Sep 15, 2016 | By Benedict

You can do some pretty incredible things with a desktop 3D printer. Every day, we see new ways in which makers use additive manufacturing technology to come up with ingenious solutions to all kinds of problems. But while these consumer-level machines will always hold a special place in our hearts, the kind of technology going into high-end professional and industrial 3D printers is simply on a different level—there are 3D printers that can print functional circuitry, assembly line 3D printers that can pick up and move their completed prints, and 3D printers that can (theoretically) print forever. Here, in no particular order, are 12 of the most promising high-end 3D printers that could shape the future of additive manufacturing.

High-end 3D printer #1: 3D Systems Figure 4

3D printing process: Stereolithography (SLA)

Available: Unknown

As one of the biggest names in 3D printing, South Carolina-based 3D Systems has a lot of influence over the industry. And when an influential company starts building assembly line 3D printers which use robotic arms to manipulate finished prints, that influence starts to seem pretty exciting. 3D Systems’ Figure 4 additive manufacturing technology, named after a section of founder Chuck Hull’s original 1983 patent for Stereolithography, has already been incorporated into a couple of prototypes: the SLAbot-1, first seen at CES 2016, and the SLAbot-2, which made its debut at the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference in St. Louis. Customers interested in the 3D printing technology have been encouraged to get in touch with 3D Systems.

Here’s what we know about Figure 4 right now: the 3D printer is a modular Stereolithography production system that can be incorporated into manufacturer’s production lines. Not only can the technology print objects up to 50 times faster than conventional systems, it can also do much more. As demonstrated at CES and AMUG, the Figure 4—in its SLAbot incarnation—uses robotic grippers to manipulate its printed objects. So when a print is complete, the machine can simply pick up the finished part, moving it aside or placing it in a post-processing area. This allows the 3D printer to commence printing another part without needing a human to clear the print bed.

3D Systems President and CEO Vyomesh Joshi recently gave some important updates on Figure 4. In order to make the equipment fully factory-ready, Figure 4 can now carry out in-line inspections of the parts which it creates, turning the 3D printer into a closed-loop manufacturing system. The system can also generate real-time, detailed reports with go/no-go feedback while carrying out part inspection and measurement. 3D Systems believes that additive manufacturing needs to make the transition from prototyping to production. With its Figure 4 technology, the company could well bring about that transition.


High-end 3D printer #2: HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution

3D printing process: Jet fusion

Available: Late 2016

Although its Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution had been in the works for several years, HP still caused something of a stir when it finally unveiled its first ever 3D printer back in May. Promising to print ten times faster and at half the cost of comparable systems, the Jet Fusion 3D printer looks set to stylishly bring HP into the third dimension of the printing world. The forthcoming 3D printer will print parts at a voxel level (50 microns), and will come in two modes: the HP Jet Fusion 3D 3200 and HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200. The 3200 is suited to prototyping and will be released in 2017, while the 4200 can also handle production of end-use parts, and will be available at the end of 2016.

As part of its Jet Fusion unveiling, HP announced a number of high-profile collaborations and partnerships. Material specialists like Arkema, BASF, and Evonik will all create 3D printing materials for the printer’s open materials platform, while Materialise, Siemens, and Autodesk have all contributed software expertise to the project. Other major companies such as BMW, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, and Siemens have also partnered with HP in order to use the new 3D printer for various production tasks. This massive extension of HP’s partnership ecosystem means the HP Jet Fusion 3D printer is probably going to make a big mark on the industry regardless of whether 3D printing experts rate it highly or not.

Both the 4200 and 3200 3D printers will have a build volume of 16” x 12” x 16” and an x,y print resolution of 1,200dpi. The 4200 will edge the 3200 in terms of print speed and layer thickness, operating at 4,500 cm³/hr as opposed to 3500 cm³/hr, and offering layer thicknesses of 0.07 - 0.12 mm as opposed to 0.08 - 0.10 mm. HP is part of the 3MF Consortium, and its forthcoming 3D printers will use the industry-backed file format.


High-end 3D printer #3: Stratasys Infinite-Build

3D printing process: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Available: On request

One of two Stratasys demonstrator 3D printers to be showcased at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago this week, the Infinite-Build 3D printer is raising eyebrows for two reasons: firstly, the machine prints sideways onto a vertical print bed; secondly (and consequently), it can print forever—at least in theory. Freed of the confines of an enclosed print envelope, the Infinite-Build 3D printer prints on a vertical plane for near-unlimited part size, and is therefore suitable for use in the aerospace and automotive industries, where extra-large 3D printed parts are often required.

Although developed and built by Stratasys, the Infinite-Build 3D printer was tailor-made to the requirements of aerospace giant Boeing, one of the aerospace industry’s biggest advocates of additive manufacturing technology. “We are always looking for ways to reduce the cost and weight of aircraft structures, or reduce the time it takes to prototype and test new tools and products so we can provide them to customers in a more affordable and rapid manner,” commented Darryl Davis, President of Boeing Phantom Works. “The Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator enables products to be made at a much larger and potentially unlimited length.”

Automotive pioneer Ford is also currently evaluating the Infinite-Build 3D printer as it seeks news ways of creating production efficiency, and further manufacturers could soon adopt the unusual 3D printing system as well. While the Infinite-Build printer might move sideways, the radical technological innovation on display proves that Stratasys is very much moving forwards.


High-end 3D printer #4: Stratasys Robotic Composite

3D printing process: FDM

Available: On request

As the second of Stratasys’ pair of exciting 3D printers currently being showcased at IMTS, the Robotic Composite combines Stratasys advanced extrusion technologies with motion control hardware and PLM software from Siemens. Like the Infinite-Build, the Robotic Composite is built for production, but has also been optimized for the 3D printing of composite parts. 3D printed composite parts are popular in the automotive, aerospace, and oil & gas industries, but their production is limited by geometric limitations and labor-intensive processes. With an 8-axis motion system, the Robotic Composite 3D printer enables precise, directional material placement for high strength parts that require no extra support.

From the sound of things, the working relationship between Stratasys and Siemens will continue into the future as the two companies look to profit from their respective areas of experience. “By working closely with Stratasys on motion control and CNC automation, Siemens is helping to create a flexible, multi-function manufacturing workflow that puts 3D printing firmly in the factory,” said Arun Jain, VP, Motion Control, Digital Factory US, Siemens. “We look forward to continuing to work with Stratasys to build manufacturing solutions that transform industries.”

“We view the level of factory integration, automation, and performance monitoring potentially offered by these new demonstrators as catalysts for the transformation to Industry 4.0,” added Ilan Levin, Stratasys CEO, regarding the Robotic Composite and Infinite-Build 3D printers.


High-end 3D printer #5: Nano Dimension Dragonfly 2020

3D printing process: Inkjet

Available: Deliveries started this year

Nano Dimension, one of many commerical 3D printer companies based in Israel, is making a name for itself as the world leader in 3D printed circuit board technology. Its Dragonfly 2020 3D printer might only have found its way to one company so far—an unnamed Israeli defense firm—but it looks as though many more will soon be snapped up by companies who want to manufacture complete, 3D printed circuit boards on-site. The unique 3D printer uses an inkjet deposition and curing system to print professional multilayer circuit boards from highly conductive silver inks.

The highly conductive silver ink made by Nano Dimension is suitable for creating 3D printed circuit boards because Nano Dimension staff have been able to reliably extract 10-100+ nanometer-sized particles of pure silver, which can then be precisely dispersed. The inks sinter at low temperatures and are suited to a range substrates including paper, polymers, and glass.

“The rapid prototyping capabilities of the DragonFly 2020 3D Printer for professional 3D printed electronics completely transforms the ways product development teams work,” Nano Dimension claims. “No more waiting days or weeks for a custom PCB prototype that has to be fabricated offsite. The DragonFly 2020 3D Printer offers the flexibility to print an entire board or just part of a circuit. You can develop the RF and digital sections of the board in parallel, test and iterate on the fly.”


High-end 3D printer #6: XJet

3D printing process: NanoParticle Jetting

Available: Unknown

XJet, another highly promising professional 3D printing venture from Israel, raised $25 million in funding from Autodesk and Catalyst CEL earlier this year in order to develop its novel NanoParticle Jetting 3D printer. The new form of 3D printing used by the machine deposits liquid metal from a standard, inkjet-style printing head, making it entirely unlike popular Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) metal printing techniques.

The new 3D printing process being developed by XJet sure sounds exciting, but how exactly does it work? According to the company, the technology uses nano-sized metal particles suspended within a patented liquid formula. This formula can be jetted from standard printing heads, eliminating the need for lasers. When treated with extremely high temperatures, the liquid formula evaporates, leaving behind strong metal components with layer thicknesses of less than 2 microns—a level of detail almost unheard-of in the 3D printing industry.

XJet claims that its NanoParticle Jetting technology is up to five times faster than other metal 3D printing methods, as well as being extremely safe and easy to use. It can be purportedly be used to create 3D printed metal objects of virtually any geometry, and is suited to short-run production of end-use parts. “Our support of XJet through the Spark Investment Fund stems from our belief that this technology has the potential to change the future of the additive manufacturing industry,” said Eitan Tsarfati, head of Digital Manufacturing and general manager at Autodesk Israel. With such high-profile backing, the future looks bright for XJet.


High-end 3D printer #7: Carbon3D Carbon M1

3D printing process: Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)

Available: Now (subscription)

There’s a reason why Carbon3D’s revolutionary Carbon M1 3D printer will set you back $40,000 per year. The company’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) can print high-quality objects up to 100 times faster than other 3D printers. How? CLIP, a photochemical process, works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin. As a layer-by-layer sequence of UV images is projected, the 3D printed part solidifies and the build platform rises.

Although the CLIP process sounds a bit like SLA or DLP 3D printing, it also uses a unique feature called the “dead zone,” a thin, liquid interface of uncured resin that lies between the window and the part being printed. Light passes through the dead zone, curing the resin above it to form a solid part. Resin flows beneath the curing part as the print progresses, maintaining the “continuous liquid interface.” After printing, a part is baked in a forced-circulation oven, setting off a secondary chemical reaction that causes the materials to adapt and strengthen, increasing the Young’s modulus of the part from 250-280 MPa to 3800-4000 MPa. The printer has a build envelope of 144 x 81 x 330 mm.

The M1 3D printer, Carbon3D’s first commercially available 3D printer to use CLIP technology, is available on a subscription-based pricing plan, giving customers access to all necessary hardware, software, support, and training. The yearly fee for the technology is $40,000, which comes on top of an installation and training fee of $10,000. “For the first time, it’s possible to 3D print isotropic parts with mechanical properties and surface finish like injection-molded plastics,” Carbon3D claims. “No other additive technology delivers the synthesis of fit, form, and function needed to bridge the gap between prototyping and manufacturing.”


High-end 3D printer #8: Rize One

3D printing process: Augmented Polymer Deposition (APD)

Available: Unknown

Although startup Rise has only existed since 2014, the company has a wealth of 3D printing experience behind it, listing former Z Corp, Objet, and Revit high-ups amongst its ranks. The company has pooled its collective expertise to develop the Rise One, an industrial desktop 3D printer with a build volume of 300mm x 200mm x 150mm and minimum layer height of 0.25mm, and which requires no post-processing. The 3D printer also uses a patented 3D printing process called “Augmented Polymer Deposition,” which deposits engineering-grade thermoplastic and jetting selective additives at each voxel (3D pixel) in order to change the characteristic of the material.

According to  its creators, the Rize One 3D printer could shake up the industry thanks to its novel approach to support structures and post-processing. While most 3D printed parts need to be treated after printing in order to completely remove support materials, Rize has come up with a new solution. The Rize One prints support parts for an object using Rizium One, an engineering- and medical-grade thermoplastic filament, but between the actual part and its support structures is a layer of Release One ink, deposited from an industrial print head. The Release One ink weakens the bond between the object and the support structure, allowing the supports to be removed easily with one’s bare hands.

“Post-processing has been 3D printing's dirty little secret, as engineers and additive manufacturing lab managers wrestled with the reality that post-processing parts after 3D printing often doubled the total process time, added substantial costs, and prevented 3D printers from the desktop,” said Rize CEO Frank Marangell. “Rize One eliminates those sacrifices, opening a world of possibilities for designers and engineers to deliver prototypes and on-demand finished parts much faster and with stronger material than before.”


High-end 3D printer #9: Impossible Objects CBAM

3D printing process: Composite-based additive manufacturing (CBAM)

Available: Unknown

Impossible Objects, a 3D printing startup based in Northbrook, Illinois, claims to have created the first composite-based additive manufacturing method that uses fabrics of Carbon Fiber, Kevlar, Fiberglass, and more. And while the company has offered a made-to-order 3D printing service for composite parts for some time now, it is currently developing a range of commercially available CBAM 3D printers that will soon enable businesses to create their own high-strength composite parts.

According to Impossible Objects, its CBAM 3D printing process is capable of printing faster than other manufacturing technologies, while creating parts that are up to ten times stronger than those made with SLM, FDM, and SLA 3D printers. Founder Robert Schwartz even thinks CBAM could be used as an alternative to injection molding.

Could the forthcoming CBAM 3D printer from Impossible Objects have a big impact on the additive manufacturing industry? Some experts certainly think so: “The development of an automated, low-cost composite additive manufacturing system could revolutionize the U.S. composite tool and composite end user parts industries,” said Lonnie Love, Group Leader of Automation, Robotics and Manufacturing at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “Impossible Objects’ CBAM technology has the potential to revolutionize this market.”


High-end 3D printer #10: Technology Research Association for Future Additive Manufacturing 3D printer

3D printing process: Unknown

Available: 2017

The Technology Research Association for Future Additive Manufacturing, based in Tokyo, has built a prototype 3D printer capable of producing industrial-level molds for use in automotive, aerospace, and other sectors. CMET, a Yokohama-based subsidiary of manufacturer Nabtesco and manufacturer of 3D printers, was one of the leading contributors to the prototype 3D printer, which will reportedly become commercially available by the fiscal year 2017.

According to its developers, the forthcoming 3D printer—which does not yet have a name—can build 3D printed objects at a rate of up to 100,000 cm3/hr, more than 100 times faster than typical metal 3D printers. The machine can make molds up to 1.8 meters long, 1 meter wide, and 0.75 meters deep. Although little information has been provided by Technology Research Association for Future Additive Manufacturing, we do know that the machine alternately deposits sand and some kind of adhesive to build the printed object.

The developers of the Japanese 3D printer estimate that the machine, when used for mass production, could produce 20,000 automotive turbochargers or 3,000 engine cylinder heads per month. Other members of the association, including Nissan Motor, IHI, and Komatsu will evaluate parts 3D printed on the prototype printer.


High-end 3D printer #11: EOS M 400-4

3D printing process: Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)

Available: Unknown

Chicago’s IMTS is currently showcasing the very best in 3D printing innovation from all the industry’s major players. International e-manufacturing leader EOS is no exception, having brought its new EOS M 400-4 DMLS 3D printer along for the exhibition. The ultra-fast 3D printing system has a build volume of 400 x 400 x 400 mm, and uses four 400-watt lasers in order to quadruple productivity. According to EOS the DMLS 3D printer can handle even the most demanding requirements of production, and can be easily integrated into existing production environments thanks to its modular design.

The four precise lasers of the M 400-4 each operate in a 250 x 250 mm square, and share an overlap area of 50 mm. The 3D printer’s multiple lasers give the machine a build rate of 100 cm³/h, while high beam and power stability provides high DMLS part quality. In addition, the company’s new and patented EOS ClearFlow Technology ensures consistent process gas management for ideal build conditions.

“The EOS M 400-4 is a perfect addition to our industrial systems portfolio,” said EOS CMO Dr. Adrian Keppler. “It shatters the boundaries of manufacturing as it meets the most demanding requirements of our industry partners in terms of efficiency, scalability, usability and process monitoring.”


High-end 3D printer #12: Indmatec PEEK Printer 155

3D printing process: FDM

Available: January 2017

Indmatec, a 3D printing company based in Karlsruhe, Germany, is known both for its specialist 3D printing materials and its FDM 3D printers. The company’s speciality is PEEK or polyether ether ketone, a thermoplastic polymer that has for some time been earmarked as an ideal material for additive manufacturing. According to Indmatec, the material can be used for vacuum applications and even 3D printed car parts.

Excitingly for admirers of Indmatec and its specialist polymer, the industry has already had a “peek” at a forthcoming machine from the German innovators. The Indmatec PEEK Printer 155 is an FDM machine capable of printing with PEEK thanks to an all-metal hotend, heated print bed, and enclosed chamber. The 155 has even had a massive cosmetic upgrade, and looks far more professional than its predecessor, the Indmatec HPP 155. “We set about trying to make it more attractive, aesthetically pleasing,” admitted Robbie Hurst, Sales Manager at Indmatec.

Besides its aesthetic improvements, the forthcoming PEEK 3D printer will be made from higher quality parts, and will utilize an interchangeable nozzle system, enabling users to quickly switch between PEEK and with other materials. The upcoming Indmatec printer will have the same build volume as its predecessor (155 x 155 x155 mm) but another model, tentatively slated for summer 2017, could be on the larger side. The new PEEK Printer 155 will cost between €26,000 and €28,000 ($29,000 - $31,500).

With so many exciting high-end 3D printers being released in the near future, it’s almost impossible to predict how the market will react. Will 3D Systems and Stratasys succeed in bringing additive manufacturing to the factory floor, or will Carbon3D’s groundbreaking CLIP technology oust all competition? As always, let us know if you think we’ve missed a potentially future-shaping 3D printer.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Brandon wrote at 9/18/2016 3:59:20 PM:

I'm surprised to see you have Impossible Objects on here but not Markforged. I would argue their approach to composite printing is more novel, user friendly, faster and creates far less waste.

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