As William Gibson has famously said, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Three dimensional printing, in which parts can be formed, one layer at a time, from a fast-setting plastic, takes us a step closer toward distributing at least one aspect of the future: desktop manufacturing.
Now that this technology is making its way into the hands of do it yourself innovators, desktop manufacturing promises to change the way we create and consume products. Imagine ordering a spare part direct from a manufacturer and receiving it in an email as soon as your payment goes through. Toys, shower curtain rings, kitchen utensils, are among the legions of small parts that could be printed on a desktop manufacturing setup.
The B9Creator, by B9Creations, headed by inventor and serial entrepreneur Michael Joyce, does the technology one better with photo-sensitive 3D printing. Most 3D printers extrude heated plastic which hardens as soon as it leaves the print head to build up the layers that make up a printed object. The B9Creator projects an image of each layer onto a thin film of photosensitive resin, which then hardens. Raising the object as it is formed allows fresh resin to be exposed to the image of the next layer.
The advantage? “Better detail than conventional FDM [fused deposition modeling] printers for the DIY market,” Joyce tells me. The B9Creator uses 1024 x 768 pixel images to create layers that are 50 to 100 microns thick. The MakerBot Replicator, by comparison, creates layers that are 200 to 300 microns thick, or less than half the resolution.
Joyce has completed the first production prototypes of the B9Creator, and it’s fair to say that the DIY 3D printing crowd—hobbyists and other home 3D printing enthusiasts—have gone wild. The B9Creator racked up half a million dollars on Kickstarter.com in response to Joyce’s call for a tenth of that amount to ship the first units to customers. Cost for a complete kit, including shipping: $2,375. “I think we’re first to market with this particular solution,” Joyce tells me.