RS Components last week showed off a number of the 3D printers in its line-up, including newly available models from 3D Systems that enable users to print objects comprised of more than one colour. At the same event, Dr Adrian Bowyer, inventor of the RepRap, the first low-cost 3D printer, gave a talk about the implications that 3D printing may hold for manufacturing and society in general.
On show at the event in London was the RepRapPro Ormerod, the most up-to-date version of the RepRap device, along with newly available models from 3D Systems, including the third-generation Cube, and the CubePro Duo and CubeX Trio.
The third-generation Cube (below) supports simultaneous printing of two plastic colours, and can fabricate objects up to 152x152x152mm in volume. It is available from RS for £999.
Meanwhile, the larger CubePro model has a fully enclosed print area for a more controlled environment, and can produce objects of up to 275x265x240mm in size. There are three different versions capable of printing with one, two or three simultaneous plastic colours, priced at £2,359, £2,760 and £3,440, respectively. The one shown below is the CubePro Duo.
Offering similar capabilities is the CubeX model, with the CubeX Trio (below) costing £2,384. All of the 3D Systems models are capable of printing using either PLA or ABS plastic, with the Duo models also able to handle nylon. All are also able to support a layer thickness down to 70 micrometres.
In contrast, the RepRapPro Ormerod (below) is supplied in kit form for £399, and is in fact described by its creator Bowyer as an open-source device – meaning that all of the components that make up the printer can be easily sourced off the shelf (such as the motors) or manufactured using another RepRap.
A range of sample 3D objects was also on display, to demonstrate the wide range of things that can be produced by one of these printers.
These included the robotic digger shown in the picture below, which was comprised of 3D printed parts plus motors and a controller with display.
Also on show from 3D Systems was the Sense 3D scanner that enables users to capture real objects – even people's heads – and then print them out as a model.
At the event, Bowyer spoke of the wider implications of 3D printing as the technology improves and becomes more widely adopted. Overall, he expected that 3D printing would be a good thing, enabling ordinary people to become more creative and to manufacture objects for themselves that would otherwise require a factory to produce.
He was also dismissive of the notion that 3D printers would destroy industry, saying that many things will still have to be manufactured the traditional way. "We're not going to be using this to make supertankers anytime soon," he said.
While Bowyer said some business models might be threatened by the rise of 3D printing, this was just a normal part of technological progress. "When was the last time you bought a roll of photographic film?" he asked the audience. "This entire industry has disappeared, almost unremarked and unmourned."
On the question of potential copyright infringement with 3D printers, Bowyer said he "had a little bit of sympathy" for copyright holders, but compared the situation with that of the music industry and digitisation. Musicians, he said, typically aren't too bothered about copying, because they make most of their money from live performances.
"The people who have been taken out of the mix are all the people who used to live in the middle and acted as a gateway between the musicians and the public. Now that connection can be made directly," he said.
In any case, intellectual property rights did not apply to the vast majority of objects people would want to make, according to Bowyer.
"There's no patents or copyright on teaspoons or coat hooks." he said.
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