Industryweek 14833 Technology

3-D Printing: In Search of the Real Thing

Jan. 30, 2014
Whether it's ultra-detailed prototypes or industrial-strength finished parts, what professional 3-D printers need is something real and familiar, something solid and authentic, not monochrome toys... And it looks like they finally have it.

Real things—break through all of the hype and all of the speculation, all of the talk about market size and industry value, all of that revolution business, and that's what we really want from 3-D printing.

We want to hit print and watch a three-dimensional thing pop out—a thing that looks real and feels real: a permanent, sturdy, real thing customized to our specifications. We want full color, multi-material, textured object created at our whim on one machine in one pass.

That sounds like sci-fi fantasy and all of that usual hype-filled hyperbole, I know, but it is exactly where the industry is aiming with every new machine and every new upgrade. And it's what users want.

Whether it's ultra-detailed prototypes or industrial-strength finished parts, what professional 3-D printers need is something real and familiar, something solid and authentic, not just monochrome toys.

And it looks like they may finally have it.

This week at SolidWorks World 2014, Stratasys unveiled the latest generation of its Objet 500 series printer, the Connex3 Color Multi-Material 3-D Printer.

It is absolutely as close as the industry has come to a real-thing printer. Far closer than I expected. And the results are pretty remarkable.

This bike helmet prototype was 3-D printed on the Objet500 Connex3 in one print job.

The Connex3 can print in full-color (everything from bright red to perfectly clear) in 500 different material combinations that run from rigid plastic to utterly floppy.

As you can tell in its fancy promo video (below), Stratasys is marketing the printer aggressively to the prototyping market, and for good reason.

If off-white FDM parts revolutionized the innovation and design process, then having the ability to print something that looks and moves exactly like the finished product will be transforming the industry again in short order.

It's an intensely cool, intensely big step that for the industry. The potential for it is absolutely bewildering.

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