Throughout the first half of this year and the last half of 2013 we saw all kinds of innovation within the fused deposition modeling (FDM) based 3D printer market. New materials, new methods of printing, and innovative ideas to create higher quality, faster, and more colorful prints are seemingly being discovered nearly every week. Something else we have seen within this same time frame is the emergence of Stereolithography (SLA) based 3D printers, geared towards the consumer market. Recently Autodesk announced that they would be entering the market, while several new companies entered the arena as well, in a drive to produce affordable, accurate SLA based printers.
The consumer market for 3D printers is in the midst of a staggering growth spurt. Having said this, a very solid majority of these printers are based on FDM technology, with only a small portion based on the more expensive, more accurate SLA technology.
One company called HardCotton, based in Cranberra City, Australia is trying to change all this. Today they officially unveiled their Elemental SLA 3D printer, and it’s like nothing you have ever seen before.
“When you use Elemental you aren’t faced with a daunting set up and you don’t need to worry about fiddly calibration procedures,” Scott Pobihun, Hardcotton Co-founder & CEO said. “All you need to do in setting up Elemental is to ensure that the printer is level, with its adjustable feet, then simply fill it up with printing material and it’s ready to go.”
In a typical SLA 3D printer, a laser cures a resin as the print bed moves along a Z-axis, up and down. For the most part the printed object is suspended upside down in the resin and a substantial amount of support material is needed during a print, to ensure that the cured resin does not collapse upon itself. The Elemental works in a totally different fashion, eliminating several moving parts in the process.
How it works is quite innovative. Instead of moving the object within the resin, the Elemental moves the resin via a patent pending pressure control system, around the printed object. For instance, as the laser cures the resin and is ready to move on to the next layer, instead of having the print bed move up or down, a pressurized system automatically adds or subtracts just enough resin, to, or from the build area, and the next layer is printed.
“It really is amazing seeing something 3D printed. It is even more amazing when the print is done quickly, quietly and simply” says CEO Scott Pobihun. “Utilizing pressure control, Hardcotton has developed a 3D printer that employs SLA technology but creates the 3D print without the use of a mechanical platform.”
Something else which makes the Elemental unique is that it allows for liquid support materials. Instead of printing actual supports connected to each object, like you would with other FDM and SLA printers, the Elemental is capable of operating by way of resin suspension. This is a process where resin floats on top of a support material such as saline, or one which utilizes any resin with a broad range of viscosity.
- Custom hardware, firmware and client software, uses industry standard g-code
- Build Area with dual control chamber configuration: 140mm x 140mm x 200mm (5.51in x 5.51in x 7.87in)
- Build area with single control chamber configuration: 200mm x 200mm x 200mm (7.87in x 7.87in x 7.87in)
- Variable output: 405nm laser
- Pressure control of layer height
- Z control: Accurate to 1 micron (depending on resin used and limited to 1 micron by microcontroller settings)
- XY control resolution: Up to 24.4 micron (variable through software)
- Bluetooth functionality
Without a doubt this is the biggest innovation we have seen yet from the consumer side of the SLA 3D printer market. It will be interesting to see what the price point is when Hardcotton launches their Kickstarter campaign. Let us know what you think about this innovative new printer in the Hardcotton Elemental Forum thread on 3DPB.com
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