zortrax (1)As both 3D Systems and Stratasys began to struggle with the desktop 3D printer market, several manufacturers of quality, lower-priced printers began to take their place in the market. Polish 3D printer manufacturer Zortrax is one of those new rising stars in the 3D printing industry, and their Zortrax M200 made it on to almost every reputable list of 2015’s best 3D printers. While the hobby market has been taken with the M200, it has really found itself a perfect fit for education, research and prototyping applications. Especially throughout Europe, and in many of the company’s native Warsaw universities.

The Ares 2 Mars rover prototype.

The Ares 2 Mars rover prototype.

A group of students from Warsaw’s University of Technology Student Astronomical Study Group created the Mars rover Ares 2 using Zortrax M200 3D printers. The four-wheeled, all-terrain rover was designed by the student group to be capable of independently roaming and exploring the surface of Mars. Throughout the development of Ares 2, the students used their Zortrax M200 to 3D print multiple components and parts of their rover, including the wheels and a durable housing for its ultrasonic sensor. The parts were 3D printed using Zortrax’s Z-ULTRAT printing materials to reduce the weight of the rover, a necessity for anything intended to be launched into space. The students also 3D printed the rover’s gripper and successfully reduced the weight from 33 grams to 20 grams.

“Thanks to 3D printing technology, we can implement Rapid Prototyping into our projects; we can quickly produce a specific part or component in order to check whether it has been correctly designed. 3D printing also allows us to produce replacement parts rapidly and relatively cheaply,” said Tomasz Miś, vice president of the Student Astronomical Study Group at the Warsaw University of Technology.

Ares 2 and it's 3D printed gripper claw.

Ares 2 and its 3D printed gripper claw.

The team that developed Ares 2 is only one of many Polish student groups that have taken part in global design competitions, like the University Rover Challenge. Poland has been sending student teams to tech competitions for years. In fact, on a list of the world’s top 10 student design teams in 2015, it turns out that three of them were from Poland. 3D printing is commonly used in the design and prototyping of many of those teams highly successful projects.

The Scarab.

The Scarab.

The Ares 2 isn’t the only Mars rover in town, and competes with the Scarab Automatic Martian Research Vehicle developed with students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. The Scarab was originally built back in 2009, but as Poland’s first automatic Mars research vehicle, new teams of researchers are constantly updating it. The current team used 3D printed parts to upgrade and improve the design, including a new manipulator and a pair of headlights that were 3D printed on a Zortrax M200. These improvements enable the vehicle to function efficiently in a wide range of environments, even those with limited visibility. The next step for the team is to redesign the entire Scarab body using as many 3D printed parts and components as they can.

Zortrax M200 3D printers have also found themselves the favorite printer for a Polish balloon student group that has flown multiple successful flights at altitudes as high as thirty kilometers. The various balloon missions were conducted to research the properties of the Earth’s atmosphere, including the Earth’s electromagnetic field, the atmosphere’s heat transfer properties, the creation and propagation of electromagnetic waves and a project to examine micrometeorites. The group’s most recent experiment is called Balloon micro LifeForm-and-Meteorite Assembler (Bulma), and was invited to the REXUS/BEXUS Selection Workshop, an international competition that is organized by the German, Swedish and European space agencies.

Here is a video explaining how 3D printing helped the group develop their balloons:

Since the company was founded back in 2011, Zortrax has focused a lot of their attention of making sure that they played a major part in helping Poland’s research centers and universities. The Student Astronomical Study Group plans to once again present their Ares 2 project at this year’s US University Rover Challenge, and Zortrax 3D printing technology is helping them do it. Based on their history of success, when we do finally get to Mars, it’s likely that Zortrax will have helped us do it. You can learn more about Zortrax and their M200 3D printers over on their website. Discuss this project further in the 3D Printed Mars Rover forum thread over at 3DPB.com.

The 3D printed ultrasonic sensor housing on the Ares 2.

The 3D printed ultrasonic sensor housing on the Ares 2.

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