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Rapid Technology Makes Gains

New systems and materials keep turning out advanced 3D prototypes and parts.

What is rapid prototyping and manufacturing (RP&M)? Is it solid freeform fabrication? 3D conversion? Whichever term you choose, the in-the-trenches folk keep making progress, offering new systems and materials. From the race for less-expensive hardware to the drive for more durable materials, there have been some interesting gains across the board in the last year.

For the moment, suffice it to say the choices in rapid systems continue to broaden. At the same time, some new materials and processes are perking up the ears of serious users in a growing variety of industries.

A Systems Perspective

Tough enough to be machined, drilled, and “thrown across a conference-room table,” parts from the forth-coming RP&M Desktop Factory machines are made from a durable proprietary composite of nylon, aluminum and glass. These new machines, set to ship after July, are expected to cost between $5,000 and $7,000, setting a new low-cost threshold for an RP&M system. Based more on the principles of offset printing rather than jetting or spraying, the Desktop Factory system first creates each layer’s shape on a drum, then unrolls that layer onto the previous one, using a halogen light source for instant curing (no postprocessing required). Build volume is 5 in. x 5 in. x 5 in. and layers are 0.010 in. thick. The unit measures about 25 in. x 20 in. x 20 in., plugs into standard wall outlets, and requires no special ventilation.

CRP Technologie



> > This old-fashioned bicycle model is made with high-stiffness, black carbon-fiber-filled Windform XT polyamide from CRP Technologies. 

Other companies are aiming at the easier-to-afford RP&M arena. One is 3D Systems with its new V-Flash Desktop Modeler. Priced at $9,900, this stereolitho- graphy apparatus (SLA) system features a build size of about 7 in. x 9 in. x 8 in., and fits on a table with a footprint of 25 in. x 26 in. x 27 in. An all-in-one material cartridge contains integrated material metering and dispensing, as well as parts that typically wear quickly like pumps, re-coaters, and dispensers. Users can replace the cartridge themselves instead of placing a service call.
Roland Advanced Solutions Division’s latest subtractive rapid prototyping (SRP) system is the MDX-540, a precision desktop milling machine with an optional rotary axis for automatic four-sided milling. Also new is SRP Player CAM software that plans faster, more efficient toolpaths. Maximum work volume is approximately 20 in. x16 in. x 6 in. List price is $19,995.

3D Systems
3D Systems







In January, the Dimension 3D Printing Group announced the availability of a fifth product in its line of fused deposition modeling (FDM)-based 3D printers, the Dimension Elite. This system provides stronger functional models (compared to its other offerings) with fine feature details and improved surface finish, which are suited for parts such as electronic connectors, medical testers, and small instruments. The Elite uses a new material called ABS-plus, said to be on average 40 percent stronger than regular ABS. Build envelope is 8 in. x 8 in. x 12 in., and the price is $32,900.

Envisiontec’s Perfactory Desktop System joins the small-footprint market with a system that produces very fine resolution parts based on Digital Light Processing (DLP) 1024 x 768 pixel resolution technology. Overall size is 18 in. x 18 in. x 31 in., and the build envelope is 1.6 in. x 1.2 in. x 3.9 in. The system uses self-contained resin cartridges of liquid photo-polymer, and costs approximately $39,500.

Z Corp.



< < ZCorp’s newest system, the Z450, offers full-color 3D printing in an office environment. Here, stress areas can be easily seen in a piston-driveshaft model. 

Z Corp. has introduced the full-color ZPrinter 450, aimed at simplifying the 3D printing process. The 450 features an automated, integrated powder-removal system plus new ZPrint software that remotely performs setup, material checks, and powder recycling from any networked computer. The system is designed to be office-friendly: quiet and easy to use for schools and medium-sized businesses, running off regular wall current, and incorporating a negative-pressure vacuum to keep powder contained inside the unit. Not only are the binder printheads off-the-shelf from Hewlett-Packard, but now more deeply colored parts are achieved with the use of standard, office-supply HP inkjet cartridges. Build volume is 8 in. x 8 in. x 10 in., resolution is 300 x 450 dpi, and the price is $39,900.

EOS brought several new direct-manufacturing systems to market this past year. A smaller version of its plastic laser-sintering (LS) systems, the FORMIGA P 100, features a build envelope of approximately 8 in. x 10 in. x 13 in. This unit can create parts with wall thicknesses as small as 0.4mm, and features an improved dispensing and recoating process. Two new larger LS systems are the EOSINT 390, with a volume of 13.4 in. x 13.4 in. x 24.4 in., and the EOSINT P 730, a faster version of the dual-laser P 700, that has built parts as large as 23.9 in. x 13 in. x 19.3 in.

Always Something with Materials

Since Roland SRP systems work with actual end-use materials, the company is making it easier to evaluate a variety of possibilities, offering a sample kit of typical machining materials. For $99 you get a chunk of black ABS, white Delrin/Acetal, clear polycarbonate, blue machinable wax, medium-density tooling board, and a light-density tooling board in a size about 1.5 in. x x in. x 5 in. They all work in Roland’s full range of SRP systems.

Roland SRP




> > RolandSRP will send you a sample kit of its machining materials for $99.  It includes ABS, Delrin/Acetal, clear polycarbonate, wax, and tooling board of various densities.

3D Systems introduced a black version of its DuraForm EX plastic (an ABS-like material) for its Sinterstations and Accura 60 (a transparent, polycarbonate-like material) for its SLA systems. The company also announced two new colors (opaque red and opaque blue) of VisiJet sheet material for its InVision LD100 machine, a desktop 3D printer priced at $14,900.


SLA Materials


SLA Materials, an independent developer and supplier of SLA resins, has several new materials in its Hi-REZZ family. Hi-REZZ A1850CL is an ABS-simulated resin, and Hi-REZZ ICE is a slightly blue-tinted clear resin similar to a general-purpose ABS product. Hi-REZZ MED refers to a number of custom formulations for medical applications, and Hi-REZZ Nano is the latest effort based on proprietary, Poly-X fillers aimed at high-strength and high-temperature applications.

Since the 1980s, DSM Somos has sold a line of stereolithography resins developed to closely mimic production-material performance. The company recently introduced four new resins with such attributes as low shrinkage, low ash after burnout, and high heat-deflection temperature. Three materials are based on Somos Oxetane. The first two, ProtoGen O-XT 18120 (translucent) and 18420 (white), exhibit linear shrinkage on the order of 0.002 in.-0.0035 in. Parts made with these materials can be drilled and tapped.

DSM Somos’ ProtoCast AF has low water absorption and high green strength, and is antimony-free, a property that avoids the pitting problems often found with ash residues during investment casting. Residual ash is less than 0.01%. DSM NanoTool is a composite resin with a high modulus (10,500 MPa) and low shrinkage (less than 0.001 in.). NanoTool is suitable for injection-molding and metal-plating; parts made with the latter process may replace some fully metal prototypes.


DSM Somos

3Dimensional Resins has added a flexible urethane-acrylate to its line of SLA materials; URE-FLEX MR65A is said to have properties comparable to that of Santoprene. Their PP100 emulates the properties of polypropylene.

Objet Geometries Hearing Aid Solution, based on the company’s PolyJet 16-micron-layer technology, uses FullCure 640 (clear), 660 (rose color), and 680 (skin tone) resins for the hearing-aid industry.

Stratasys, the North American distributor for Arcam systems, now offers ASTM F-75 Cobalt Chromium for use in Arcam’s Electron Beam Melting EBM S12 system. The alloy is well suited to direct manufacturing of orthopedic implants and prosthetics.

EOS continues to work on new materials for its line of LS machines. EOS Stainless Steel 17-4 is the latest offering, with properties corresponding to U.S. steel classification 17-4 PH. CobaltChrome MP1, a cobalt-chrome-molybdenum-based superalloy, was introduced last year, as well as the specialized CobaltChrome SP1 for dental applications. They also offered Aluminide, a metallic-looking, aluminum-filled polyamide (PA) and PrimePart, a stronger PA material.


Desktop Factory






Z Corp. has announced a new, true-white plaster powder and deeper, more precise coloring for its family of 3D printers.

More Developments on the Horizon

Solidica’s ultra-sonic-bonding systems have successfully produced working electronic sensors (gathering live temperature and vibration data) embedded within solid aluminum components. Their Formation equipment bonds thin layers of foil stock, and allows insertion of electrical components to form ruggedized, secure parts. Solidica parts won Best of Show at Sensors Expo 2006 last summer.

Solidscape has started selling its InduraCast and InduraFill materials by volume instead of weight, resulting in larger bottles with more cost-effective pricing.

Objet Geometries has opened a U.S.-based direct marketing and support office in Billerica, MA. Equipment and resin sales for its Eden line of polyjetting rapid systems began stateside on January 1, and all customer support will transfer from Stratasys, Objet’s previous marketing partner, to the Billerica office on September 1 of 2007.

Just because there haven’t been big-fanfare announcements from some of the other rapid players doesn’t mean they aren’t also busy with R&D programs, so stay tuned. A quiet spring can mean big news for the second half of 2007.

RP Tempering: A Radically New Process Option
A different approach to material development comes from Par3 Technology. It has created a family of processes called RP Tempering that enhances parts made with FDM, SLA, Selective Laser Sintering, and on most 3D printers. Processed parts exhibit increased impact resistance and torsional durability, as well as improved heat resistance and deflection, chemical resistance, flammability, flex strength, and even EMI shielding.

Par3 Technology
Par3 Technology






The RP Tempering technology includes proprietary materials and techniques for 1) sealing parts and improving surface finish; 2) additive applications of special coatings as well as infilling with multi-wall carbon nanotubes; 3) a subtractive engineering process that creates specific geometries within a part for filling; and 4) a patented CAD technique that forms tunnels and spaces within the part file, prior to the rapid build, which can improve such properties as flexibility. A number of OEMs, service bureaus, and actual end-users are working with Par3 Technology on these developments and specific applications. —PW

Extreme RP&M
Exotic-sounding materials have been the norm for years at CRP Technology (Modena, Italy), but then their customers demand them: the drivers and designers of Le Mans, Formula 1, and NASCAR racing cars. As part of its extensive engineering services, the company develops new, specialty materials for SLS parts manufacturing. Its newest is a sparkling black, carbon-fiber filled polyamide called Windform XT. Mechanical properties compare favorably with those of PA6 BG-35, a high-performance material for injection molding, as well as to A5052 H32, a magnesium-aluminum alloy.

Working stateside on polyamide nanocomposites for SLS is a group at the University of Texas at Austin heavily populated by former DTM team-members. They are working, among other things, on modifying Nylon 11 and 12 to make them fire-retardant. A related book now available is Polymer Nanocomposites by Joseph H. Koo, director of the Solid Freeform Fabrication Consortium at UT Austin.—PW

Rapid Resources
Users are often your best guide to the real story with any kind of manufacturing system. Browse the listserv at http://rapid.lpt.fi/archives/, and join in the discussions by mailing a request to rp-ml@rapid.lpt

Check the web for RP Service Bureaus in your area or around the world. A great entry point is athttp://home.att.net/~castleisland/emkt_01.htm, the home of Castle Island’s Worldwide Guide to Rapid Prototyping’s Service Bureau Directory and Database, updated this past December.

Keep up with industry trends from RP consultants such as Terry WohlersTodd Grimm, and TotalCS Team. —PW


Company Information

3Dimensional Resins
Pompano Beach, FL

3D Systems
Rock Hill, SC

Eden Prairie, MN

CRP Technology
Modena, Italy

Desktop Factory
Pasadena, CA

Dimension 3D Printing Group
Eden Prairie, MN

DSM Somos
Elgin, IL

Munich, Germany

Envisiontec GmbH
Ferndale, MI

Objet Geometries, Inc.
Billerica, MA

Par3 Technology
Cookeville, TN

Roland Advanced Solutions Division
Irvine, CA

SLA Materials
Algonquin, IL

Solid Freeform Fabrication Consortium/ University of Texas
Austin, TX

Ann Arbor, MI

Merrimack, NH

Z Corp.
Burlington, MA

About Pamela J. Waterman

Contributing Editor Pamela Waterman, Digital Engineering's simulation expert, is an electrical engineer and freelance technical writer based in Arizona. Contact her via DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.