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Editor’s Pick: 3D Printer Builds and Unpacks Models Continuously

By Anthony J. Lockwood

Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:

I once saw Borsch Belt comedian Jackie Mason slap his head and lament “why didn’t I think of that?” when discussing the profits that a well-known chain earned from selling what he called “burnt coffee.” Today’s Pick of the Week selection is a reminder that ingenuity often means executing the brilliantly clear “why didn’t I think of that?” alternative.

A German company by the name of Voxeljet Technology, which specializes in 3D printing technology and 3D print services for industrial applications, has announced the planned release of its VXC800, "the world’s first continuous 3D printer.” It sounds like an interesting development for those of you making molds and models for metal casting.

The gist of the genius here is that the VXC800 uses a conveyor belt to continuously move your 3D model from the machine’s front to back during the build process. This means three big things for your operations.

First, it enables you to build 3D models and unload completed models at the same time. You know, it’s like one of those tortilla ovens at a Mexican joint? Second, this capability also means that you can do lots of short runs of decent-sized models simultaneously and hence do so affordably.

Three. Since conveyor belts in operation are a loop — no linear beginning and end, so to speak — the length of your model is limited only by practicality. This can open whole new lines of business for some of you, and it certainly opens up a new angle to 3D printing since, length-wise, you’re not boxed into physical limitations any more.

Ok, now, you’ll also want to know that the VXC800’s continuous additive manufacturing process is a traditional 3D print process for the most part. Its trick is in the interaction between the coater, printhead, and conveyor belt. The conveyor belt, which is sloped, is key. A coater lays down the polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) sand on the conveyor at the front of the machine. The printhead bonds the powder. The conveyor then moves your fill a layer thickness toward the end of the machine. This process goes on until the model reaches completion and arrives at the end of the machine, where you remove it and have your way with it.

Ingenious, isn’t it? Wish I had thought of it.

Notable specs include 150 µm to 400 µm layer thicknesses, 850 x 500 mm (33.46 x 19.68 in.) build area, and 600 dpi resolution. And the company says that the VXC800’s price tag and operating costs are expected to be lower than conventional systems.

Shipments are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2013. In the meantime, you can read more about the VXC800 3D printing system from the link over there.

Thanks, Pal. — Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering

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About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Desktop Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@deskeng.com.