The new wave of 3D printers

by hmd_webmaster, 13th May 2013

Remember the 80’s? We do, and we remember the old dot-matrix printers that squealed and sputtered as they shook our desks violently while spitting out black and white documents with the perforated edges.

Contemporary 3-D printers are in a similar stage of their life cycle. Most of them use a technologt called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), which basically melts a string of plastic and extrudes it onto a baseplate like toothpaste.

Crude, yes, but it gets the job done.

But there’s a new technology now available to the 3D-printing enthusiast, and its called desktop Stereolithography (SLA) technology, and it prints at a vastly higher resolution, making the final product much more refined. How does it do this?

 

Freaking lasers.

A high powered light source hardens a cross section of photosensitive resin. The machine then raises the build platform a by a hair and the process repeats. The process, in timelapse, is veritably beautiful.

 

How High Res?

You get a much higher quality finish from SLA machines to the printouts from FFF, which have bumpy, striated (read: streaky) surfaces. SLA isn’t as flawless as injection molding parts, but have an industrial-grade quality. They are, after all, derived from an industrial process.

And when you have a “print head” that’s basically a sheet of light, the size of the object’s cross section doesn’t affect print speed, only its height does.


How hi-res? This hi-res.

Complex Shapes

Trying to print products with deep detailed grooves, sharp edges and acute angles usually brings an FFF user to tears, simply because the limit to how thinly you can lay your trail of “toothpaste” is pretty unforgiving. In SLA though, complex structures like those below are not just possible, but easy to execute.

rook with helix
Look into the door of the rook, that’s a 3D printed helix in there

Materials

Unlike FF printers, the chemicals and resins used in SLA printing allows for printing with translucent materials. Though not perfectly clear, they accord a higher quality look and feel to the finished product and many more possibilities.

 

Is it time to get one?

If you’re an early adopter, yes. If not, you might want to give it a year or two, since most SLA printer manufacturers aren’t well established yet. Companies to look out for are Formlabs and their gorgeous Form1 printer, and Miicraft who are developing a larger format counterpart to their highly advanced and reliable (albeit small) 3D-printer.

Stay tuned to this blog because we’ll be performing a hands-on review of the Miicraft printer.

 

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