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April 24, 2010

Geek Lust: HP's new 3D printer

(See Dec.2008 post on 3D printing)

Hewlett-Packard, which knows printers, is introducing a new 3-D Printer in Europe, with a later rollout in the United States. HP doesn't make the printer itself - a company named StrataSys does - but I suppose that's in keeping with the way things are done these days.

The new line of printers hopes to introduce rapid prototyping to design and engineering firms, and to eventually extend 3D printing to home hobbyists. The printer produces solid physical objects, in either a whitish-putty color or one of eight other colors (depending on the printer version).

How do you make a 3-D physical object? Well, how do you make a sculpture of an elephant? The classic advice (from Bernini) is, start with a big stone, and then take away everything that isn't an elephant. Michelangelo said a similar thing: "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

In modern 3-D printing, this is the reductive approach used by the MakerBot Cupcake machine, which uses CNC-style milling to reduce a block of material into the desired object.

There's never just one way to do things. Another path is to start off with nothing, just a clean space, and to deposit one very tiny bit of material. Then you keep adding tiny bits of material until you have an elephant. This additive approach is the path taken by the new HP printer (and also by the open-source RepRap machine).

Like the RepRap and Cupcake, the HP-Stratasys platform will operate using ABS plastic material. It's likely that the HP-Stratasys machine will, at least initially, be more like the additive approach used by Stratasys' existing Dimension line and the Reprap, not the CNC-style of the MakerBot Cupcake machine.

This new HP unit costs about US $17,000. (The open-source DIY versions run about $1000.) I remember when the new laser printers cost $20K. Eventually, the cost of the HP will come down, too.

It's going to be very cool to be able to fabricate (or print) physical objects in your garage. What's really going to be cool is when you also have a 3-D scanner. Then you can scan an object and print it, a sort of 3-D copy machine. Hmm, I guess you'd call that a replicator.

I really want one of these, but I think that what I truly want is for somebody else to pay for one and let me use it.


Chris said...

3D Printing Technology has made it possible for designers to create 3D models and images pre-production products without the need to incur expensive outsourcing costs. With new technologies companies can own their own 3D Print systems and produce 3d models right in their office, saving significant time and money

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