Faster resin printers are a hotspot for venture capital right now. The primary stumbling block in this technology is the layer separation mechanism. These printers all pull a model out of a vat of resin “Terminator” style, using an upside down build platform and a light source beneath the bottom of the transparent resin vat. What this means is that, after curing a layer, the build platform lifts one layer height and the next layer is cured. The problem is, after curing, the resin is liable to be bonded to the bottom of the vat, preventing the platform from being able to pull away from the vat.
Solutions are either mechanical or material. Most machines use a mechanical mechanism (usually a tilt and peel) to separate the layer from the tank. Others use a vat surface designed not to bond to the resin. Disrupters in the marketplace are creating a “layer” or thin zone at the surface of the vat where curing is inhibited, usually via the introduction of oxygen, such as with the system developed by Carbon, who uses a permeable membrane at the bottom of the vat for their CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Printing) technology. So far, their super-fast printers are not available to the public. Nevertheless, Carbon has garnered tens of millions in funds and a strategic partnership with Kodak, which suggests that they will be focusing heavily on material solutions.
“Layerless” printing is pretty much the holy grail of resin printing development right now. Another solution is to invert the process and have a top-down build, with the laser shining down into the top of the vat where the model drops slowly into the resin. While introducing other challenges, this removes the need to separate layers from the bottom of the vat.
One of the advantages of the list of printers I’ve given you so far is that they are available now from established companies located in the U.S.A. If you want to go out on a limb a bit and back a Kickstarter, check out the Gizmo, from Australia, which is much faster still than the Kudo 3D and offers a huge build volume and extreme resolution. As of this post they have 13 days left on Kickstarter. Here is a look at how the upcoming Gizmo claims to stack up against the established competition:
The other breaking technology to watch in resin printers is LCD. Uniz, from San Diego, is poised to launch their unique LCD masking system, where the exposure layer is masked by an LCD, which selectively permits or denies the passage of light from a UV lamp. They claim to be 50 times as fast as the Form 2 and are “coming soon” to Kickstarter. via fabbaloo
Meanwhile Autodesk is coming up with ways of printing faster via software. Their latest solution is focused on the Ember, but could work with other printers. The limiting factor on speed seems to be primarily the architecture of the model. If it is an open lattice that allows resin to freely flow, it can print extremely fast. If the model creates more suction on the bottom layer, it takes longer for the resin to flow into place for the next layer. How fast can you go? How does 440mm per hour in the Z axis sound? At $7495, the Ember is a bit pricier than the others, but it has the backing of Autodesk (though it’s their first mechanical product–designed mainly to set open source standards).
If you are pushing into business level printers, consider the following as well. OWL produces printers with an unbelievable 1 micron resolution, available on an hardware-upgradable service plan.
DWS makes an enviable line of printers just for jewelry casting.
What do you think? Are you sticking with the established resin printers or hanging on for newer and better?