Second class of the year and we're already set free into the real world, a whole twenty-five minute drive from the University of Minnesota. There in Eden Prairie we found one of the most important companies in the world when it comes to 3D-printing: Stratasys.
Founded in 1989 by S. Scott Crump in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Stratasys has become extremely influential in the 3D-printer production business. Stratasys provided 44% of all 3D printers installed worldwide in 2007. Their printers range from small prototyping models, to full scale printers which create parts meant for production. In 2012 Stratasys merged with Objet, another privately held manufacturer of 3D printers and in 2013 Stratasys purchased MakerBot. Statasys' new market capitalization was estimated at $3.0 billion in 2012.
Currently their printers use one of two technologies: fused deposition modeling or polyjet technology. As I understand it (and working from their website, stratasys.com), this is how each works and their strengths and weaknesses summed up in a few bullet points:
Fused deposition modeling(FDM):
-Works by layering semi-liquid material (usually a thermoplastic) in thin strings, following a linear path. These layers then harden.
-Moves in X, Y coordinates across all parts (regardless if separate or connected) before moving onto the next layer.
-Uses two materials: modeling material (the object being created) and support material which acts as scaffolding.
-Scaffolding can be broken off or dissolved in detergent and water.
-Clean, easy to use, lower cost, durable materials
-Lower resolution (0.007 in. per layer at finest, depends on material)
-Works similarly to an inkjet printer, jetting drops of liquid photopolymer onto a build tray.
-These drops are cured or hardened with a UV light, taking several passes to fully solidify (after one pass it is mostly cured but still tacky so next layer adheres to it).
-Uses a gel-like support material that is removed with a water jet.
-Higher quality (0.0006 in. per layer), more precise and faster
-Very wide variety of materials
-Can print multiple materials at once
Between these two types of printers you can print transparent, rubbery, semi-flexible and rigid materials.
In Rapson we have this one! ---->
It's a Stratasys Dimension SST, which is an FDM printer.
If you already know how to model for 3D printers, check out the competition Stratasys is putting on!
Finally, here are some photos of the time at Stratasys with examples of what they're able to do.
Here's an FDM printer in action. Even though FDM has a less fine resolution than polyjet, watching it work you still couldn't discern the material that was being laid down.
A sample of an FDM printed object, a model clock.
An example of how a 3D printed object can be used in conjunction with other manufacturing processes, such as stretch blow molding. Here the mold was 3D printed.
Here is a polyjet printer building some more of the promotional toys we got. Pretty friggin' sweet!
And here's the final product!
One more pic of what can be done on a polyjet printer.
Can you count them all? And each is valued from around $100k and up! (though Stratasys' smaller printers range from $10k and up)