As we walked along the Sands Expo showroom floor at 2015 International CES, there were dozens of companies on hand showing off their latest 3D printing and scanning innovations, spread out over thousands of square feet. What may have been the most exciting of them all, however, was a company called Spectrom 3D, crammed into a space no larger than 15 square feet, located within the Robo3D booth.
Spectrom 3D, a company formed out of the Innovation Days competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was first covered earlier in 2014 by various media outlets. Since then they have been quietly working behind the scenes to perfect and improve upon a technology which has a chance to change the way we all view FFF/FDM 3D printing.
Traditionally when it comes to FFF/FDM 3D printing, more than one or two colors within a print is not something you’d normally expect. Other, more expensive methods of printing reserved for major manufacturers and 3D printing services, like Shapeways, are able to print in materials like sandstone or resins to provide much more robust color palettes. With this said, there are companies like botObjects, recently acquired by 3D Systems, which do allow for multiple color mixing via an FFF process. The problem here is that you need numerous filaments all leading to a single extruder, which could get perhaps a bit clunky.
What Spectrom has done is utilize a proprietary system to dye a single filament strand prior to it entering the extruder of almost any FFF/FDM 3D printer out there. The filament actually enters the extruder coated in a wet dye, which fuses with the underlying filament as it is melted and extruded. Using sophisticated algorithms, the team has been able to construct models which tell the Spectrom systems the exact time, color, and amount of dye to use, enabling the printing of a new color for each layer of the object being fabricated.
That’s where they are now in terms of the technology, but in a meeting we had with founder Taylor Fahey, we found out this isn’t their ultimate goal. In fact, Taylor told 3DPrint.com that when the company was able to achieve the colorization of individual layers of a print, this signaled to them that it would eventually be possible to individually colorize single voxels (a 3D pixel). The first goal, as Fahey told us, is to refine the algorithms and technology so that multiple colors will be able to be printed within a single layer, and then increase the resolution to enable the printing of individually colorized voxels measuring as tiny as 0.1 x 0.1 mm a piece.
Fahey seemed quite sure that they would eventually be at this point. They just need time, and perhaps some financing, to enable further research and development of the Spectrom system. Such progress would equate to what would likely be the single most important FFF discovery since FFF technology was invented itself.
The company is presently working with a customized open source version of Cura as an app to design models for the Spectrom system. They are are currently working on a process which will allow a user to paint a 3D model with their finger any colors they wish, and then have those colors realized on the actual print. For this to be possible, multiple colored layers will need to be achievable which, judging from Fahey’s confidence in speaking with us, may be very soon.
The company is making a lot of progress since they launched earlier last year. It will be fun to watch as they further develop this technology in the coming year ahead. It was certainly refreshing to meet a team of young men in their early 20’s working on this technology as if they had decades of experience behind them. We are excited for what the future may hold!
Let’s hear your thoughts on Spectrom 3D’s progress in the Spectrom 3D forum thread on 3DPB.com. Be sure to check out their CES Reveal video below: