One potentially disruptive technology rapidly developing beyond the hobbyist stage is 3D printing. It has been around for a while, but new developments in printers and materials pop up at least weekly.

Most manufacturing has been subtractive–take a hunk of iron or steel or plastic, put it in a mill, lathe, machining center, and do like the famous artist who, when asked how he sculpted the statue said, “I just chip away all the marble that didn’t look like the statue.”

We also mold in various ways. My second manufacturing position was at an operation that included vacuum forming parts from plastic sheets. Later, I was involved with blow molding and injection molding.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, works by laying down a thin layer of the material, followed by another layer, and so on until the final part is manufactured. It is possible to do complex parts that could never be machined or molded. The possibilities for product designers are exciting. And the prices are dropping enough and the reliability improving enough so that maybe you, too, could start a manufacturing business in your garage.

Here’s an advance I just read about.

Stratasys Ltd., a manufacturer of 3D printers and materials for personal use, prototyping, and production, has announced the launch of the “ground-breaking” Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer, it claims to be the first and only 3D printer to combine colors with multi-material 3D printing.

From the release, “A game-changer for product design, engineering and manufacturing processes, the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer features a unique triple-jetting technology that combines droplets of three base materials to produce parts with virtually unlimited combinations of rigid, flexible, and transparent color materials as well as color digital materials – all in a single print run. This ability to achieve the characteristics of an assembled part without assembly or painting is a significant time-saver. It helps product manufacturers validate designs and make good decisions earlier before committing to manufacturing, and bring products to market faster.”

Revolutionize manufacturing

“Stratasys’ goal is to help our customers revolutionize their design and manufacturing processes,” says Stratasys CEO David Reis. “I believe our new Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer will transform the way our customers design, engineer and manufacture new products. In general and with the Connex technology in particular, we will continue to push the envelope of what’s possible in a 3D world.“

Engineers at beta user Trek Bicycle in Waterloo, Wisconsin are using the Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer for assessment and testing of accessories like bike chain stay guards and handlebar grips prior to actual production. “The Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer changed the way we manufacture at Trek, augmenting our traditional, time-consuming CNC processes with fast, iterative and realistic prototyping and functional testing,” says Mike Zeigle, manager of Trek’s prototype development group.

“Now we produce bicycle parts that look and feel like production parts. We are particularly excited about 3D printing our models directly in color. This gives our designers the ability to graphically display color contact pressure map data on rider contact parts like seats and grips. We are also working on doing the same with FEA & CFD stress data on structural bike components,” adds Zeigle.

Similar to a 2D inkjet printer, three color materials – VeroCyan, VeroMagenta and VeroYellow – are combined to produce hundreds of vivid colors. These color materials join Stratasys’ extensive range of PolyJet photopolymer materials including digital materials, rigid, rubber-like, transparent, and high temperature materials to simulate standard and high temperature engineering plastics.

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