In addition to the FormLabs Form 1 printer I posted about previously, the B9 Creator 3D printer from B9Creations also produces high resolution prints that look amazingly good.
According to the booth staff, the printer has proven quite popular with independent jewellery designers and other creators that need to produce small parts with an excellent surface finish. They find it to be a great replacement technology for the wax models used for jewellery casting, especially when there's a need to faithfully reproduce small detail.
The printer z-axis slices can be as small as 6.35 microns in height, while the overall print volume is 102.4mm x 76.8mm x 200 mm (obviously the printer designers thought in inches since those dimensions work out to 4" x 3" x 8".
The way that 3D printing technology is ramping up so quickly, instead of asking "What can you print?" we should be asking "What can't you print?". There's no better example than the jet engine turbine shown at the World Maker Faire last week by Kraftwurx.
Kraftwurx is essentially an online fulfilment company that enables designers to upload their creations, setup a storefront, and take orders, while Kraftwurx does all the 'behind the scenes' grunt work by processing the orders, printing and shipping the items, processing the credit card payments, and delivering a check to the designer. It's not a new or unique business model, and has been successfully applied to other markets, like photography and t-shirts, in the past. Kraftwurx's spin is to apply the business model to 3D printing coupled with a lot of applications and design know-how.
The jet engine turbine they had on display at Maker Faire was a good example. It's still in the prototype phase, and is intended for use in a model aircraft rather than anything life sized. Still, it was quite impressive to see first hand.
The "maker movement" is much more than just hacking, experimenting, or playing around with hobbies. A big part of it, at least for me and many of my friends, is the ability to pass on skills and know-how to others, including passing them down from generation to generation.
One of Michael Overstreet's humanoid robots playing soccer at World Maker Faire 2013 in New York City. Michael puts in a tremendous amount of time and effort each year attending Maker Faires in NYC, Detroit, San Mateo, and Kansas City, along with RoboGames, because he gets real inspiration from introducing kids and adults to robotics.
"If Superglue and PlayDough had a baby" is the tag line for Sugru, a surprisingly useful self curing rubber concoction that turns out to be extremely useful.
Want to quickly fabricate a simple stand? Need to patch some rough edges or a break? Don't like the sharp corners on your smartphone or tablet? Sugru is the answer, and it's a whole lot of fun to boot.
The FormLabs Form 1 high resolution desktop printer has some limitations/drawbacks for the type of work that I typically do, but it is so incredibly awesome that I want one anyway.
The part resolution, surface finish, and ability to produce parts that would be difficult if not impossible with other additive 3D printers, is really striking. Take a close look at the print developing in the Form 1 photo above. How difficult would it be for you to produce the same print with a Makerbot Replicator 2?
In addition to the print quality and performance, I love the aesthetic design of the printer itself. If Johnny Ive designed 3D printers instead of iPhones, this is the type of printer he would create.
At the same time, there are some downsides/limitations. The Form 1 won't be available until January 2014 at the earliest, and not in all US states or countries overseas. Japan is one of the countries that's obviously missing from the list at this point, though I did hear from the FormLabs staff at Maker Faire that plans for Japan sales and support are in the works.
The initial cost is higher than other printers, which I can rationalize given the higher performance and print quality. What's harder to justify, for my unique needs, is the higher projected running cost given that the printer resin has to be purchased from FormLabs and it isn't readily available locally. That implies that users will have to stock resin or risk running out just when they need to produce parts for projects or clients. For overseas users, like me, where it can take a week or more even for expedited FedEx delivery (not to mention costing an arm and a leg), this is a serious concern.
There are also some limitations that might be troublesome, depending on your particular use case. For example, one of the FormLabs booth staff explained that the Form 1 resin parts take several days to cure to the point that they are solid enough to be used in functional parts that might be subjected to stress. This wouldn't be a problem for artistic or concept designers, but would definitely pose significant problems for the type of parts I design and use regularly.
All things considered, the Form 1 is in a class by itself and definitely worth serious consideration if it's characteristics match your typical use case.