As we sit here in the heat with a dead air conditioning compressor, which will take some steamy days to replace, we're wishing that the whole personal fabrication revolution was mature enough to allow us to build our own! But, we're not quite there yet.
We needed something to brighten our day. So, it was very welcome news to hear from Buddy Byrum, the product manager for V-Flash with answers to some questions we had about the V-Flash 3D printer. And, now we hope to make your day by sharing them!
The image, above, is of an item created with the V-Flash 3D Printer. From the stop motion animation the V-Flash web site (http://www.modelin3d.com/Vflash_animation.shtml) we already knew that objects were built from the bottom rather than adding top layers. Here's how it works.
- A disposable pad having small break away supports is suspended from the build platform at the top of the build chamber.
- A film, at the bottom of the build chamber, is retracted into a container of liquid photo curable resin where it is coated with the resin and then pulled out across the floor of the build chamber.
- The disposable pad, or partially completed model, is lowered into or near the liquid resin on the film.
- A light system photo cures selected portions of the resin to form a layer of the 3D object.
- The build platform is pressed down onto the film and then lifts up.
- The film is again retracted to pick up more resin and the process is repeated until the 3D object is completed.
- The object and disposable pad are taken from the machine and separated.
The fact that the material used is a photo curable resin in liquid form rather than a powder should make this a very clean machine to operate in an office environment. The fact that the object is built from the bottom as it hangs, also means no waste of materials since no extra support materials are required. Any liquid not cured is reused. It is obvious that the V-Flash system is very efficient with material utilization.
Unlike some of the powder systems that use a sprayed binder, the parts come out of the machine fully cured and ready to use. (The Desktop Factory is also good in this regard because it binds its powder with heat rather than a sprayed liquid.) That being said, the V-Flash is being marketed as a concept modeler with material properties similar to general use SLA models. Of course, they are hoping to develop future materials that may actually be strong enough to be used for production pieces. Other future materials might have different color, flexibility or hardness properties. So, the technology looks very flexible.
We were not able to get firm estimates on material costs per cubit inch.
The detail resolution is .0088 inches. That translates to 114dpi in the 2D printing world. For most of the tasks for which it is being designed that should be plenty. But, if not, the printed objects can be sanded and printed. The material is said to take paint quite well.
None of the under $10K printers are speed demons. The V-Flash builds, vertically, at a rate of .06 to .75 inches an hour. But, remember, multiple items can be built at the same time provided they fit in the build chamber.
The unique hanging build technique does offer one design challenge. One of the capabilities of 3D printing system is that of building loose items within a cage or gears that are built right onto their shafts. In powder systems the loose powder or other disposable material is used to support these free floating items while being built. The V-Flash methodology will require the user to design small breakaway supports to hold the free floating items in place as the build is being processed. It's isn't a big thing; but, it is something that one has to consider when designing.
The software that will be delivered with the V-Flash system will accept .STL files and will be able to resize and reorient the models to be printed.
The ship dates are still expected to be early fall. Possibly September. So, it may be the first commercial 3D printer to break the under-$10K barrier. We are really looking forward to it. Again, thanks to Buddy Byrum for this helpful information!