A brief review of the 3D printers of 2012

Objet Classic Car Mode opt.v2

The avalanche of popular news stories has propelled 3D printing into the minds of consumers. However, the major manufacturers of 3D printers have released a number of systems for professional uses. Here’s a quick look at what became available this year.







A number of technical advances are demonstrated by this year’s new 3D printing systems. Sheet lamination using paper entered the market. A number of metal laser sintering companies established offices here in the U.S. Professional desktop 3D printers are available in Stereolithography and Fused Deposition Modeling technologies. Low-priced extrusion models are moving into the professional space. And multijetting continues to expand.

Sheet lamination

According to the ASTM International standard definitions, sheet lamination is a process in which sheets are bonded together to form an object. The only 3D printing machine that uses this technology is Mcor’s line of printers. This year, the company introduced the Mcor Matrix 300+ color 3D printer.

Primarily geared to form and fit applications, some industries can have paper objects serve as the final product. One benefit: this technology is eco-friendly in that the main material is paper.

A Selectable Layer Thickness (S.L.T.) technique allows the printer to run in two different modes, draft or presentation. A feature called V.V.D. (Variable Volume Deposition) lets you produce more complex parts.

The company also announced the Mcor IRIS, which prints in full 600 dpi color.

Matrix 300+ Technical Specs
Build Size: A4 Paper: 256 x 169 x 150 mm;
Letter Paper: 9.39 x 6.89 x 5.9 in.
Layer Thickness: 0.1 mm (0.004 in.) and 0.19 mm (0.007 in.)






Laser sintering

Laser melting, selective laser sintering, laser sintering are essentially equivalent terms. Selective laser sintering (SLS) applies specifically to systems from 3D Systems. ASTM International refers to the process of laser melting, SLS, and so on, as laser sintering (LS). It is a powder bed fusion process where one or more lasers selectively fuse or melts powder materials layer by layer to build an object.

Three companies entered the U.S. market with metal and plastic laser sintering systems: Renishaw, SLM Solutions, and ExOne.

Renishaw’s laser melting process produces fully dense metal parts, which are built in thicknesses ranging from 20 to 100 microns. Key features include variable powder delivery, ultra low oxygen content in the build atmosphere, and a safe-change filter system to minimize user contact with materials. Two 3D printer systems are available: the AM125 and the AM250, both of which feature vacuum technology and low gas consumption.

Materials for these systems include 316L and 17-4PH SS, H13 tool steel, aluminum Al-Si-12, titanium CP, Ti-6Al-4V and 7Nb, cobalt-chrome (ASTM75), and Inconel 718 and 625.
The AM125 offers a choice of 100 or 200 W laser, and the AM250 a 200 or 400 W laser.

Technical Specs: AM125
Volume: 125 x 125 x 125 mm (X, Y, Z)
Build rate: 5 cm³ – 20 cm³ per hour
Layer thickness: 20 – 100 µm
Laser beam diameter: 35 µm diameter at powder surface

Technical Specs: AM250
Volume: 250 x 250 x 300 mm (X, Y); Z axis extendable to 360 mm
Build rate: 5 cm³ – 20 cm³ per hour
Layer thickness: 20 – 100 µm
Laser beam diameter: 70 µm diameter at powder surface

The Ex One Company (ExOne) introduced the M-FLEX 3D Printing System. It is a mid-sized system for manufacturing metal parts in industries such as mining, automotive, and energy. It uses a print head to distribute binder into beds of specially prepared and formulated materials. Eventually, additional materials will be printed, including tungsten, glass, ceramics and a variety of materials for the casting industry. The machine is suited for either prototypes or short runs of multiple and custom parts.

Build chamber of 400 mm (15.75 in.) x 250 (9.84 in.) mm x 250 mm (9.84 in.).
Build speeds: 30 seconds per layer.








In 2012, SLM Solutions, a noted European manufacturing of laser sintering 3D printers, established an office in Commerce, Michigan. The company offers three standard machines that print with 10 metal materials. Metal materials include stainless steel, tool steel, cobalt-chromium, Inconell, aluminum and Titanium.

The compact SLM 125HL produces complex metal components with fine metal powders. The system is suitable for an R&D environment as well as for small lot production. Its patented bidirectional loader movement offers a safe filter system and efficient protective gas consumption due to internal recirculation of inert gas at laminar flow. The SLM 250HL can handle the production of limited requirement components in high load materials, for example, medical implants or components for the aircraft industry are also applications. The SLM 280 HL uses a unique double beam technology, which improves the laser beam profile. Materials include Stainless Steel, Tool Steel, Cobalt-Chromium, Super Alloys, Aluminum and Titanium.

YLR-Faser-Laser, 100/200 W.
Build chamber: is 125 x 125 x 75 mm
Build speed: 15 ccm/h
Part layer thickness: range from 20 µm – 75 µm
Wall thicknesses: to 140 µm.

YLR-Faser-Laser, 200/400 W
Build chamber: 250 x 250 x 350 mm
Build speed: 15 ccm/h
Part layer thickness: range from 20 µm – 75 µm
Wall thickness: to 150 µm.

400 W fiber laser or 1 KW fiber laser
Build chamber: 280 x 280 x 350 mm
Build speed: 35 ccm/h.
Layer thickness: range from 20 µm – 100 µm
Wall thickness from 200 µm – 1000 µm.







According to ASTM International, stereolithography is a vat photopolymerization process. The photopolymer material is kept in a liquid state until one or more lasers selectively cures the material layer by layer to a predetermined thickness.

The newest entrant into this market, from Formlabs, comes from engineers with an MIT Media Lab connection. Currently using Kickstarter for funding, shipments of the Form 1 should begin in February 2013 to those who ordered it from Kickstarter. A laser will solidify a thin layer of liquid acrylate photopolymer resin. The build platform will then rise in preparation for the next layer, and the next, until the part is build. Included with the Form 1 will be a Form Finish rinse solution, which will make it easy to remove supports or extra resin from parts. The price of the Form 1 said to be $2,299, which includes a liter of resin. Individual purchases of the resin will be around $149 per liter.

printer 1 266x300Form 1
Build volume: 125 x 125 x 160 mm (4.9 x 4.9 x 6.5 in).
Minimum layer thickness: 25 microns.









Fused deposition modeling

Stratasys introduced the Mojo early in the year. It is a professional-use desktop 3D printer, FDM-based, for $9,900. It is a complete system, containing everything needed to produce models, including material (about 80 in.3 of ABSplus in ivory and support material of SR-30 soluble) and a support-removal system.

It uses a variation on traditional FDM material extrusion: The ABS material spool and the print head are integrated into a single package, called the QuickPack print engine. Every time you install new material, you also install a fresh print head, lowering maintenance needs. The Print Wizard helps efficiently manage workflow. It is like the Catalyst program used on other Stratasys machines. Support material removal is simple with the included WaveWash55. It is a self-contained, hands-free cleaning system, that does not require plumbing.

Build platform: 5 x 5 x 5 in.
Layer resolution: 0.007 in. (0.17 mm)






Multi-jetting printers

Material jetting is an additive process where droplets of material, usually build material, are selectively deposited. In some systems, the material jetted is a binder. Some systems use one nozzle to jet or deposit droplets; others use multiple nozzles.

The Objet30 Pro desktop 3D printer, from Objet (which recently merged with Stratasys), prints with any of 7 materials; two of which are transparent and one is a high temperature material. Accuracy and layer thickness are determined by the size of the drops of material deposited from the polyjet print head, which is 50 pico liter, sufficient for fine detail and smooth finish. This printer will use 2 cartridges (1 kg or 2.2 lb) of modeling materials and 2 cartridges of supporting materials. This allows “hot swap” during printing and supplies enough material for up to 36 hours unattended printing.

Objet30 Pro
Build size:the tray size is 11.81 x 7.87 x 5.9 in.
Print speed is 112 cm³/hr for opaque material, and 60cm³/hr for transparent material
Accuracy: 0.1 mm, 28 micron layers









The ProJet™ 5000 large format, multi-jet professional 3D printer, from 3D Systems, offers a 2X print speed increase and high print resolution. Built for factory performance, it is compact, quiet, and easy to use, producing detailed prototypes and functional parts up to 21 in., or 550 mm in length. The printer prints durable, high-definition VisiJet® MX plastic parts. With up to eight material delivery modules, it can be configured for flexible materials management and delivers unattended, continuous operation that exceeds 80 hours.

The ProJet™ 7000 production printer, from 3D Systems, comes in 3 models: the SD for high definition parts, the HD for ultra-high definition precision part manufacturing and the MP for dental and medical manufacturing applications. It prints fine feature details for accurate prototypes, parts and master patterns for urethane and investment casting applications. This large capacity printer comes with a range of VisiJet® functional materials including tough, flexible, black, clear, e-stone and high temperature materials.

Projet 7000
Build volume of 15 x 15 x 10 in. (380 x 380 x 250 mm)

The next generation ProJet™ 3500 professional series 3D printers, from 3D Systems, come in eight configurations with nine new VisiJet® print materials. The extended range of VisiJet® print materials cover such applications as high-impact, durable plastic for functional testing, cast-friendly wax for rapid-foundry production, and specialized materials for the digital production of jewelry, dental prosthesis, dental models and medical implants.

The ZPrinter® 850 is the largest format ZPrinter®. Also from 3D Systems, its features include double the print volume of the ZPrinter® 650, and the same color printability. Print speed is 5 to 10 times faster than many other systems. Print resolution is 600 x 540 dpi. It can simultaneously print in full, vibrant color. Includes five print heads – clear, cyan, magenta, yellow and black – that deliver 390,000 unique colors plus hundreds of thousands of possible color combinations.


LUXeXceL combines digital printing, optics, and lighting to produce optical structures, lenses, and prisms by “printing” them on various backing materials. Known as Printoptical Technology, this 3D printer concept can be used to print lenses for LEDs, lamps, and luminaires, replicas of stain-glass artwork, or dimensional brochures and other communication tools. Printing optical structures on foils can also be used to increase the output of photovoltaic cells for converting solar radiation into electrical energy.

The material used is a transparent or tinted polymer. The equipment deposits droplets that have a resolution of 1400 pixels. As the equipment lays down a layer of the polymer, UV radiation cures it. The equipment used to print these lenses is standard UV-inkjet equipment. The print head is piezoelectric controlled and delivers a resolution of 1,440 dpi for a jetted dot size of 18 μm and a droplet volume of 7 picolitre.


The 3Z™STUDIO 3D printer, from Solidscape Inc., is for the custom retail jewelry industry. Its features include a compact retail tabletop design, an intuitive icon based one-touch screen and variable resolutions. The printer uses materials 3ZMODEL and 3ZSUPPORT. These materials produce wax patterns while retaining the precision and smooth finish characteristics required for successful investment casting.

Resolution: 5000 X 5000 dpi (197 X 197 dots/mm) in. X, Y, and 4000 dpi (158 dots/mm) in Z.
Accuracy: ± 0.0010 in./in. (±25.4 µ/25.4 mm) along each axis X, Y, and Z.
Layer thickness: selectable through a variable slider.
Build envelope is 6 in. x 6 in. x 2 in. (152.4 x 152.4 x 50.8 mm)

The 3Z™PRO, from Solidscape Inc., is a high precision wax 3D printer. The printer jet expels micro droplets at a high frequency to build a part in a layer-by-layer process. The compound vaporizes during burnout for a highly accurate casting. Features include self-testing and auto-calibration functions, wireless connectivity, and the ability to load and manage jobs from a remote desktop.

Resolution in X and Y is 197 X 197 dots/min. In the Z it is 158 dots/min.
Accuracy: ±0.0254 mm
Layer thickness is selectable.
The surface finish is 32 to 63 microns.
Build envelope is 6 X 6 X 4 in.
Print materials are 3ZMODEL and 3ZSUPPORT.

The 3Z Model Material offers a 23% strength improvement over plusCAST® and is more than 50% stronger than previous generations. This organic compound has a melting point of 221°-239°F (95°-115°C).

The 3Z Support automatically generates a structure to protect the part during the build process. Support material completely dissolves away in a liquid solution, leaving a clean wax part without the need for manual refining.



Material extrusion

MakerBot® Industries’ introduced the MakerBot® Replicator™ 2 Desktop 3D Printer, which was designed for engineers, researchers, creative professionals, or “anyone who loves to make things. ” The printing material is MakerBot PLA Filament — a renewable bioplastic PLA. PLA is a popular build material in 3D printing because of its strength and ability to make large prints without cracking or warping. The slicing engine is named MakerWare. The software lets the 3D printer make multiple models at one time. The software also makes it intuitive to move, rotate, and scale models. The price of $2,199.

The MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer (at $2,799) was designed specifically for “3D printing experts that want to blaze a trail into the future of 3D printing.” The key feature of this printer is its experimental dual extrusion and the use of the familiar petroleum-based thermoplastic, MakerBot ABS filament.

Digital Lite processing

The Perfactory® Micro personal desktop 3D printer, from EnvisionTEC Inc., uses DLP technology from Texas Instruments® to produce fine detail for prototyping jewelry. Its LED light source is maintenance free. The base price is $14,999. The Perfactory® Software Suite includes EnvisionTEC Magics 16, which provides automatic support generation and STL file repair. The machine runs EnvisionTEC materials suited for both direct casting and molding.

Perfactory Micro
Build envelope: 40 x 30 x 100 mm (1.58 in. x 1.18 in. x 3.94 in.)
Resolution: 31 µm (0.0012 in.) in X and Y, and 25 µm (0.0010 in.) in Z


EnvisionTEC, Inc.

Ex One Company, LLC


MakerBot Industries

Mcor Technologies Ltd


SLM Solutions

Solidscape®, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Stratasys, Inc.

Stratasys Ltd.




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