Just like inkjet printing ended up winning out within the desktop 2D printing space, I have been saying for a while now that ultimately the same thing will happen within the desktop 3D printing space. Inkjet technology allows for incredibly precise printing, in both the 2D and 3D arenas. While the technology has become incredibly cheap within the 2D space, allowing some manufacturers to sell high-quality printers for under $100, the same is not true yet within the 3D space.
Currently Stratasys is leading the way with their PolyJet technology, with HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology soon to present some competition to their firm lead within the space. While Stratasys’ machines are priced at over $100,000, and some as much as $300,000, HP’s printers may be a bit less expensive. Additionally, all of these machines are made for industrial use, not desktop use like many of us would have hoped for.
I truly believe that once an affordable desktop inkjet-based 3D printer becomes available the technology will become mainstream–and this is just what one Chinese company called Zhuhai West (translation) plans to unveil. Originally scheduled to make its debut at 2016 CES in January, the company has postponed the beta release until September of next year, likely around the same time that HP will be officially launching their first Multi Jet Fusion 3D printers. The delays were caused not by hardware issues, but with the development of the photosensitive resin material which will be used within the inkjet cartridges. Also there were some obstacles with developing software specifically for this new machine. Regardless, the beta version of the machine will be given to several companies prior to the printer becoming commercially available in the beginning of 2017.
While the company had intended to invest approximately $1.25 million into this project, they easily plowed right through this budget, now estimating that the development of this new inkjet 3D printer will have cost them approximately $1.9 million when everything is said and done. The printer, which has yet to be officially named, will have the following specifications:
- Print Technology: Light-Cured Inkjet
- Printer Size: 30 x 28 x 45 cm
- Printer Weight: 14kg
- Build Envelope: 125 x 125 x 165 mm
- Printing Speed: 15mm/h
- Print Resolution: 0.025-0.1mm
- File Format: STL, GCO
With a footprint no larger than a slightly above-average desktop 2D printer, and a build envelope that will allow users to print objects which are around the size of a human fist, this machine should appeal to those who are currently using desktop FDM/FFF printers if the price can be kept down. Although no details on pricing have been made available we are guessing that it will be quite a bit north of what one would pay for a typical FDM/FFF machine. With that said, the inkjet technology will undoubtedly allow for some pretty precise prints, likely multiple-colored or even composed of multiple materials, providing many more use cases for such a machine when compared to FDM/FFF printers.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this forthcoming inkjet 3D printer and what it could mean for the desktop market. Discuss in the Zhuhai West Inkjet 3D Printer forum thread on 3DPB.com.