Formnext 2019

Hey, what’s up everyone, this is not MKBHD, but I thought a format like this would work for reporting on a few really interesting things that I found at Formnext. I’ve been to way too many shows recently, so I’ll keep this one brief – and I’ll just have this one video with what I got to see in the 23 hours I spent in Frankfurt.

The Free-D Six Axis Printer

And the first thing is this true 6-axis 3D printer. You’ve probably heard of “2.5D” vs “3D” printing where there was a new slicer that would follow the top contour of your models – but this is a whole new story. So what the folks at Free-D are doing is they’re using a full 6-axis robot arm and that angles and moves the print head so that it will actually never print an overhang. They’re both taking into account how each area of your part would ideally be printed and also what your printer can actually do motion-wise and tries to create an “ideal” toolpath from that. 

Now of course, we’ve seen similar approaches before with research projects and papers on this very topic, but it looks like Free-D are the first ones who are actually going to have something they’ll be able to release – and that hopefully, we’ll be able to use one day. They’re just a two-man team right now, and one of the core challenges they found was that it’s incredibly tricky to to adapt this approach to different motion platforms. If you think about it, a “classic” XYZ 3D printer never has to worry about whether it’s crashing into one of the printed parts, but with a setup that itself moves around the part, that becomes an exercise in crash avoidance and using the motion range of your robot. I think you can see why they chose to use these tetris pieces to demonstrate the approach, but they’re working on making this work for more complex shapes, too. Either way, they want this setup to be as automated as possible. Just like you don’t tell your slicer now that this bit is a bridge, that bit is a perimeter and so on, instead it’s one profile that makes some more or less intelligent decision on how to print separate areas, that’s exactly what they want to achieve with a 6-axis setup, too. This part right here was actually just printed what CNC machines would call 3 + 2 axis, where you orient your part in a specific direction with the machine, lock that position down and then treat the job as a 2.5-axis operation, but what Free-D should be is basically simultaneous 5-axis machining.

They’re not quite sure yet what exactly their product is going to be, whether it’s going to be a licensed software library or whether they’ll be working with machine manufacturers to help them build machines that use this approach. They definitely don’t want to become a machine manufacturer themselves. But since this is a big topic and one that you can really nerd out about, I’ve of course suggested that they at least open-source their core library so that this entire community can make use of and work on and help improve the software. Which would be really awesome! If they do, I’m sure we’re going to see tons of 3D printed robot arms printing 5-axis parts. 

The Oneclickmetal Laser Powder Bed Fusion Printer

So next up, a quick update on the Oneclickmetal, “affordable” Laser Powder Bed Fusion machine, that’s a 3D printer that prints solid metal parts that need no post-processing to get their full strength. Unlike something like the BASF filament that still need de-bindering and sintering steps to even turn into somewhat solid metal, these prints at most need some machining for functional surfaces and they are basically as strong as a cast or machined part. Formnext was the big reveal for them and they’ve finally announced the prices of their machines. The MPrint printer itself is 54900€ and the MPure cleaning and powder sieving station is 21900€ if you want that. Of course, that’s more expensive than an Ender-3, but in the world of direct metal printing, that’s a pretty dope deal. The last time I had seen the final machine, it was still just a blank stainless steel box, and the prototypes were… well, prototypes, but this now is the real deal and it does look pretty. Also, if you didn’t know, it runs a version of Octoprint, As far as I know, Gina is even involved in this, so thumbs up for using and supporting open source the proper way.

They also showed the final cartridge design that you can use to supply powder to the machine, but the same cartridges will also be used to collect the overflow from printing, they’ll serve as containers for moving powder to and from the sieving and cleaning unit, I mean, it feels really well thought out.

The BCN3D Epsilon

Okay, and the last thing I took a look at is the BCN3D Epsilon. There’s been a bit of a controversy about what exactly that enclosure is they’ve got around this machine. Is it actively heated? Is it passively heated? Is it actively temperature controlled? I mean, a big printer that is supposed to handle higher-temp materials better have some sort of temperature-controlled enclosure, but every extra degree helps when you’re trying to print a massive PETG or Nylon part. So what BCN3D used here is just the heated bed that ends up heating the enclosure, there’s no separate heater element or anything, but there is a fan in the back that will kick in when the interior gets too hot. As they’ve explained it, it looks like the bed heats up the enclosure to about the right temperature without any input anyways – with the bed at ABS temperatures around 120°C, the enclosure gets to about 60°C or so. That’s kinda hot for electronics, so they’ve moved the motor drivers and extruders out the back, but they’re keeping the spools inside the enclosure to keep the material heated and dry. That’s a smart move! For the fan, they’ve got a HEPA and activated carbon filter, the hotends are the same E3D-made ones as in the Sigma series, it’s got WiFi, you’ve got a 420x300x400mm build area, which is a lot bigger than the Ultimaker S5, by the way, but the Epsilon is also a bit more expensive than the S5. In either case, it’s always good to have options, and BCN3D have actually finally managed to become I guess what you’d call a proper company because so far, the team that developed the Sigma series really was just a handful of people.

So yeah, Formnext was fun! It was awesome meeting some of you in person, and seeing the mix of industrial, consumer and open-source developments right next to each other and it looks like Formnext is trying keep the show a mixed event – which I do like. But, for just being there not even a day, it way just way too big of an event. There were 4 halls filled to the brim and I probably only even walked through half of it all.

So I hope you enjoyed that quick look at a few things from the event, thanks for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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