In Short: Latest Advances in 3D Printing

Todd Grimm covers improvements to established 3D printing products: four new systems, three new materials and one big announcement.

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3D Systems Corporation
For the improvements, IÆll start with 3D Systems, which has been quite busy launching new machines and materials over the past year. To close out the calendar, it launched a new system and a new material for its ProJet 3500 line, which uses Multi-Jet Modeling (MJM). So, we are talking about jetting, just like a 2D inkjet printer, but with photopolymers and in three dimensions.

What they rolled out was the ProJet 3500 Max with two models: the HDMax for plastics and the CPXMax for wax patterns.

These two machines are distinguishable from the eight ProJet 3500s launched in May by the redesigned exterior and a new tablet-like, touchscreen control panel.

But more importantly, the ProJet 3500 Max has high-resolution printing without a decrease in available build size. So, you can print parts in any resolution as big as 11.8 x 7.3 x 8.0 inches. Like the other 3500s, Max has four modes ranging from 375 x 375 dpi to 750 x 750 and 0.0006 to 0.0012-inch layers.

And in the very cool category, you can drive these 3D printers from a tablet or smartphone with the remote control app.

HDMax can use the full line-up of VisiJet plastic materials, including the brand new VisiJet X. According to the company, VisiJet X has the look, feel and performance of ABS plastic. VisiJet X is also compatible with all other ProJet 3500s that print plastic parts.


EOS had a slew of announcements covering software, materials and machines. IÆm just going to take a look at the two new materials and updated machine in its portfolio for laser-sintering of thermoplastics. YouÆll have to check out their website for the rest of the news.

Both of the new materials are polyamides, thatÆs nylon to the layman.

PrimePart PLUSÆs advantage is the reuse mix rate. Instead of the typical 50% ratio of virgin material, it needs only 35% new material mixed with what has come out of the laser sintering machine. That reduces waste while having mechanical properties only slightly lower than similar polyamides.

PA 1101 ù PA stands for polyamide ù is a PA11, which is significant because laser-sintering has been dominated by PA12s. Versus 12, PA 11 has higher elongation at break and better impact resistance.

But thatÆsÆ not what EOS is touting. What it is highlighting is that PA11 is based on renewable resources ù presumably because it is is derived from vegetable oil.

You can put these new materials in the new FORMIGA P 110, the successor to the FORMIGA P 100 that has been a low-cost laser-sintering alternative for a number of years.

So, whatÆre the improvements? YouÆll find under the hood stuff that improves process stability, reproducibility and throughput. For example, it adds two layer thickness alternatives to the P 100s 0.004-inch style: 0.002 for detail and 0.005 for speed.

EOS labels this as a "compact-class" machine, which means a smaller build envelope ù 7.9 x 9.8 x 13.0 inches ù and a smaller physical size that will slip through a standard doorway. So, no need to tear out a wall to get it installed.


Mcor Technologies
Rounding out my list of improvements is Mcor Technologies, which offers a 3D printing lamination process using letter-sized paper. McorÆs systems glue one sheet to the next and cut the layer profile with a tungsten-carbide knife.

At EuroMold, it showed the previously announced Matrix 300+. Its improvements are up to three times the speed of its predecessor with higher quality. For speed, itÆs offering a new draft mode with 0.007-inch layers in addition to the 0.004-inch layers of the presentation mode. It also has new software that reduces both build and weeding time ùweeding is their term for removing the surrounding paper from a 3D-printed part.

For quality, it offers Variable Volume Density (VVD) for the adhesive, which can be used to make stronger, more complex parts.

At the show, they also announced commercial availability of the Mcor IRIS, which adds full-color printing to the performance specs of the Matrix 300+. Full-color means over 1 million hues, and it has black ink, which is missing from the only other line of full-color 3D printers. Black is what keeps color printing from having a muddy appearance.

So, IRIS will give you photo-realistic parts.

The way it works is it adds a color printer to the front end of the process. That operation prints ùon both sides of the sheet ù along the contours of each layer so that you donÆt waste ink on what you canÆt see. And those inks are custom because they do what is unwanted in 2D printing: They saturate the paper rather than sitting on the surface.


Staples NL
And my final note is a bit of business news. The biggest name to join the 3D printing industry since HP partnered with Stratasys is Staples.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, sometime in the first quarter of this year, it will roll out "Staples Easy 3D", a service that will use the Mcor IRIS printers. Just upload your files and Staples with print and ship full-color, photo-realistic parts, or you can pick the parts up at the local store.

While itÆs not available in North America, Staples says it plans to bring Staples Easy 3D to other countries shortly after the Netherlands launch.