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US$15k uPrint personal 3-D printer brings rapid prototyping to the desktop

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January 6, 2010

Dimension's uPrint 3D printer and a couple of examples of the kinds of shapes it can print...

Dimension's uPrint 3D printer and a couple of examples of the kinds of shapes it can print.

3-D printing technology is maturing to the point where rapid prototyping machines are becoming affordable to small business owners - and even for high-end home use. Dimension's uPrint 3D printer has just been released at a retail price of US$14,900, giving anyone with CAD skills the ability to prototype and even manufacture pretty much any small shape they want in hard ABSplus plastic - including pre-assembled objects with moving parts. What would you create if you could have any plastic shape you wanted?

3-D printing machines started out as an incredibly efficient means of design prototyping to test parts for fit, form and function. Before this type of rapid prototyping was available, manufacturing tooling had to be set up and an initial run of a prduct had to be made - and if there were any design errors, the tooling would have to be changed and another design iteration manufactured before it could be tested.

The process is easy to understand - the CAD model is broken down into slices between seven and ten thousandths of an inch thick. The first slice is printed using an ABS plastic extrusion head, then each remaining slice is layered on top of it. You can design empty spaces and gaps between parts into your CAD setup, and use a dissolvable supporting material to hold everything in place while the model is under construction. Once this fused deposition modelling process is finished, you throw the final model into a gently agitating solvent tank for an hour or so and the supporting materials disappear, leaving your plastic model fully operational.

In this way, it's possible to make prototypes of products that are later to be conventionally manufactured, but you can also make shapes that are very difficult to build in any other way - things with moving parts which are completely encased within other parts. You don't have to design in an installation path or think about how the things are going to be assembled down the line.

The uPrint machine is conceived as a desktop device, and as such it has about the same desktop footprint as an office laser printer - 63.5 x 66cm. It's a fair bit taller than most printers, and you can make it taller again using an optional extra material bay for a larger printing capacity.

It has a reasonably small build area, reflecting the finding that an 80% majority of pieces that were being built in the company's larger machines would fit within this smaller 8x6x6 inch box. The uPrint dispenses soluble support materials as well as white ABSplus plastic, which Dimension's parent company Stratasys clains is 40% harder and stronger than regular ABS plastic. The uPrint doesn't offer the ability to print plastic in multiple colours like some of Dimension's higher-end models can.

Couple the uPrint with a 3-D scanner, and you're able to produce precise plastic replicas of whatever you can scan effectively. Couple it with a CAD design program and a creative design mind, and what you can produce is limited only by size and imagination. Get this technology down closer to US$1-2000, and you're looking at something that most aspiring designers would save up the cash for.

Check out a couple of videos on the technology:

Here's a Dimension rep explaining the uPrint to EngineeringTV.com:

This video shows a range of printed plastic parts made by a similar 3-D printer:

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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6 Comments

A retail price of under $2,000 could bring the technology into the price range of the home hobbyist, or even regular upscale consumers, and create a market opportunity for consumer CAD software, including "plug 'n' plan" programs.

William H Lanteigne
7th January, 2010 @ 09:00 am PST

Now the next step is to create ultra high precision objects in any known material....

Can't get a machine part or a special tool? Copy the old and remanufacture it - Bingo - a bright chromed alloy steel socket in under 1/2 an hour for $5.

That is what I want.

Mr Stiffy
9th January, 2010 @ 06:07 am PST

Electron beam melting machines can build complex shapes in a layered fashion out of things like titanium and ceramic, Mr. S - but they cost about one and a half million bucks right now.

Loz
10th January, 2010 @ 01:38 am PST

Why spend 15K on something like this? There IS an affordable solution that allows anyone with about $700.00 to build their own 3d printing device called a reprap. If you go to reprap.org you can find all the details. Perhaps you should add this to your stories!

The neatest part of it is that it can self replicate, creating almost all of the parts it needs to create a new unit.

Very cool!

Aaron Michael
11th January, 2010 @ 02:12 am PST

"Why spend 15K on something like this"

Because what reprap puts out looks like it was made by a kindergartner while what this device puts out looks like art. Reprap parts look aweful, and the whole kit is far from actually reliably being able to reproduce it'self... it also takes forever to make even a tiny part on reprap... reprap's resolution is abysmal, and can't even compare to this device.

One day when someone comes up with a nice print head for reprap, this may change... for instance an inkjet style printhead along with a tray that has micro-plastic-particles in it where you could print a layer and then have the machine automatically deposit a new layer of micro-fine-plastic particles and then print the next layer... when that gets added to reprap maybe things will change... but for now reprap just prints by squeezing plastic out of tube a-la mini-toothpaste-tube style printing... so long as it prints using that style of head the resolution will be a joke.

No, there's no comparison between this and reprap.

Dan K
11th January, 2010 @ 07:40 am PST

A laser printer works by creating a static charge on the paper, then toner powder sticks to this charge. you can actually see the depth of the image on the paper. So what happens if you print another picture on top of the first one? And so on.....This could of course be done in any colour.

windykites1
11th January, 2010 @ 03:39 pm PST
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