T3D Smartphone 3D Printer Successfully Funded on Kickstarter
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on September 28, 2017 | 4086 views

Earlier this year, we interviewed a Taiwanese startup called Taiwan 3D Tech to learn about its T3D smartphone 3D printer. Since then, the startup has not only launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new technology but also seen it funded in less than two hours. Currently, the campaign is standing at $117,249, over three times its $35,000 goal.

The T3D 3D printer uses visible light to print objects from photopolymer resin. (Image courtesy of Taiwan 3D Tech.)
The T3D 3D printer uses visible light to print objects from photopolymer resin. (Image courtesy of Taiwan 3D Tech.)

The T3D uses a specially engineered resin, sensitive to white light, to use the light of a smartphone to 3D print objects. Similar to digital light processing (DLP), layered slices are projected from the phone onto a vat of resin. The print bed is gradually lifted out of the vat with each flash of light until a complete object is revealed.

The resin, tuned to the light from a smartphone, makes it possible to 3D print in the open air, though it is recommended that the printer not be exposed to sunlight or strong UV light during the printing process. The Taiwan 3D Tech team began with a curing time of around 5 minutes for 100-µm-layer thickness in 2012 but says that curing time is now about 15 seconds for the same thickness. As a result, the T3D may be about twice as slow as traditional DLP systems, but this is still amazing for turning a smartphone into a 3D printer.

T3D may not be the first smartphone 3D printer to be crowdfunded. That title would go to ONO, which received over $2 million in funding in 2016, but has been plagued with setbacks and has triggered numerous comments from angry backers demanding answers, printers and/or their money back.

With that in mind, T3D may ultimately be the first to get a smartphone 3D printer to market, as it aims to begin shipping in March 2018. If and when it does, T3D will be delivering a device that not only 3D prints with smartphones, but tablets as well, making for prints as large as 255 mm x 194 mm x 182 mm. It’s also designed to be mobile, so that it can be charged in the car or brought to a new location for 3D printing.

The T3D is also modular and open source, meaning that it will be possible for users to incorporate personalized features or add-ons. For instance, T3D is also launching a 3D scanner and multicolor 3D printing system, which uses a turntable setup for 3D scanning and multicolor 3D printing.

For 3D scanning, the table rotates an object in front of your smartphone to capture photos that are stitched into a 3D model using photogrammetry. For multicolor 3D printing, multiple print vats with different colored resins are cycled during the print job, allowing for a layered color effect in the final object.

The retail price of the printer is $299, but backers can currently purchase the T3D for $219, which includes a 100-mL container of amber resin. 

Given the fate of ONO, many potential backers may be skeptical of supporting this project; however, I am optimistic that it will be able to fulfill its manufacturing and shipping goals. Then again, I said the same thing about ONO. 

In the case of T3D, though, the startup is closely associated with XYZprinting, the world’s largest 3D printer manufacturer and a subsidiary of the large contract manufacturer New Kinpo Group. XYZprinting’s ability to manufacture 3D printers inexpensively, such as the recent full-color da Vinci Color 3D printer, bodes well for the success of T3D.

Additionally, one of the co-founders of the startup is Jeng Ywam Jeng, professor of mechanical engineering and dean of the college of engineering at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (Taiwan Tech). Having met Jeng in person and seen an early prototype for the T3D, I have trouble imagining Jeng as the type to risk a career on such a venture. Whereas ONO started to launch its product only a couple of years after prototyping, the T3D has been in development for five years by some brilliant students at Taiwan Tech.  

That being said, I’ve been wrong before and, if there are issues with the fulfillment of this project, you can know that I’m right there along with you, having backed T3D myself.

To learn more about the T3D 3D printer, visit the Kickstarter page.

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