Jan 24, 2016 | By Alec

There was plenty to see and do at the CES earlier this month, with countless intriguing 3D printed prototypes and fascinating projects on display. For those of you who didn’t make it to Las Vegas, 3D printing giant 3D Systems showcased a particularly interesting project to emphasize just what could be done if you combined 3D printing with other more conventional making technologies. Called the 3D printed Liquid-Cooled Computer, it was essentially a PC with a very unusual cooling system, that also served as a tribute to the one truly critical element in 3D printing: computers. Fortunately, 3D Systems has just revealed more about how this interesting project came about.

As they explain, 3D printing has only been made possible by computers. It is therefore no surprise that Chuck Hull, the father of 3D printing who invented the technology back in 1983, immediately began working on the STL file format we all still use today. It is also undeniable that the development of computational power has coincided with the development of 3D printing technologies. With the help of complex 3D design tools, 3D printing a unique shape has never been easier. “To celebrate this relationship, we took it upon ourselves to pay tribute to this fellow technology by creating a custom, liquid-cooled computer using our full suite of 3D solutions,” the 3D Systems team explains.

The goal was to unveil their project at CES in January (giving them only six weeks to complete the project), and to make their custom PC unconventional to show just what 3D printers are capable of. Taking inspiration from the vacuum tubes that made the world’s first computers possible, the 3D Systems team started to reverse engineer the housing of a PC using all their 3D imaging skills. 3D data from off-the-shelf PC components such as the motherboard, graphics card and other parts was captured using a Geomagic Capture 3D scanner, which was turned into CAD models using Geomagic Design X software.

Using Geomagic Design and Geomagic Freeform CAD software, the team used these models to sculpt a cool unique housing unit for the PC. With the help of 3D Systems’ experts at Quickparts and GibbsCAM, (their On Demand Manufacturing Service and CNC machining experts), this was then turned into a unique PC construction. “This turned out to be a great project for our team because it not only showcases individual technologies, it shows how they all work together to solve complex design and engineering problems,” said Cyle Caplinger, Business Development Manager, Software, 3D Systems. “We’re fortunate to have a really flexible, powerful portfolio that enables us and our customers to find and use the best possible manufacturing method for the parts and performance they need.”

Reimagined through this process were a number of critical components, including the reservoir, the fan, the water block and radiator, together forming a water-cooling device that is unlike any desktop PC you’ve seen before. “The combination of 3D printing processes and traditional manufacturing that we chose allowed us to match our design intentions with material performance,” said Sean Perkins from the On Demand Parts division. To ensure that heat was quickly transferred to the water, the 3D Systems team turned to copper, a material with excellent thermal transfer properties. “We 3D printed the casting pattern in QuickCast material on our ProX 800 SLA printer to be cast in copper. We complemented this with GibbsCAM CNC machining to get the fine interior details that wouldn’t have withstood casting,” Perkins explained.

To build that cool transparent reservoir, they also required a material compatible with the coolant’s chemical properties. To achieve that, they first 3D printed a master pattern on their ProX 800 3D printer, which was used to make a silicone mold for casting a urethane reservoir, a material with properties similar to lexan. An off-the-shelf fan unit was reconstructed to fit into the final construction, with an added radiator being 3D printed on an SLS 3D printer.

The result is very impressive and definitely underlines what 3D printing can add to a custom building project. This is especially the case for this liquid-cooling PC, as the 3D printed radiator actually broke down during shipping. “However, because we had the full range of our 3D printers at CES, this accident worked out in our favor: we were able to demonstrate in real time just how easy it is to go from file to part to product, right from the show floor. Within a day, we had printed ourselves a replacement radiator and had the computer up and running!” Caplinger says.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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