Vienna University of Technology announce the world’s smallest (and probably cheapest) 3D printer.

3D-printer at TU Vienna
Picture Credit: TU WIEN

The Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) announcement on their website about their great research into miniature 3D Printers is also great news for TMS’s industry and clients.

3D printers have always had far more potential for use in small businesses and people’s homes than in larger companies including manufacturers. Most manufacturers and designers if they do use 3D printers use them for prototyping and they may well of course actually use a 3D printing service like EMS.

In a small business though or an individual’s home the potential use of 3D printing is far more diverse and likely to be far more regular. What the researchers at TU Vienna realise is that 3D printing has great potential for creating intricate objects including parts that may be bespoke or not otherwise easily available. These objects won’t just be models or prototypes but can be useful usable objects and parts to fit into other equipment.

The source of the designs for 3D printing may well be 3D scanners to replicate an object but it could also be a user-generated design or a design downloaded from the internet. It can be expected that this new technology will lead to new businesses. We expect a sizable market to spring up with companies selling objects and parts online where it’s actually the design file they sell with a license to 3D print the object themselves or at a 3D print service. The effect this could have may well see many small designers designing objects and selling them who have no means to manufacturer or distribute them: in a similar way to what has happened with music where you no longer need a record company to publish an album as you can sell online.

The fact that the printer designed by TU Vienna cost €1200 is surprisingly low for this new technology but the sales price when it makes it to market is likely to be quite a bit higher and so these wont be on everyone’s desks at home straight away.

What we may see is many 3D printing services springing up so that people can buy 3D printing services in the same way they currently go to a print shop for high quality and high volume printing now. Also it is likely that certain businesses will offer a 3D printing service to compliment their existing business. For example auto stores may be able to offer a car parts 3D printing service.

The Press Release from the Vienna University of Technology explains that their device is the size of a milk carton, yet it doesn’t mention how big an object it can print. It does tell us that the resolution is high though with each layer a twentieth of a millimetre thick. Will it give other 3D printers a run for their money then? Quite possibly with some of the lower end printers currently available which give a similar resolution.

It seems the main way that the researchers have made the big step forwards that they have is to use Light Emitting Diodes to give a very precise beam for an additive manufacturing technology technique. The printer itself doesn’t output the object but outputs very precise light beams: the object itself is formed in a tub of resin. Working one tiny layer at a time the printer projects light using LEDs precisely to harden the resin.

Source: Vienna University of Technology

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