Traveling to 3D printing conventions always starts out as a stress-filled endeavor for me. There is always too much to see, too much to learn and too many people to talk to, and while planning my time, the panic sets in as I realize that I’m simply not going to be able to do everything that I hoped that I could. But luckily, once I arrive at the conference things start to move along and the day ends up sort of planning itself no matter how much prep work I do before I arrive. It helps that the people behind Inside 3D Printing conferences always run a tight, well organized ship, but 3D printing is still a small enough industry that it is still remarkably easy to stumble onto the booths and people that you really want to see the most.
This year’s opening keynote speaker was the president of Made in Space Andrew Rush, and given the direction that 3D printing is heading I can’t imagine a more appropriate way to start off the conference. This was a stellar year for the developers of the Zero-G 3D Printer, currently the first and only additive manufacturing facility not on Earth, and it looks to be ending on a high note as they ready their second 3D printer to join it on the International Space Station.
Sarah already wrote up a fantastic recap of the keynote, but there was plenty of trivia and information about the company to be had. For me, one of the most interesting things Rush covered in his 45 minute speech was how important the International Space Station is to an unexpectedly large collection of businesses. There are entire companies that exist solely to provide the ISS with materials, logistical support and technology. Considering the aging space station is due to be closed down in 2024, only nine years away, many of those companies are scrambling to find ways to continue after ISS is mothballed.
3D printing in zero gravity environments with robotics seems to be the direction that many of those companies are headed, so the research that Made in Space is conducting is vital to an entire industry. Additionally, developing technology that can work in the vacuum of space isn’t just going to benefit space travelers, but the technology can be adapted to work in dangerous or extremely inhospitable conditions here on Earth as well, including Antarctica or on ships out at sea.
Once I got to the exhibit hall I immediately went to check out the Raise3D booth to get a look at their series of 3D printers currently blowing up on Kickstarter. The crowdfunding campaign met its original goal of $50,000 in about eight minutes, and in a little over a week it has already climbed up to nearly $270,000. The machines that were on display were gorgeous, as seen at Maker Faire NY, and while many printers before have had touchscreen controls the Raise3D N series touchscreen legitimately puts them all to shame. At 300°C (570°F) all three sizes of the N series printers can use ten advanced materials, including PLA, ABS, PETG, HIPS and bronze or wood filled filaments. The printing detail is virtually flawless, and capable of an incredible 85° overhang with no support material. And the massive N2 Plus and its 12 x 12 x 24 inch build volume needs to be seen to be believed. There are still a few more weeks left on the Raise3D Kickstarter and these printers are prosumer quality being sold at consumer prices.
I also got a look at the new low-cost beginner 3D printer Finder by FlashForge. The machine looks great, and with a sticker price of $699 it still is packed with a lot of printing power. The Finder is a great little machine priced for newbies or budget conscious buyers, and it doesn’t sacrifice the quality, speed and printing detail that has made FlashForge one of the fastest growing 3D printer manufacturers in the industry. You only get a single extruder, PLA and a 5.5 x 5.5 x 5.5 inch build volume, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great looking starter machine.
Argentinian 3D printer manufacturer Chimak3D was also on hand showing off their low-cost Pinin printer, which will be available next month as a kit for only $500 and will be available assembled for less than $1000. But more exciting was their new PastaBot, which can turn any open source 3D printer into a paste extrusion 3D printer for only $350. Instead of requiring complicated extruder and nozzle changes, all of the paste feed is stored in a separate device that simply plugs into your current printer. Not only can users 3D print with clay or ceramics, but the PastaBot also prints with paste-textured food like dough or chocolate.
Also on the floor, I finally got a look at the new Formlabs Form 2 in person, and saw an incredible Spartan from the Halo series of video games 3D printed with a Stratasys Objet500 Connex printed in multiple colors with some amazing detail as a single print. It really shows off just how good the Connex is, and how far multi color and multi material printing has come. Check out the gallery below for more pictures from the show.
While there were a lot of great products, printers and services being shown off on the exhibit floor, I think that the stars of the show were the various low-cost 3D printers soon to be available. Low-cost, sub-$1000 3D printers are the fastest growing group of 3D printer sales this year, and several companies are packing as much as they can into inexpensive machines to take advantage of that growing trend.
I have one more day at Inside 3D printing Santa Clara, and still a lot to see and cover. Make sure you come back tomorrow for part two of my look at everything cool at the conference, where I’ll focus on some of the great industrial 3D printers and applications on display, including some seriously advanced UV cured resin printers, and 3D printed automotive engine parts.