Posts Tagged '3d printers'

World’s First 3D Printed Ink Cartridges

3D printing or Additive Manufacturing has been a leading trend amongst the printing industries for a few years now. From creating medical and dental synthetics and prosthetics to complex mechanical marvels like automobile parts and robotic aircrafts, it was only a matter of time before this engineering technology would start producing parts for itself. And eventually, be able to completely reproduce itself, once we figure out how to create data chips and other complicated processing systems that require a variety of finely tuned elements to make.

An ink supply retailer from the United Kingdom known as Ink Factory was thinking along the same lines when they decided to purchase a 3D printer and create the first ever functional 2D printer inkjet cartridge. Being a supplier of ink cartridges and printer supplies for the last 11 years, the decision to create a cartridge was less then farfetched to say the least. It all started with the notion that asks, “Would it be possible for the home user to print their own ink cartridges and (in doing) so save money?” Which soon lead to the team at Ink Factory to start planning the creation of a 2D print cartridge.

The first hurdle the team encountered was choosing which type of cartridge to replicate and what printer to test them in. Many manufacturers’ like HP and Canon have a plethora of new technologies and designs in each ink cartridge, such as data chips and Piezo elements to help regulate ink droplet amounts, levels of ink usage, and general communications with a printer’s software. With such a high amount of finely tuned, specific elements going into each cartridge, these manufactures were out of the question. Kodak, on the other hand, has only ever released two different ink cartridge types, the Kodak 10 series and Kodak 30 series ink cartridges. Additionally, the Kodak cartridges have a simple internal design and only one component that could not be fabricated with a 3D printer, (the ink bladder). After all, the current 3D printer models can only handle one element a time and PLA or ABS plastics are abundant, consistant, and hold no charge which are ideal for creating and testing out new operational inventions. The Kodak ESP C110 was selected as the test printer since it holds the Kodak 30 ink cartridges and is an extremely reliable and popular machine.

The next step after deciding what they wanted to print and how they wanted it to function, was designing a 3D model using a CAD (Computer Assisted Design) program. The team at Ink Factory purchased a MakerBot 2 printer which comes with SolidWorks, a CAD program used as a design engineering software tool. After carefully measuring each component and chamber of the original cartridge, it was time to create an accurately scaled layout or wire frame model of the Kodak 30 ink cartridges using SolidWorks. These 3D drawings are saved as .STL or Stereolithography files which utilize similar technology found in satellites. This technology basically measures light reflection distances off of surfaces to reproduce a scaled 3D model.

Once a computer animated model (or frame) has been completed using the SolidWorks or other 3D design engineering software, the printer will need to thinly slice the 3D drawing with another inclusive software program entitled MakerWare. MakerWare is MakerBot’s slicing engine, taking 3-Dimensional drafts and dividing them into numerous layers that the printer will be recreating during the printing process. Each 3D printer manufacturer has their own set of software, including a slicing engine and a 3D drafting CAD program.

With the designs being complete, it’s time to print. Ink Factory used PLA plastics to create their model Kodak 30 inkjet cartridges. This was primarily for cost efficiency and the fact that PLA plastics are easy to work with and strong when cooled or hardened from a liquid state. When the printer finishes printing each successive layer, the team at Ink Factory can scrape the newly fabricated cartridges off of the manufacturing faceplate. The new cartridges are then accessorized with the components unable to be manufactured during the printing process and filled using an Ink refill kit. Thus, home users will still not be able to create their own cartridges at home, unless they happen to have access to ink bladders, data chips, and the other miscellaneous components used to communicate with the printer.

Although this is not a universal solution to help lower replacement ink and toner costs, it does open the doors of what is possible with additive manufacturing. I remember the first article I wrote about NASA using 3D printing technology to create a pizza at the International Space Station. The first thought I had, was “this is straight out of Star Trek or some Sci-Fi futuristic movie.” Being able to tell the computer interface what you want and it fabricates the exact item out of thin air in some oversimplified, concaved wall set-up. “Computer, Earl Grey, Hot,” and out comes a steaming cup of Earl Gray tea. How many stories have you heard about a self replicating robot trying to take over the world? The ideas have always been there, they are just now getting the chance to become a reality.

3D Printing – Does it help or hurt jobs?

3D Printing3-D printing is a process referred to as Additive Manufacturing which constructs an object through sequential layering of a delegated material. This machine fabricates the product by jetting out a resin-like mixture that hardens into a plastic, metal, or other synthetic material. No replicating, completely up to the designer with no manufacturing restrictions other then what is possible and impossible due to the general laws of physics and nature. This not so new technology is finally being integrating into more businesses and manufacturing companies including dentistry, orthodontics, shoes, fashion, toys, and automotive industries. Being able to create a product using the exact amount of material needed with laser accurate detail and no waste is more than just beneficial, it’s revolutionizing industries. 3-Dimensional printing has practical applications in just about every field creating a product, including food.

As with a laser or inkjet printer, the process of creation starts with a concept or idea conceived onto a computer document, or in this case, a 3-dimensional layout or design drawn with a computer. Instead of a document file, the users will be creating an STL (.stl) or Stereolithography file, which is basically a Cartesian coordinate grid in three dimensions. The printer will then process the data by slicing the virtual blueprint vertically and creating a 2-D model one slice at a time. This is similar to the way a CT scan (or CAT scan) works taking images of the brain one slice at a time. The sequential layering allows for a more intricate building process, being able to create elaborate inner chambers and honeycomb textures with controllable porosity and channel size throughout a single item. After slicing and processing the given design, the printer will lay down the slices as successive layers of liquid, powder, titanium, wire, wax, or other given materials to construct the model from a series of coordinate cross sections. The cross sections directly correspond with the given or created STL file. Each layer is joined together or automatically fused to create the final shape or desired product. The printing process can take anywhere from a couple hours to days depending on the size of the object. This is only a fraction of the time spent on fabricating the same products using subtractive manufacturing or molding techniques. Moreover, there is little to no waste from the start of a project to the end of a project, unlike traditional manufacturing methods.

Many different materials can be used for 3D printing, including ABS plastic sheets, PLA, polyamides, glass filled polyamides, stereolithography materials, silver, titanium, steel, wax, photopolymers and polycarbonates. The material components used for 3-D printing are ever growing and evolving. As long as the material can be melted, sintered, laminated, or molded / modeled together it can be a viable candidate in additive manufacturing. The most popular, especially with the home users, is the ABS plastic sheets, being colorful, light weight, durable, and affordable. There are many other types of thermoplastics including PLA / polylactic acid which is a type of polyester, polyamides or nylon, and glass-filled polyamides which is fiber-glass woven into the nylon creating an extremely strong and durable plastic.

The plastics are extruded from the printer in a process called Fused Deposition Modeling, melting the thermoplastic material with the use of a heated printhead nozzle, ejecting small beads of the material one layer at a time which solidifies almost instantly at room temperature. Metals, plasters, and ceramic glass materials are generally in the form of a wire or powder solution before being melted or sintered via heat or laser into the desired shapes. Paper, metal sheets, foil, and plastic films can also be used in some 3-D printers that laminate the material into successive layers to form the 3-Dimensional objects. The other additive manufacturing technology involves the use of light to connect or fuse together the molecules of a substance forming the desired shape. Photopolymers are needed for light polymerization to take place which is an interesting material that literally washes away with cold water unless struck or excited by UV light which hardens the solution. Solidified Photopolymers generally feel and act much like a hardened rubber.

With so many applications, the 3-D printers are appealing to a broad array of businesses and organizations, including NASA. Facing the problem of freeze dried foods breaking down micronutrients over time due to their natural sugars and enzymes, researchers and developers at NASA have pioneered a project to create a complete nutritional food system that contains no waste or wrappers. By substituting plastics and metals for food powders, they have been able to create cookies and pizza with only the use of a 3-D printer. In order to accomplish this task, the team at NASA has the 3-D component delivering macronutrients like starch, protein, and fat which provide structure and texture, while the micronutrients are sprayed on afterward, delivering the smell and flavor components. The Macronutrient feed stocks are stored in a dry, sterile container and fed directly to the printer. The printer will combine water or oil with the extruding macronutrient feed stocks depending on the digital recipe to minimize waste and spoilage. Users can also modify textures and flavors at this macronutrient construction stage. The micronutrients are stored as liquids, aqueous solutions, or dispersions in sterile pouches and are jetted onto the Macronutrient structure before completion. The result is fresh pizza and cookies in space.

Researchers from Harvard and the University of Illinois have teamed up to develop a 3-D printed battery. The battery is smaller than a grain of sand and about as powerful as your cell phone battery. They used two separate lithium metal oxide pastes shaped into a comb-like formation, which hardened to create an anode and cathode. Several hospitals are also using 3-D printing technology to create individualized prosthetics that can be designed to the exact specifications needed. The quality of prosthetic material the printer can produce has also improved to be lighter and stronger than the usual molded prosthetics. The dentistry and orthodontics fields have perhaps had the most integration with these machines to date. Many offices are now creating their own correctable or invisible alignment retainers with the use of 3-D printing. This also cuts out a major cost and saves a tremendous amount of time, by not having to employ a third party to manufacture their goods. With the more recent metals and alloys being utilized, car and gun manufactures are finding these machines to be invaluable.

Additive manufacturing has no doubt had a tremendous impact on the companies already using these machines. As they become more affordable, their impact on society and businesses will increase as will the demand. Imagine being able to create specialized tools, toys, furniture, house wares (even electronic components such as lamps), food, and just about any product at home. 3-D printing makes all this reality. The impact 3-D printing will have on society and businesses will revolutionize the way we live and carry out our normal routines. And being able to specialize and control every detail and feature of a 3-D manufactured object has model enthusiasts excited. They are now able to create exact replica models of train cars, planes, ships, and automobiles. Even big cooperations such as Nike have invested in these machines due to their variant production capabilities and cost effectiveness. Many artists have also started experimenting with additive manufacturing to bring their creative visions to life that would not otherwise be possible through subtractive manufacturing or molding.


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