers. The ProX DMP 320 was designed for high-volume industrial applications in the medical, aerospace and automotive industries, among others, and it’s expected to reduce manufacturing time and costs while producing precise, high-quality, complex parts.