You might have heard of 3D printing and wondered what exactly it is. The concept of printing typically brings to mind a paper-printer spitting out documents stamped with ink. A 3D printer works like this: Designers create images of models on their computers and print them in 3D from these printers that use a resin to create the objects layer-by-layer. Imagine you’re a designer or in a profession where holding, examining and testing an exact but miniature replica of your product would do wonders for the final result. While 3D printing appeals to a wide variety of professionals, quality and low cost don’t often go hand-in-hand, according to the designers of the Form 1 3D printer.
The three-man team of MIT Media Lab students wanted to create an affordable and high-resolution 3D printer that didn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. The team had access to a lot of high-quality equipment at MIT, and had been able to use a wide variety of 3D printers. But they also noticed that the more affordable 3D printers on the market lacked the ability to make high-quality models.
In 2011, they began building the Form 1 3D printer through their company called Formlabs. They say the 3D printer and software prints objects just as the person who designed them envisioned — with great detail. The printer uses a technology called Stereolithography (SL).
“The process is pretty straightforward,” the team’s Kickstarter page explains. “A laser is used to draw on the surface of a liquid plastic resin that hardens when exposed to a certain wavelength of light. The laser draws and hardens a layer at a time until the entire model is built. It’s simple, reliable, and quiet.”
SL printing is typically expensive, but the team figured out a way to lower the cost. However, the exact price point has yet to be set. (It should be noted that “low cost” may not mean it’s accessible to the average consumer — 3D printers typically cost tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, with low cost options being around a couple thousand dollars. Depending on the price of the Form 1, it may be something offices would want to include in their budgets.)
It would probably more descriptive to call these new devices 3D model-makers, but regardless of its name, 3D printers will impact myriad businesses — from creating prototypes for engineers to tweak before they make the real thing, to aiding even bigger problems like printing prosthetics for people and animals, and possibly one day increasing our world’s food supply.
Formlab’s Kickstarter campaign is accepting donations until Oct. 26. You can pledge as little as $1. They plan to start shipping the Form 1 printer in Feb. 2013.
What do you think of the Form 1 3D Printer and how much would you pay to own one? Tell us in the comments.