New printer produces 3D objects on demand


June 4, 2004

Image Gallery (12 images)

Imagine a machine which accepts CAD drawings, then produces a three dimensional prototype within a few hours for $100 - it now exists. The successful implementation of the technology points the way to this technology eventually finding its way into local bureau which produce while-you-wait samples as a service, and eventually to the home where designs could be downloaded from the internet and manifested at whim.

Z Corporation now has several models of 3D printers that produce physical prototypes quickly, easily, and inexpensively from computer-aided design (CAD) and other digital data.

In the same way that conventional desktop printers provide computer users with a paper output of their documents, 3D printers provide 3D CAD users a physical prototype of real world objects such as a mobile phone, an engine manifold, or a camera.

The process operates in a remarkably similar fashion to the inkjet printer, building layer upon layer of powder and a bonding agent which creates the object, and it can even be done in full colour.

Though only available for a short time, the machines have already found their way into the world's best known R&D; studios - Sony, Fisher-Price, Adidas, Canon, Kodak, NASA, Harley Davidson, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BMW, Porsche, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Harvard, MIT and Yale.

At the bottom end of the market, the most recent entry-level rapid prototyping system sells for around US$25,000, providing customers with an all-purpose solution for their modeling needs.

The ZPrinter System completes the product line, which includes the Z406 Full Color 3D Printer and the Z810 Large Format 3D Printer. Z Corporation offers a range of materials to support its 3D Printers, including the new ZCast powder, used to create molds for metal casting.

The revolutionary ZCast technology addresses the needs of the metal casting industry and end users who seek to rapidly produce metal prototype parts. The ZCast technology involves printing metal casting molds directly from digital data. The process drastically reduces the time it takes to produce a casting from weeks to days. In addition to the ZCast process, the technology can be used to create patterns for the sand casting or investment casting of metal parts.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, (Australia's largest Telco), (Australia's largest employment site),,, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

How intricate can these 3D models be? And do they actually function?

The multi-coloured item in the pic looks like it would actually move with its working parts.


PeteStoner, currently models are limited to the size that can be printed accurately, I believe 3D printing heads are identical in size to Inkjet heads so the model could range 1/300 to 1/1200 inch in accuracy.With professional CAD models can be as intricate as possible, entire electrical circuits can be printed, and some Universities are doing just that (

LiquidMeta ( has a range of metals which look promising for printing engines and structures.

The usual prototypes with Makerbots only produce plastic models by default. Its on the wish list for our school CDT.

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