Festo iFab gets 3D-printing a step closer to your home
In the fictional Star Trek universe, a replicator is a machine capable of creating (and recycling) objects. 3D-printers today serve for creating rapid prototypes but their usage is becoming more and more diverse because of the growing variety of the materials used for production. Hence, there is a vast variety of objects you could “print”. In this article we’re going to write about another 3D-printer which has price range between the one we already wrote about and industrial 3D-printers. The researchers from Festo, Germany, came up with iFab – a 3D-printer for smaller prototypes (maximum object size: height 8cm, diameter 15cm).
The principle of rapid prototyping is similar to that of the ink-jet printer. Inks of various colors are applied as droplets to paper in thin layers in two dimensions. On drying, the inks form the desired image. By superimposing several layers, a three-dimensional (3-D) effect is produced. Various materials can be used in place of inks of different colors to produce any desired product. In rapid prototyping, a wide range of materials can be applied layer for layer to match the object designed on PC, and are bonded together. The 3D prototypes thereby produced are an exact replica of the designed component, with an attainable precision within a range of micrometers. The objects reach such levels of durability and surface quality that rapid prototyping can even be used for the individual manufacture of functional prototypes or small-series and pre-series production.
With iFab, exchangeable “print heads” make it possible to print with various materials. The range of the substances used for 3D-printing is very large and extends from chocolate to conducting and semiconducting compounds, such as silicones or thermoplasts. Producing chocolate truffles in the living room or printing design prototypes is no problem with iFab. A suitable material must be one that can be applied in viscous condition and then harden relatively quickly.
The ambitious development aims for iFab are only attainable thanks to Festo’s expertise in tripods with a simplified mechanical structure. The material is applied without a mechanically intricate three-axis system, but with a tripod system comprising three identical mechanically linked electrically driven linear units. The advantage of this mechanical simplification is gained at the cost of necessitating a transformation from Cartesian coordinates in the software for the tripod. A standard software module from Festo that enhances quality and efficiency is available for this task.
With the iFab from Festo, the door to 3D printing is to be opened even wider for interested private individuals and for purposes of eduction and vocational training – for example for high-school students, for students of mechatronics, mechanical engineering, architecture and design, or for avid model-builders at home.
Festo intends to use the iFab project to come closer to realizing the future vision of personalized production. The success story of the PC is to be repeated with the iFab for individualized fabrication. We’re glad this technology is becoming more accessible and getting ready for potential home usage, however, without a breakthrough in technology regarding particles positioning (which would bring speed to prototype or product manufacture) as well as breakthroughs in material research (which would add more versatility in objects made) we can’t expect this technology to become widely spread anytime soon.
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