written by: Steve McFarlane•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/18/2009
3D printers and 3d prototyping hardware have not been accessible to small business and home offices because of the prohibitive costs. If Desktop Factories three dimensional printer is anything to go by, 3D printers will be as ubiquitous as inkjet printers are today.
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Imagine a future where you are able to select a product from an online catalog and then send it to print on your very own 3D printer, or how about printing a toy for your child or a replacement for your lost cell-phone cover? Had it not been for the recession, we could have had a $5,000 3D printer on the market sooner, and it would have been from Desktop Factory.
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The Printing Process
Desktop Factory’s 125ci 3D printer creates three-dimensional outputs from CAD and CAM files by layering composite plastic powder until the model is complete. Desktop Factory’s proprietary software imports industry standard 3D printer formats and STL files and then automatically slices and orients the sections to optimize build performance and create the required support structures in the finished model. When the process is done, the completed model actually replicates the computer design both in terms proportion and functionality. As a result, the 3D models can then be used as mockups in an overall design process (i.e. as a master model) or as the final product.
The maximum build volume that the 125ci 3D printer is designed to handle is 5 x 5 x 5 inches, with the thickness of each layer being a mere 0.010 inch.
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Designed for Small Offices
At present, individuals or businesses, who wish to get 3D prototype of their designs, would need to either outsource to a 3D printing service or fork out more than $20,000 for a 3D printing solution of their own. There aren’t a host of 3D printer manufacturers in the market, but the existing manufacturers sell solutions ranging from the low $20k to well over $100k. Of course the cost of the printer is but one cost factor. The materials and other operating costs of most 3D printers average about $0.10 per centimeter, while the 125ci 3D printer costs about $1 per cubic inch, a figure Desktop Factory claims to be the lowest in the industry.
According to Desktop Factory the 125ci “…3D printer is designed to meet the needs of small design/engineering firms, departments within large companies and schools. It can be plugged into standard wall outlets, is fully network compatible, and requires no special ventilation." The 125ci has petite dimensions, as compared to other 3D printers on the market; the initial printer design measures about 25 x 20 x 20 and weighs only 90 lbs, which is small enough to fit on an office desk next to a workstation and printer.
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Desktop Factory Sells its Printing Technology
In an August 31, 2009, a press release from 3D Systems Corporation announced that, “it acquired certain assets of Desktop Factory." It is not clear what assets were purchased or whether Desktop Factory will continue to develop the 3D printer. However, 3D Systems has announced plans to integrate the new technology into their existing product line.
One can’t help but wonder whether a company would undersell its own high revenue product line, by bringing to market a cheaper product. Hopefully, they will use this new technology to leapfrog the competition and bring to the market a low cost and reliable 3D printer, we will see.
What’s for sure is that Desktop Factory’s technology is revolutionary, and the prospect of 3D printers and 3D prototyping becoming as ubiquitous as inkjets printers are today, is truly exciting.