Oct. 7, 2014 | By Christopher Barnatt *

From 30th September to 2nd October 2014, the TCT + Personalize Show was held in Birmingham, UK. With around 200 exhibitors, and almost 10,000 attendees from over 50 countries, TCT is one of the world's foremost 3D printing trade events. All major 3D printer manufacturers were present, with the hardware on their stands ranging from consumer devices, right up to industrial direct metal machines. You can get a feel of the show in my video below.

Touring the stands at TCT, I got to see several new 3D printers. On the consumer side, these included the new Cube 3 from 3D Systems, the Threedy from PuzzleShed, and the Robox from CEL. The latter is a really stylish printer that clearly produces excellent prints, and which I think will prove very popular into 2015.

CEL Robox 3D Printer

Also poised to stir up the market is the new UP BOX from Tiertime (the Chinese manufacturer that used to sell its printers under the rather confusing PP3DP and Delta Micro Factory Corporation brands). Featured on the stand of its UK distributor Denford, the UP BOX is an enclosed printer in black and orange, with an illuminated, animated logo under its print bed. The printer features a build volume of 255 x 205 x 205 mm, can print in ABS or PLA, and even has a HEPA air filter to prevent fumes escaping its build space. Many at TCT were predicting that the $1,899 UP BOX will prove a strong competitor to the Ultimaker 2 and Fifth Generation MakerBot Replicator when it goes on sale in November. The previous UP! Printers do after all already have a strong following.

Another new desktop printer I saw for the first time at TCT was the Mark One from MarkForged. This was happily adding continuous carbon fibre or Kevar reinforcement strands to objects extruded in nylon, so producing very strong and extremely rigid printouts. This kind of development will clearly increase the range of applications for desktop 3D manufacturing. Pre-orders for the Mark One are already being taken.

ProJet 4500 from 3D Systems

At the industrial end of the market, it was great to see the ProJet 4500 from 3D Systems. This very large printer is the next generation of binder jetting hardware, or what 3D Systems calls ColorJet Printing. However, unlike its earlier, sister printers that build objects from a gypsum-based build material, the ProJet 4500 sprays a binder and coloured inks onto a plastic powder called VisiJet C4 Spectrum. This allows full-colour, durable plastic parts to be 3D printed that can be used straight after removal from the powder cake on the print bed. All that is required is cleaning with compressed air, with no infiltration or other post-processing necessary. This clearly speeds up prototype and display model creation. The quality of the colour output produced by the ProJet 4500 really has to be seen to be believed.

Shoes printed on ProJet 4500 from 3D Systems

Unlike the ProJet 4500, most of the direct metal printers at TCT -- such as the ProX 200 from 3D Systems and the M 290 from EOS -- were not in operation. The happy exception was the SLM-50 from German 3D printer manufacturer Realizer. This selective laser melting device is the world's first desktop direct metal 3D printer, and builds very high quality metal parts in an inert gas atmosphere. Printouts can be up to 70 mm in diameter, and up to 40 mm high, so making the SLM-50 suitable for making small, intricate metal items including dental appliances and jewelry (gold alloy build materials are available).

Realizer SLM-50 3D Printer

While the SLM-50 was the only hardware actually making metal objects at TCT, many companies were exhibiting metal items that they had previously 3D printed. These included a metal chess set on the Arcam stand, together with a wide range of industrial components and medical devices. In aggregate, these direct metal prints served to demonstrate how 3D printing is starting to come of age as a manufacturing technology in addition to serving as means of making rapid prototypes. Clearly we have a long way to go before even a small number of the objects in our lives have 3D printed components. But a tour of TCT made very apparent the current direction of travel.

Citim's 3D printed metal parts

Arcam's 3D printed chess set

* Christopher Barnatt is a futurist, academic, and author of 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution. You can watch more of his 3D printing videos on his ExplainingTheFuture YouTube channel.

Posted in 3D Printing Events

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Julie Reece wrote at 10/8/2014 12:20:28 PM:

Stand D18 at TCT Show, Mcor Technologies Ltd, was omitted...the world's only paper-based desktop 3D printer manufacturer. Unmatched colour 3D printing capability, industry's lowest printing costs and the most eco-friendly technology. Colour enhancements and strategic senior management hire announcements were made at the show.

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