The Threedy 3D printer
At TCT Show + Personalize 2013 the makers of the world united with the industrial giants, both sides looking to move their respective technologies along, in order to create a better product for end use consumers.
One topic that came up time and time again was the subject of materials, whether that be sintering machines and the powder they use, resins or the filament fed into the FDM/FFF consumer printers across the show floor.
After chairing a session on the applications of 3D printing I was approached by a chap, who would prefer not to be named, from a huge powder grinding company who are becoming interested in creating new powders for laser sintering devices.
Shortly afterwards I was introduced to Stephen Duckworth, Head of Marketing at Clariant International Ltd. at the Threedy stand to talk filament. Mr Duckworth was there for our sister show mediplas 2013, which was also housed in Hall 3A at the NEC. Along with Threedy co-creator Steve Nicholls we indulged in a thorough, knowledgeable discussion about filament and how many variants can effect a print.
Mr Nicholls and his business partner Simon Bexfield have been using 3D printers to create intricate, interlocking, mathematical puzzles under their business Puzzle Shed for some time. Unhappy with the results they were getting from many of the printers they had previously used they set about creating their own 3D printer.
After close to a year of research and development they were able to launch their printer at TCT Show + Personalize 2013. Because Puzzle Shed’s puzzles are so intricate the slightest bit of warping or shrinkage in a print will cause the whole puzzle not to work, so the printer had to be good.
The printer has been developed to be sturdy to minimize vibration as Mr Nicholls explained, “The machine is both light and heavy – the wooden framing and heavy metal bars made it a sturdy structure but the hot-end and extruder is very light. What that means is that we can achieve great acceleration, you’ll get a lot of people talking about print head speed but it is like driving a Ferrari down country roads; you might have a top speed of 200mph but you’re never going to get there. The light head gives us great acceleration at the same time as little vibration. I’ve owned a printer that vibrated so much that it edged it’s way forward and nearly fell off the table, the Threedy is solid.”
The prints Puzzle Shed had on display from the Threedy are some of the most perfect prints I’ve seen from a desktop printer, precise and elaborate. They feel and look like consumer products.
Yet, Steve Nicholls still thinks there is room for improvement “We are at a stage when we’ve tested every single aspect of the printer and are happy with the machine, we’re looking to others to produce better quality consumables and a reliable source for those.”
This is where the conversation took an about turn to filament, Mr Duckworth is an expert in pigments and polymers having led a talk earlier on the day on managing risks of polymer colour and additives in medical devices and pharmaceutical packaging. He explained to Steve N and me how different colours in the polymer would affect a print particularly when printing in PLA due to the crystallisation of different pigments at different temperatures.
Steve Nicholls confirmed that he sees different results in different colours when he is printing his interlocking puzzles and it is of no surprise to him to find out that the colour of filament will disturb the print. With colours such an important aspect to some of Puzzle Sheds puzzles it is imperative that colours remain the same, yet even using the same filament from the same supplier Puzzle Shed notice differences. "I get the feeling that when the first home 3D printers were being designed it was a question of "what can I get my hands on?" rather than developing new material and now we've reached a point whereby that needs to be looked at."
Though the question of how filament could and will be improved was left open it is clear that we are reaching a point now that filament and consumables require some industry standards. Threedy will be ready and waiting to make their already impressive machine that little bit more impressive.