the future of manufacturing. Recently—actually the last several years—more and more people have been saying that 3D printing is dead in the water, that it will never reach anything greater than hobbyist status. The main driver behind the 3D printing backlash is that, as soon as people heard that 3D printing would allow you to create pretty much anything on demand, they wanted and expected it to be possible RIGHT NOW!
Anyone who knows anything about technology will tell you: any worthwhile technology will take time to develop to the point where it can reach its true potential. Thanks to the peeps at Stratasys, 3D printing may have reached that point.
How much better than previous technology is Statasys’ new 3D printing system? Well, it can only make parts that are better quality, stronger, and more affordable than previous FDM (fused deposition modeling—the fancy-pants term for 3D printing) devices. Oh yeah, it can make bigger parts, too.
The current iteration of the system fused deposition models Ultem, an advanced thermoplastic polymer that can be as strong and durable as steel, at a fraction of the weight. It is commonly used for aerospace and automotive parts, where its strength-to-weight ratio has helped engineers shave literally tons of the mass off certain vehicles (the big ones).
Previously, Ultem machining was the primary method of creating parts—and it isn’t especially easy. The material is notorious difficult to work with, so being able to create parts that are of the exact correct dimensions right off the bat will be huge boon.
Because it’s way much extra fancy, the Stratasys machine can simultaneously mix and print with multiple materials. The Ultem is mixed with a special support material that is engineered for horizontal building. Serious question: How in the H-E-double-stuff-Oreo does one engineer a plastic specifically to go sideways?! Friggin’ science! I’d bet that the formula for the support material is kept more secret than KFC’s original recipe. (Chicken. Grease. Salt.)
The 3D printmotron uses an 8-axis mechanism to print its parts, which is at least four more axes than I thought were possible. Because it can get at what it’s building from every which way but loose, it can make the parts stronger by pooping out mixed-Ultem molecules at the perfect angle.