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Print your own Stormtrooper

Tue, 03/10/2009 - 7:06am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Jason_Pic130For those who’ve never been, Electronics West is one of seven shows (including EW, Medical Design and Manufacturing West, Pacific Design and Manufacturing West, Automation Technology Expo West, Plastec West, West Pack, and Green Manufacturing West) co-located within the Anaheim Convention Center. One badge earned admittance to all, so from 10-12 February, I “attended” each.

One could feel the economic downturn at Electronics West. The “swag” was limited to free pens and cheap samples. But companies used other methods to attract passer-bys. Epson set up a Craps table with robot dealers. There was the requisite underwater tech that’s a staple of every industry show. Another company had people in Star Wars costumes—entirely un-related to their product, but eye-catching. What caught my eye was the proliferation of consumer 3D printers.

The technology behind rapid prototyping, which spawned 3D Printers, has existed since the late 80’s. But early 3D Printers were hulking monstrosities, costing $100,000 or more. Like early computers, they weren’t for the average Joe. Only in recent years have 3D Printers become affordable for small businesses. While the term “rapid prototyping” is relative, as 3D print jobs can take hours, even days, the tech has evolved.

Dimension was showcasing their uPrint Personal 3D Printer. uPrint claims to put “3D printing right on your desk” (a large desk, that is), and at 25 in. x 26 in., it’s a “huge” improvement over its predecessors. Best of all is the price tag: $14,900 (though this doesn’t include “options”). Dimension claims their ABSplus plastic is “made to stand up to functional testing under real-world conditions, and can be drilled, machined, sanded, painted, even chrome-plated.” Replacement ABSplus Material Cartridges are $250 per color (with nine options, including Natural, White, Black, Dark Grey, Red, Red, Blue, Nectarine Orange, Florescent Yellow, and Olive Green).

ec93ev100aAlibre gave me a demonstration of their Computer-aided design (CAD) software. As everyone knows, CAD software is used to create prototype designs that can be actualized with a 3D Printer. Alibre is marketing their software to enterprising designers (who now have access to affordable 3D Printers). The Alibre Design package runs from $999 for Design Standard to $1,999 for Design Expert.

ZCorporation drew the most attention with models from their ZPrinter. As  mentioned in my photoblog, ZCorp knows their audience—they prominently featured several 3D Stormtrooper helmets. It’s like they think Star Wars is popular among engineers or something. The detail in these objects (which also included a T-Rex and a computer mouse) was extraordinary, but so is the price. The monochrome ZPrinter 310 Plus (their “affordable” model) has a MSRP of $19,900. But for the Stormtrooper, you’d need the Z510 or the 650, which run $49,900 and $59,900, respectively. Compared to old 3D printers, these are bargains, but the uPrint may be more attractive to small businesses.

Visit www.ecnmag.com/Electronics-West-2009.aspx for my Electronics West photoblog, including pics of the aforementioned Stormtrooper. See you next year!

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