Thursday, May 24, 2007

A first look at the Desktop Factory 3D Printer

The above image is from a larger image that we've obtained. It's a bit out of focus; but, useful none-the-less. It's a part that was printed in the Desktop Factory printer and then smoothed. What's revealing about this part, and why we decided to use it as the first image that we post of the output of the Desktop Factory, it that it also reveals the actual resolution of the unprocessed parts.

If you click on the image and look inside the hole for the shaft, you will be able to see that the surface is not nearly so smooth as the outside.

We've been told that the layers that the Desktop Factory lays down are 10 mils, and that the finest detail would be 40 mils (0.01 or 0.04 inches respectively). To see this in terms of dots per inch (dpi) in an inkjet printer it would mean that the layers are the equivalent of 100dpi and the finest resolved detail would be just 25dpi.

So, for our first desktop 3D printers, we need to be realistic about what they can and cannot achieve without any further processing. If we need very fine parts, then we'll have to turn to much more expensive solutions.

But, for many of us, the idea of being able to experiment at the conceptual stages of design development, at a low cost and under our direct control, is so appealing that even a low-res solution is better than no solution at all. Frankly, the cost of farming out 3D printing is just too expensive to allow much experimentation.

But, the photo reveals another interesting possibility. It appears that the material used in the Desktop Factory is very receptive to polishing or processing to achieve a finer finish. We don't see any pitting or scratching in the finished areas of the part which leads us to believe that it may be quite easy to work with.

How much work was done to achieve the smoothness of the finished part is not clear as yet. But, we're hoping to find out very soon. And, when we do, we'll certainly post our findings.

We're actually kind of impressed by what we see for the price.

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