3D printers are amazing tools: design an object on your computer, hit control-P, and when you come back from lunch, a nice warm plastic part is waiting for you. For a few years now, I’ve been making prototype plastic parts on a trusty Stratasys Dimension. It’s quick and makes robust ABS parts at the touch of a button: I just draw in Solidworks and usually have a finished part the next day. But at the scale of parts for the robotic construction kit that we’re working on, we’ve run up against a resolution wall. The Dimension, with a resolution of about 178 microns, just can’t print print the fine details I need at this stage of design.
Enter the Objet Eden. It’s different technology; the material is deposited by a bunch of print heads in parallel, much more like an inkjet printer than the “hot glue gun on a robot” style of FDM. And the parts are beautiful. Layers are only 16 microns (16 microns!) thick, so parts are smooth to the touch, even shiny, when they come out. The picture above is a test print of a 40mm cube, and it’s perfectly smooth; no ridges or bumps. It’s fast, too — these parts printed in 80 minutes. The material seems strong and durable, and the support material washes off with water. The only catch is that the machine costs about $115,000.