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Amazon: 3D printers below $1,200

When Howard Wolowitz bought a 3D printer to print figures of himself, Rajesh Koothrappali, Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz, and other heroes of The Big Bang Theory, he had to be chastised by Bernadette because it was her money and it was $5,000 of them.

(Incidentally, I made some research of the 1200 XT 3D modeler PRO device that appeared in the CBS sitcom and I am pretty confident that it's a renamed 3D Systems InVision XT 3D Printer.)

But an ex-president of the Harvard Funds and the famous Pirate of Prague, Viktor Kožený, a technological enthusiast who has just gotten access to $22 million of dollars from his (mother's) cottage in Aspen, Colorado but who became a target of a new execution in Czechia at the same moment (he once offered me to become a shadow minister of education which I kindly refused), recommended me to check the rather new 3D Printers Category at amazon.com and I was kind of impressed how accessible those things have become.




The FlashForge 3D printer is available for $1,199. This price can't be approximated by infinity too well. It's an accessible price, I would say. And the reviews look really encouraging, averaging at 4.7/5.0 stars.




The Afinia printer for $1,599 is often claimed to be used by professionals who say that it works perfectly - and it's a professional quality printer. Top software included. Alternatively, you may check some free software right now.



Afinia 3D printer is printing a Klein bottle, a closed non-orientable manifold with Euler characteristic \(\chi=0\). Sped up to 1 minute. See a 3-minute presentation of a bigger 3D printer.

Does any TRF reader have real-world experience with 3D printing? If you do, what have you used the gadget for? If you don't, what are your dreams what you could print if you had one? Has someone studied the details of the technology, how it actually works?

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reader sean2829 said...

I have a company that works as a secondary processor (electroplating) to this industry. We don't print parts but all our our customers do. We have worked with the Afinia parts. They are printed hollow but are surprisingly tight, making them easy to seal so we can electroplate them. We have also worked with the FormLabs parts, Cube parts (also hollow) and Makerbot parts. Makerbot, Cube and Afinia use the same filament thermoplastic technology that was developed by Stratasys about 20 years ago and called fused deposition modeling or FDM. Oddly enough, we've be able to successfully plate all but the parts made on the Cube. Most of the work we do is on parts from industrial printers like the large frame stereolithography from 3D Systems, Selective Laser sintered from 3D Systems and EOS, fused deposition modeled parts from Stratasys and polyjet printed parts from Statasys and 3D Systems. We just got back from a show on Rapid Prototyping and additive manufacturing and it looks like we'll get a chance to work with a few more parts from the low cost printers but the FlashForge is not one of them.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Wow, it's impressive to see how productive and technologically experienced some TRF readers are.


reader Shannon said...

It's an awesome new technology, isn't it? If I had a 3D printer I would produce glass frames, sandals, jewellery, pots, tools, cups, cutlery, plates. Even small furniture like boxes for storage. You can buy plastic, metal and ceramic in powder... It's a revolution as big as the internet.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Cool ideas, Shannon.


reader lukelea said...

Should usher in a new age of industrial design. I bet the Italians will be good at it.


reader Hans Erren said...

Like most printers, you probably pay a fortune on toner?


reader Samuel Kleiner said...

Speaking as someone with some experience in 3d printing, I'm not a big fan of the molten plastic design, because it produces too many defects. I now buy my 3d printed stuff from shapeways (who print with laser stereolithography)
Current 3d printers that I would consider are the b9creator and the form 1.


reader Tom Trevor said...

The first 2d printer I got cost $700 now a far better printer/ scanner cost about $50. I will wait until the 3d comes down to $700 then I will us it to, well I 'm not telling you yet.


reader Gene Day said...

This technology has been vastly oversold, Shannon. These low-cost 3-D printers can use only low molecular weight polyester, which has really poor mechanical and thermal properties. It will be used for arts and craft applications but I don’t know of a single useful item that cannot be made in much better quality and at lower cost using conventional methods. You might have a lot of fun with it but don’t even dream of making something that you can buy cheaply at your local store.
Other 3-D printing methods exist, which can make more durable products but they are not suitable for home use for both cost and safety reasons.


reader Gene Day said...

Correcting for misshapen corneas could be a potential application but I think conventional machining/polishing would be better. The materials used for these ink-jet, 3-D printers is just not durable enough for eyeglasses. It could work but careful grinding/polishing would still be needed and the user would have to be very, very careful with the product. There are better alternatives but I don’t know if any one is pursuing them.


reader Eugene S said...

I have to say, Lubos, you know some colorful people! If even half of what they write about him is true, then... well, put me down for an autographed copy of an English translation of his autobiography when it comes out ;)


reader Gene Day said...

Can you plate tungsten carbide (a really hard, refractory material) onto a marshmallow? I worked for a company, Varian Associates in Palo alto, CA, that did exactly that. And it was more than fifty years ago.
I don’t mean to demean 3D printing; I have been following it for decades. It does have useful applications but it has been oversold.


reader Luboš Motl said...

LOL, Eugene.


While a guy behind the threshold that defines the crime, he is a remarkable person, in many senses. And he was much more incorporated into the culture of Harvard University than many people think or claim.


An autobiography could be fun.


reader Eugene S said...

Actually, having found this on the Web, allow me to modify my request. I will buy a copy of his book, to gain some insight into what motivates him, but only after he is transferred to a place where the only palm trees he sees are on a poster hanging on the wall...


reader maznak said...

I have a printer from the Czech pioneer Josef Průša. It is a cool toy, so far printing only boxes for diy electronic devices etc. I have bought that mainly to be able to put my hands on the technology and learn something. So far performs as expected. Needs some minor tinkering with parameters etc, definitely not a foolproof product.


reader Aaron Oakley said...

I bought a Makerbot Replicator 2 and have been using it to print models of molecules from the PDB. The picture is of a N9-neuraminidase molecule I printed.


reader Aaron Oakley said...

PLA (poly lactic acid) filament costs $30-$50 per kg in Australia.


reader sean2829 said...

There have been a lot of comments on 3D printing technology from excitement to oversold. In a sense, both sentiments are correct because the breadth of this technology. And that breadth is growing rapidly. The technology started about 25 years ago with the first laser cured and laser sintered systems and followed quickly by thermoplastic filament systems. In essence it was all about plastic, resin (and paper) parts, with plaster and some secondary metal processes coming along a little later in this period. These dominated the "rapid prototyping" industry through the nineties and into the first decade of this century. The properties of the parts built from these printed materials are a step down from what you can get when you mold parts. They are more brittle, have poor creep properties and cannot be reinforced directly (which created an opportunity secondary processes that our company supplies). But they can do some things very well.

During this time, there were a lot of other developments going on in R&D labs where people were learning how to do things better. Using high energy laser sintering and electron beams, people learned how to sinter advanced metal alloys that had the same or better properties than wrought metal alloys. That's why GE Aerospace bought a company that specializes in metal sintering a year ago. They can print reliable parts that go into their engines. These metal sintering machines can also print custom tailored surgical implants and actually be cheaper than commercial products currently on the market. While this technology is currently very expensive, competition will drive down costs over the next decade.

A second area I saw as R&D only a few years ago was printing living tissue in labs. There are already some bio-plotters on the market. I know very little about this area but printing organs is not out of the question. With the amount of money that goes into medical here in the US, you can bet there will be a lot of development in this area going forward.

Finally a word about the low cost printers. Certainly they are a step back from even some of the earliest 3D printers but they serve an important function. They are going to make 3D printing accessible and a lot of people will learn skills to make parts. Even if they are used mostly for toys and knick-knacks, people will learn how to manipulate 3D data so they can print a customized piece. Those same people will quickly learn the limitations (and costs) that the consumer systems have and will likely migrate to having work done at a service bureaus where more sophisticated machines can make better quality parts. In other words, the consumer printers are the door or entry point into the 3D manufacturing world and will educate those with an interest along the way.


reader AJ said...

Maybe it's oversold, but my bet is that it's not. Research continues, so who knows what will be possible in the future. For example, Oak Ridge and Lockheed are teaming up to develop a concept called Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM). The following pdf envisions "3D Printing" a fighter jet:

http://www.ornl.gov/sci/manufacturing/docs/AM&P_March%202013_cvr_w-articles.pdf



Fanciful today, but maybe not in the not so distant future. If successful, imagine the applications.


reader Gene Day said...

sean2829,
Thanks for the tutorial/update on 3D printing. I have been retired for 13+ years and out of touch but I was aware of laser/E-beam sintering during the nineties and, in particular, its use for prototyping. Things seem to have progressed pretty much as I anticipated except for the biological applications, which are especially exciting. I can see these bio-plotters becoming a very big thing along with custom medical implants.
As always, new technologies lead to new applications. This is just the beginning.


reader Gene Day said...

Wow!


reader Gene Day said...

Right. I should have referred only to the cheap, plastic filament machines.

I spent 40+ years in technology development but I still underestimate the speed at which new applications are developed. For instance, LEDs for general lighting have come along much more quickly than I expected. I may wind up discarding a lot of those incandescent bulbs that I have hoarded.


reader Gene Day said...

Wouldn’t an aspheric lens used to correct eye disorders have to move with the eye so as to keep the line of sight along the optical axis of the lens? Depending on the degree of asphericity any misalignment would result in serious astigmatism.


reader Gene Day said...

I surely have learned a bit from this thread. The method has been oversold but that does not change the fact there are wonderful applications in our future. Thanks to all.


reader AJ said...

Actually you did refer to "low-cost 3-D printers", so it looks like I mistook your criticism to include all AM.