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 user 2010-11-10 at 7:37:10 am Views: 56
  • #24109


    decades ago, affordable laser and ink-jet printers fuelled the desktop
    publishing revolution. More recently, three-dimensional “printing” has
    spawned another revolution that promises to create new opportunities for
    small businesses.“There are just so many applications for it. We are
    literally just scratching the surface,” said Nino Caldarola, an
    application specialist with the Winnipeg office of Imaginit

    Mr. Caldarola, 45, recently pushed the boundaries
    of 3-D printing when, in his spare time, he led a team that created the
    200 exterior parts for a full-size model of a turboprop aircraft engine.
    That followed his creation a year earlier of a full-scale model
    motorcycle, also from printed parts.How does it work? These “printers”
    create three-dimensional objects by adding layer upon layer of material
    until a certain size and shape are achieved, guided by a computer
    program. The process is especially helpful in creating prototypes for
    new products, which often have to be fashioned by hand.While Imaginit,
    as a subsidiary of the multinational Rand Corp., is hardly a small
    business, the technologies that Mr. Caldarola is exploiting could help
    entrepreneurs establish job shops that would create prototypes for
    inventors and designers.

    That sounds a lot like what 3D Prototype
    Design Inc. of Toronto is already doing, says Annette Kalbhenn, sales
    manager of the five-employee company.“We’re a rapid prototyping service
    bureau,” Ms. Kalbhenn said, explaining that the expressions “3-D
    printing” and “rapid prototyping” have in recent years become
    interchangeable.In essence, these prototypes are built one layer at a
    time without the need for tools or moulds, Ms. Kalbhenn said. Her
    14-year-old company has printed such items as medical models of bones,
    architectural models, air vents for cars, and even a two-metre replica
    of a Hummer chassis.“A lot of times we don’t even know what we are
    building and that’s okay with us. We don’t need to know,” Ms. Kalbhenn

    Toy makers, including builders of World of Warcraft
    figurines, are also using 3-D printing. So is TV personality Jay Leno,
    who makes hard-to-find parts for his classic cars. Museums, jewellers
    and the makers of medical prostheses are among the many other users of
    3-D printing.

    While the technology is best-suited for making
    one-of-a-kind prototypes, it can also be used for short-run
    manufacturing. It’s a boon for inventors hesitant to spend upwards of
    $100,000 on an injection mould before knowing how well their products
    will be received. Ms. Kalbhenn’s company has done runs of 20 of an item
    for as little as $265 for the batch, or a single, complex piece for as
    much as $10,000.A CAD (computer aided design) program can design an
    object from scratch, or it can be used to manipulate data from a laser
    scan before sending instructions to the printer.The printers themselves
    use various technologies. One, called SLS, deposits layers of nylon
    powder, the thickness of two hairs, and then fuses them together with
    heat from a laser to build the object. Once the process is completed,
    the solid item is removed from the powder and any residual is blown off
    with a blast of air.

    The parts for Mr. Caldarola’s faux aircraft
    engine were created by Stratasys Technologies of Eden Prairie, Minn.
    using refrigerator-sized models of its Dimension series of printers.
    Those machines fuse together strands of material resembling the plastic
    line of a weed whacker.“That gets fed into an element that heats it and
    melts it,” Mr. Caldarola said. “And then as the machine moves, it
    deposits that plastic the entire pathway and it builds it up layer by
    layer.”More sophisticated 3-D printers can lay down multiple materials
    and colours. By using a material that later dissolves, they can even
    create items with moving parts.

    While high-end 3-D printers cost
    $300,000, the prices of entry-level models are rapidly falling. For
    example, 3D Printers Canada, a division of Proto3000 Inc. of Vaughan,
    Ont., sells five models of Objet Geometries Ltd. printers. The prices
    start at $24,900 for the Alaris30, which is about the size of a standard
    office photocopier, said John Frangella, business manager of Proto3000
    Inc. The Alaris30, which can fit on a desk or a dedicated stand, lays
    down a single white plastic photopolymer. That makes it ideal for
    creating simple items such as custom hearing aids.At the other end of
    the spectrum, 3D Printers Canada sells Objet’s Connex500 for $230,000.
    It can mix and match up to eight materials and print multiple designs
    “all in one shot.”Mr. Frangella wasn’t at liberty to say how well these
    machines are selling. However he did point out that Alaris30s have only
    been available for eight months and “they are penetrating the market
    because they are more affordable.”The Alaris30 isn’t even the cheapest
    3-D printer. Cimetrix Solutions Inc. of Oshawa is advertising on its
    website Dimension’s new uPrint personal 3-D printer for $14,900 (U.S.).

    its introduction two years ago, 1,200 uPrint machines have been sold
    worldwide, about 100 in Canada, said Cimextrix president James Janeteas.
    The eight-employee company, founded in 1993, has about 600 clients
    ranging from Fortune 500 companies to mom and pop operations.“They are
    affordable, so more organizations are adopting it,” Mr. Janeteas said.
    “These organizations typically would have gone out to service bureaus to
    produce their models for them.”

    A sign of how inexpensive 3-D
    printing might become can be found at MakerBot Industries, which sells a
    Thing-O-Matic kit for $1,225. Such machines don’t make the accurate
    prototypes demanded of business. Still, Mr. Janeteas expects to see
    high-resolution 3-D printers selling for as little as $5,000 within
    three or four years.“I wouldn’t be surprised that one day you’ll
    probably see these retailing for $500 and everyone has them in their