3D Printer Show

Today we got up early and headed off to the 3D Printer Show in London Town. This is the third printer show that we’ve been to and I think it is fair to say that we have watched the business grow up a bit. The first one was full of people who were into 3D printing. Last year there were a lot of people who had heard about 3D printing and wanted to find out more. This year there were just a lot of, well, people.

This is the third location and I think in some ways this was a bit of a step down. Last year they had a lovely large venue with a great café which overlooked the exhibition floor. This year they had a place which was optimistically titled the “Food Court” but was actually a room where a few harassed folks were selling coffee, cakes and sandwiches. They were nice enough, but it didn’t feel quite the same.

As for the printers, there were some new brands and some old brands. Most of the printers were what we call “Fused Deposition Manufacture” or FDM. These work in the same way as a cake icing machine, squirting molten material onto a platform one layer at a time to build up a 3D structure. From the look of things this has probably reached the state of the art in terms of how to get from rolls of filament to the finished product. I reckon that Una, my Ultimaker 2 printer which is now over two years old, can still hold her head up high in the company of the newer devices.

However, there are some very interesting things happening in terms of the raw materials that we can put into our printers. There were a lot of companies showing off new designs for printing materials which improve on the ones we presently use. 

This printer can print cakes and chocolate. 

This printer prints seeds and soil, all in one, so you can make things like the display at the top of the post.

I got samples of some of these new filaments, I'm looking forward to having a go with them. 

This is one of the genuinely new printers at the show. The Roland ARM-10 is a departure for the company, which makes a lot of milling machines and CNC tools. It is interesting because it uses a different technology from the filament printers we know and love. It uses Stereo Lithography, where beams of light are shone at liquid resin, causing it to harden and generate hard objects. The prints are still built up layer by layer, like the FDM "cake icing" printers, but the layers are much thinner and the quality of the finished print much higher.

I think that Roland have probably decided that the market for FDM printers is well served at the moment and that in the future there will be a move to the higher quality that this technology can produce. Having said that, these printers cost quite a lot more to feed, with a litre of liquid resin costing over 100 pounds, and the printer itself didn't seem to offer much (if any) of an improvement on the Form Labs printer which is cheaper (and who were also at the show).

Ultimaker were there too, of course, and I had a great chat about where they see the future going. There was also some amazing 3D printed art on show. I've put a bunch more pictures on Flickr, you can find them here

I left the show with loads of ideas for things to try and stuff to play with.