Recently Fizikal paid a visit to the TCT show in Birmingham to check out the latest in all things rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing. Now, it's been a number of years since we last had chance to visit TCT and it was a pleasant surprise to see such a level of progression within the industry.
The technology has clearly moved on in leaps and bounds in recent years with the most notable jump being within the entry level market. It seems there has been an influx of start-up companies producing some very cost effective desktop machines. A few years ago you may have seen one or two outfits building machines which resembled something like a meccano kit. Today though, we have a wide selection of rather professional looking, affordable and advanced printers. Makerbot is one of the big names that has recently made some waves within the segment by offering competent and user friendly printers. Although prototyping aficionados (is their such a thing?) may scoff at some of the more consumer focussed offerings, they do however, offer real value when it comes to creating less complex shapes and mechanisms quickly. One of the areas that hasn't really been a strength of the lower end printers is with regards to build resolution. More often than not your model would look rather crude by being made up with obvious layers and large contours. However, things look to be improving significantly with companies like Mass Portal taking the same process as Makerbot and refining it to deliver a much higher resolution. They even demonstrated this with working mechanical watch parts.
Within the high end professional segment there are some really exciting developments, EnvisionTEC currently boast the highest resolution printer on the market with their Perfactory series, this has the ability of printing down to 15µm, which as you can imagine is incredibly detailed and is already proving useful within the field of dentistry. Multi-material printing also featured strongly at the exhibition, with Stratasys showing some incredible possibilities with there new the J750 machine. This allows different materials to be combined during the printing process to create multi-coloured and multi-material parts. This shows great potential for designing over moulded plastic parts where previously more labour intensive processes like vacuum casting would be required.
One of the real benefits to understanding current and emerging rapid prototyping technologies is that; if correctly utilised, prototyping can significantly better inform the product development process. Prototypes quickly allow you to answer questions and find solutions to challenges without the significant investment required for tooling. If you have any questions about rapid prototyping, why not get in touch.