28 September 2008
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm fond of Desktop Factory, a local start-up vying to be the first to bring 3D printing within the reach of a new generation of hobbyists and educators. I got a chance to make a brief visit to their office/lab in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago, and was very pleased to see the tremendous progress they are making. To the left you can see Brian and Cathy from Desktop Factory on the left and right, and David from Art Center in the middle.
We got to beta-test their first generation printer late last year, and while it worked reasonably well, there were several issues: a tendency for the machine to clog; rather poor resolution; and difficult-to-remove support structures. They now have a new version with a redesigned-imager that makes a big difference on the first two problems - the new imager is under the plate in the photo - and revised software that's made the supports much easier to remove. The change to the imager was small and simple and like most engineering innovation obvious once someone thought of it.
The part shown here was printed from a file for a "real" part in a prototype of a product under development by another Idealab company. There's a little bit of post-processing here - the machine has been "flamed" with a torch - but this is a serious, working part. Last year's model could not have produced anything this nice. The Idealab partner was able to use this part and save about $1000 they would have spent having it made by a service bureau.
Here's a before-and-after comparison - the first test part produced with the "old" imager and the second with the newest machine - and it's easy to see a dramatic difference.
They still have work to do to turn this prototype into a product, and they still have to find financial backing - but I am more optimistic about their prospects than I have been in quite a while. They have proven that the basic concept is sound and that it can produce real, useful parts that can be post-processed in a reasonable amount of time. Their printer has gone from being a proof of concept to a real working prototype - let's hope that a product will be on the market six months from now.
(By the way, click on the photos to see them in higher resolution.)