We managed to get an afternoon out of the office to visit the NEC for TCT Additive Manufacture show last week. It was our first time to TCT this year, however, first impressions were the industry show is changing. In many ways a coming together of aerospace standard scanning and printing systems and the Maker Faire / Hackspace type community.
We have always used rapid prototyping as part of our product development process. If we need high accuracy parts made from specific materials, then rapid CNC is the way we would prototype our developing CAD model. If material type is less important we may have chosen from various Rapid prototyping techniques, including SLS ( Selective Laser Sintering ) Parts fused by a laser from a bath of powdered plastic and SLA ( Stereolithography ) Parts activated in layers, by a laser in a bath of photo-active resin. These are all good in their own way, however the machines themselves can cost upto £50k and need constant work 24/7 to be cost effective, if used inefficiently that cost would go on to the customer, which we would never want. While we have world class resources in the UK and Far east for prototyping and small scale manufacture, as noted from our previous post, we were keen to have a desktop solution as part of the open source community for 3D printing. We went to the global community for their recommendation,
Unless you have been living on the dark side of the moon for the last 5 years, you probably know about the emergence of affordable 3D Printing. An early device to weigh in was actually developed just down the road from us at Bath University. The RepRap project was born out of a philosophy paper - the idea surrounding a machine that helps to build its progeny. RepRap was designed out of 3d printed parts, hence the device could produce "offspring". 3D Printing Significantly RepRap was a not for profit and open source movement, which has to be a significant factor in the explosion of the 3D printing enthusiast community, just run the term "3D printing" through Google Trends and you can see the explosion around 2011. We then saw many devices spring up as commercial start ups, apparently very much based on the RepRap, in particular the majority are based on "Fused Deposition Modelling" ( Imagine an inkjet printer that extrudes a tiny stream of hot plastic over a platform that drops away, as the part builds up the layers.)