2012 has been a big year for 3-D printing, but the industry has quietly been growing for decades. And the innovations are impressive — for every new plywood-clad 3-D printer kit that makes the rounds on the internet, engineers are developing ways to print titanium parts for jet engines that will change the aerospace industry.
This week at Euromold, a manufacturing trade show, the companies behind these devices are demonstrating new products and highlighting the novel technologies that will change the way we build things. The 3-D printing industry is on track to be a $3.1 billion business by 2016 and the innovations on display this week show its foundation is growing — both in revenue and in physical print size.
The big news out of Euromold is really big — a 3-D printer so large that it requires a palette jack to unload. The newest 3-D printer from Objet combines their world-class accuracy (16 micron/0.0006 inch layer thickness) and the ability to create models with 14 materials in one print job with extraordinary size. The new Objet 1000 is named for its 1000 x 800 x 500 mm (39.3 x 31.4 x 19.6 inches) print area which is over three times the size of competitive printers. To put this in perspective, the Objet 1000 holds over 238 pounds of resin to print with, more than some 3-D printers weigh.
Size matters in 3-D printing. An oversized build chamber, along with print materials that come close to that of mass-production counterparts, means engineers can apply additive fabrication to new classes of products. Instead of being limited to printing small components like a bike helmet or pedal, engineers can now print an entire bike frame in one shot. It may not be a practical replacement for carbon fiber or tubular steel yet, but with a few more years of work, don’t be surprised to see a 3-D printed bike winning the Tour de France.