by General Fabb
Apparently Objet has reduced the price of their low-end Alaris 30 3D printer to less than USD$25,000. We say "low-end" but this is only a relative term: The Alaris 30 is a much more refined printer than the hobbyist kits we also blog about. Nevertheless, this is a significant development, as it shows how the two forces in 3D printing, commercial and hobbyist manufacturers, are slowly converging. The commercial manufacturers are lowering their prices, while the hobbyists improve their printers.
Consider that last week MakerBot announced a much-improved 3D printer (albeit less capable than the commercial Alaris 30) and slightly raised its price. At this rate we'll see MakerBot competing with low-end commercial devices, perhaps within a few years. Maybe MakerBot should consider selling assembled versions?
With all the kerfuffle last week (Shapeways gets major investment, New MakerBot 3D printer shown at NYC MakerFaire, Massive New York Times article) it seems that at least a few stockbrokers are taking notice of the 3D print industry. The broker we spoke with actually "got it" and could not stop talking about how this technology will revolutionize things in the future. "Did you know that you can print spare parts?" Yes. We do.
But there's a problem for the stockbrokers. There are few opportunities for individual investment as there seems to be only two 3D printer companies that have issued public stock: 3D Systems and Stratasys. The other manufacturers seem to be privately held or are wild and crazy startup companies. So unless you have an "in" or are blessed with ownership of a venture capital company, you'll have to buy either TDSC or SSYS.
However, if you could, which 3D printer companies would you invest in? The leading commercial vendors? One of the hobbyist manufacturers? Perhaps one of the print services?
David Munson is a professional 3D technologist who provides a wide variety of 3D-based rendering services, such as studies of solar illumination on proposed buildings, 3D diagrams, etc. But we noticed some incredibly cool 3D prints he's prepared, including the one above. Notice the staggering detail in the support structure of the radar dish - this model would be nearly impossible to print on an extrusion based device.
The radar dish and others he's worked on were printed on various Z Corp 3D Printer, which are obviously quite capable machines.
Junior's making his own hi-res 3D printer, and he has the experience to do it, having previously converted an inkjet printer into a 3D powder-based version. He's been blogging this journey since July 2010 and is providing all the information and discoveries to the public, "you agree to not make use of it for commercial purpose."
His plan is to use light to fuse resin. The light can be very high resolution, which of course is the main objective of this project. The light will be produced by a standard DLP projector, capable of 1024x768 resolution (actually an Optoma EP728). As his build area is to be 100 x 80 x 130 mm, the 1024x768 resolution will enable pixels of "100 microns" size.
The project is still ongoing, but he's managed to actually produce prints. However:
I am still facing a lot of problems to find the right material for the bottom building area, so far I have tested glass (result: don't work as the resin stick to it), acrylic (result: resin stick to it as well) and polycarbonate (Result: resin does not stick but after some minutes the polycarbonate become opaque because of some chemical reaction and does not work anymore.
Good work so far! Be sure to watch the videos, which show a very different approach to 3D printing.
Andy Berlin, Z Corp engineer extraordinary decided to push the limits of 3D printing by printing something unusual, in an attempt to inspire others to bend their imagination. He managed to convert a sound wave into a spiral ridge, with the sound wave corresponding to peaks and valleys in the shape. That's right - he printed an LP record!
Well, it isn't precisely an LP, as the fine detail format of a classic LP is beyond the (current) resolution of the Z Corp printer: 0.01mm. Nevertheless, as you can see from the images Andy successfully printed the "record". It plays too. And the sound? "Time To Get Ill" by the Beastie Boys.
After Tuesday's big announcement of 3D Systems acquiring Bits From Bytes, we wondered why 3DS chose to acquire BfB instead of the other major hobbyist 3D printer manufacturer, MakerBot. To get answers we asked 3D Systems VP of Marketing Cathy Lewis, who explained the reasons quite clearly:
They have demonstrated execution and achieved the second highest number of shipments across all 3D printer manufacturers in 2009. They also offer two options - the Kit as well as the 3000 which makes the portfolio more appealing to a broader audience.
This reasoning makes a lot of sense to us - BfB has grown substantially recently and obviously has a great team. We're surprised at their volume, however, being the second highest in 2009. We presume that statistic includes the commercial vendors. We know MakerBot has sold over 2000 Cupcakes so far, and is still growing, but BfB must have done more, perhaps substantially more. As for an assembled version, we believe there are many more potential makers who don't have the ability or time to build it themselves. This is a distinct difference between MakerBot and BfB.
We also note that BfB has a very strong presence in the educational market, where its expected huge growth will occur as institutions discover the wonders of 3D printing awesomeness.
All of this simply reinforces the notion that 3DS will pump a lot of energy into the low-end market.
In a totally stunning announcement today 3D Systems has acquired the Bits From Bytes operation based in Bristol, UK.
This is perhaps the biggest corporate manoeuvre we've yet seen in the 3D printer space, and heralds a bold move by 3D Systems into the ultra low-end 3D printer market, now competing directly against such manufacturers as MakerBot and PP2P.
So far it appears that the Bristol team will remain intact - and remain in Bristol, indicating 3DS has great confidence in their ability to proceed. The BfB line will be sold through a dedicated sales channel, completely separate from the other 3DS products' sales channels.
3DS talks of continuing with "Democratized Access", in which they state various principles of interest to the hobbyist market, including open access, affordability, free firmware upgrades, etc. Interestingly, they also say: "planned program of new and exciting tool heads and additional print heads". The 3DS strategy here is said to be: "Accelerate 3D printer penetration through new products and channel expansion." This could get very interesting!
There are no specific product changes in the big announcement; the RapMan kit still sells for USD$1,300 and its big brother, the BfB3000 multi-head capable version goes for USD$3,900. Expect this to change, either in price or performance in the next while.
After MakerBot's big moves recently, we're wondering if they suspected something was underway with BfB? We're now wondering if they can keep up with a dramatically re-energized BfB?
Observation: this is in fact the second acquisition of a low-end 3D printer maker by 3DS. They previously purchased Desktop Factory over a year ago, but we've not yet seen low-end products appear in their lineup based on that product, although the Desktop Factory staff were absorbed into 3DS.
- How much investment will 3D Systems pump into BfB? Does 3DS believe the low-end market is worthy of major growth?
- How will the competition react if BfB is suddenly flush with cash for new developments and sales expansion?
- How will the open source community react to the acquisition of BfB by a major commercial (and indeed publicly traded) 3D printer company?
Regardless, we think this is a very interesting match - it joins the two markets for 3D printing, commercial and hobbyist, into one. This move might prove ultimately fatal for the smaller makers, given the size and funding behind 3D Systems, unless the competition can come up with similar resources somehow.
Perhaps Bre will be getting a few late night phone calls from prospective buyers this week?
[UPDATE] 3D Systems has posted the official details.
Interesting story from i.Materialise, where Joris explains that some two years ago, a tripod lever was catastrophically damaged. Rather than buying a new tripod and unable to acquire a replacement lever, they decided to "eat their own dog food" by designing and printing a replacement part.
A suitable design was prepared and the lever was printed in Alumide, a semi-metallic compound that provides sufficient strength for this application. The part has apparently survived to this day.
This seems like the obvious solution for a company that makes a living printing parts, but you wonder about the mental transition everyone must make into a world where objects can be readily made. People tend to cling to old views: I need to read the PAPER newspaper; Music comes on CDs; Things come from the store. No longer true. But old habits persist. How long will it take for the general population to go first to the 3D printer for things, versus heading out to the store?
What? We think of Fab Labs as independent operations supplying a focus for local fabrication activities, channeling ideas, tools, techniques, parts and space together where Great Things Evolve. Typically they spring up out of grassroots ideas from strong proponents who just make it happen, sometimes with local academic or corporate sponsorship. But now we read this:
H.R.6003 -- National Fab Lab Network Act of 2010 (Introduced in House - IH)HR 6003 IH111th CONGRESS2d SessionH. R. 6003To provide for the establishment of the National Fab Lab Network to build out a network of community based, networked Fabrication Laboratories across the United States to foster a new generation with scientific and engineering skills and to provide a workforce capable of producing world class individualized and traditional manufactured goods.
Wow! They say:
A new kind of national infrastructure will be required in order to adequately take advantage of leading edge digital fabrication technologies to secure the United States' leading position in scientific fields and to promote a robust manufacturing base.
They are proposing (as this Act has not yet passed) to establish a non-profit entity to manage a national network of fabrication laboratories, coordinating activities between them. The new "NFLN" would be the first point of contact for anyone wishing to create a new Fab Lab; set standards for Fab Labs and judge whether requestors are able to meet them; hook up sponsors and fabricators to make it happen; promote the idea of fabrication via labs to the public.
They want to establish "at least one Fab Lab per every 700,000 individuals in the United States in the first ten years of its operation". Um, our simplistic arithmetic shows this would be 438 Fab Labs, based on 307,006,550 residents (from July 2009) divided by 700,000. Many cities would have several Fab Labs, if this scheme works. Oh, and the population is likely to grow a tad by ten year's time.
But how is it funded? The bill says: "The NFLN may accept donations from private individuals, corporations, government agencies, or other organizations." In other words, it's really intended to organize the ongoing Fab Lab phenomenon. What do you think of this proposal?
Image Credit: CabFabLab
Freedom of Creation, one of the most dynamic artistic users of 3D printing technology have recently collaborated with Alissia Melka-Teichroew to produce "Jointed Jewels". These artistic jewellery items were made using selective laser sintering, one of the few technologies capable of producing a ball joint in a single operation.
While each jewelry item appears unique, with different shapes, arrangements and colors, they are all in fact the same underlying ball-joint design simply repeated multiple times. Even more interesting is the fact that these items were produced "all in one go" using the 3D printing technology. No assembly required!
As 3D print technology becomes more accessible to all, we predict seeing an increasing number of amazing designs and ideas brought to reality. In blue, too!