July 2, 2014

Canberra, Australia startup Hardcotton has launched today Elemental – a stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer that is claimed to be "the world's first pressure controlled 3D printer".

SLA 3D printer hardens liquid plastic (photopolymer) with an ultraviolet (UV) layer by layer and converts liquid plastic into solid objects. Like other SLA printers, Elemental also utilises a laser system to cure photosensitive resins. However unlike other SLA printers though, Elemental uses a pressure control system to control resin levels when an object is being built.

How it works

By utilising pressure controls in Elemental's custom designed vat during the printing process, Elemental's laser system can cure a layer of resin accurately and quickly, according to the startup. The creation of an object's first layer is done by curing the resin onto the surface of a removable build platform found in the centre of the vat. The pressure control system then allows the flow of material from a control chamber within the vat into the build chamber, increasing the level of the resin. The laser system then sets about curing the next layer of resin to further create the object. The process is repeated until the object is produced.

(Click to enlarge)

The vat's control chambers act as reservoirs for material to flow from or flow to depending on what is needed during the print process. By controlling the pressure in the control chambers, Elemental can raise or lower the resin level precisely and without the need for mechanical interaction with either the build area or the resin.

Elemental has a simple modular, attractive design, and does not require complex set-up, assembly or calibration. "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."

Elemental—key points

  • Pressure control system moves the printing material to or from the build area
  • The only 3D printer capable of operating by way of resin suspension (resin floating on top of a support material such as saline) or by utilising any resin with broad range of viscosity
  • Quiet when printing
  • Minimal calibration required
  • Patent pending technology
  • Multiple operating configurations with single or dual control chambers
  • Reduced dependency on support structures
  • To print, users slice 3d models to g-code using their own preferred slicing software and use Hardcotton's client software to operate Elemental

System specification

  • Custom hardware, firmware and client software that accepts industry standard g-code
  • Very large build area for SLA:
  • 200mm x 200mm x 200mm (7.87in x 7.87in x 7.87in) with single control chamber configuration
  • 140mm x 140mm x 200mm (5.51in x 5.51in x 7.87in) with dual control chamber configuration
  • Z control accurate to 1 micron
  • XY control resolution up to 24.4 micron
  • Variable output 405nm laser
  • Pressure control of layer height
  • Bluetooth functionality

Elemental is capable of working with a wide range of production materials – typically photosensitive resins – from thin resins to those that are much more viscous. This functionality is a result of there being no direct mechanical interaction with the production material. Elemental can also operate in an economical manner – by the use of a support material on which the printing resin floats. Certain thin resins are capable of being floated on denser material such as a saline solution. This means lower operating costs to produce 3D prints.

Pressure control also reduces the need to print support structures where there is overhang in a 3D model. The material surrounding the cured material holds the build material in place long enough for the laser to cure the resin above it.

Hardcotton will launch Elemental through Kickstarter in Q3 of 2014 and will offer units to Kickstarter backers for under AUD$1000 ($950).

"Utilising pressure control, Hardcotton has developed a 3D printer that employs SLA technology but creates the 3D print without the use of a mechanical platform." says CEO Scott Pobihun. "This is a massive step forward for 3D printing. Because there are very few complex parts to be assembled in Elemental, we see this architecture as being the basis for the mass manufacture of 3D printers very soon."

Check out below the skull, spiral egg with an enclosed free floating sphere, shoe, hollow black horse and green horse prints which were all produced using saline as a support material.

Posted in 3D Printers

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Jason wrote at 9/1/2014 2:56:14 PM:

All the prints look bad. They only did a pressure control system because that was the only way they could make it work.

Robert M. wrote at 8/11/2014 2:43:42 AM:

Seems that the claim about replacing mechanical system to move the printed object by a mix of the process of leveling a mix of saline water + floating resin is not fully respectable of PeachY Printer. I personally much prefer inventors to relate to what others made in prior art... and to add something, rather than claim an undependable novelty.. respect! please..

All Things 3D wrote at 7/6/2014 5:38:57 AM:

I am intrigued, but a little cautious. I noticed all the prints have a texture to them and in the clear prints, you can see varying levels of density. I do like the idea of not using supports though.

Iain wrote at 7/4/2014 2:56:06 AM:

That is absolutely brilliant. Simple, reliable, low part count.

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