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back to article Behold the world's first full-colour 3D printer

Those of you frustrated by the monochrome, single material output of 3D printers, and who happen to have very deep pockets, are directed to the Stratasys Objet500 Connex3, hailed as the world's first full-colour machine. The Stratasys Objet500 Connex3. Pic: Stratasys Full colour at a price: The Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 …

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Anonymous Coward

Can't even print 2D colour in an affordable manner, so 3D has no chance.

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Unhappy

I don't know.....

...£200,000 sounds about right for an original inkjet cartridge these days.

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Haven't we been here before? I think I've made a Reg comment in jest before, about encoding the filament so that unauthorised consumables are rejected by the printer.

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Re: I don't know.....

At least PLA filament won't clog up and require replacing if you don't print anything for more than five minutes...

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looking forward to a nice yellow and purple with blue dots homeprinted gun.

On a more serious note, this is pretty cool.

If this became affordable it might be a good breakthrough

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Meh

I suspect that

that graduated colour printing was a capability of the prototype. However there's more money to be made selling that capability in a the form of a new machine at a later date.

There are times that I wish I was not so cynical.

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£200,000 for the machine

£300,000 for the refills.

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Re: £200,000 for the machine

Using my 2D printer as a guide, more like £200,000 for the machine, £800,000 for the refills.

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Rubber like parts.

I wonder if i does flesh tones?

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Alien

Re: Rubber like parts.

If not, there's a lot of Avatar fanbois/girls out there would love something in blue.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rubber like parts.

"If not, there's a lot of Avatar fanbois/girls out there would love something in blue"

Mmmmm. But if full size it's going to be hide to hard it in the wardrobe when you're not using it.

Perhaps genetic engineering can produce a living human sized nubile female with a cat like face and stonking great tail. I'd keep one as a pet.

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Re: Rubber like parts.

"hide to hard"

Not sure if that was a slip or not. Perhaps it was supposed to be 'hide too hard' in reference to the rubber like quality.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rubber like parts.

No, sir, that was a classic and unintentional Freudian slip, possibly caused by my brain racing off with lurid thoughts involving myself and svelte, nudey blue aliens. In these reveries I too would be nudey, but sadly even my imagination can't depict me as svelte, so the genetic engineering had better make them loyal but not very choosey. I daresay that you could find such a gene in dogs or Labour voters.

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Expenses

Mine was the stay in a suite of a luxury hotel*. There were no other rooms available, honestly.

Lester, you surely need a new printer for your office and as far as I know, and surely you can confirm, this is the only printer available around the Iberian country side. And now that we all know how well El Reg is doing business, treasurer Caroline can hardly be against. The auditors however... ;)

*Expenses were not that much less than Lester's 3D printer.

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Coat

So can they print rainbow ice-hockey helmets

In time for the Winter Olympics?

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Re: So can they print rainbow ice-hockey helmets

It would be easier to graduate granules of different colours in the hopper of an injection-moulding machine.

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I think they're being somewhat economical with the truth

Colour 3D printers have been around for a while, including this example http://www.mcortechnologies.com/3d-printers/iris/

It might qualify as the first colour printer able to print structural parts, but that's about it.

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A 3D printed cycle helmet?

Not on me any time soon.

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Stop

Re: A 3D printed cycle helmet?

You can 3D print parts for jet and rocket engines. There's nothing per se that makes 3D printing unsuitable for this, it depends entirely on the properties of the material you are printing with, and the structure created.

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Re: A 3D printed cycle helmet?

In industrial design, people understand the difference between an appearance model and a functional prototype.

That said, bicycle helmets are usually made of composite materials (i.e, a composite of polystyrene and a gas such as carbon dioxide) so that the gas can compress on impact. In theory, additive manufacturing can be used to create a structure with pockets of air which can meet or exceed the relevant safety tests. However, I can't think of a reason as to why you choose this process over traditional means, other than the promise of a helmet that is 'tailored' to an individuals head shape by means of 3D scanning.

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Re: A 3D printed cycle helmet?

If they are reasonably durable, then custom printed helmet liners, shoe insoles, seat cushions etc. would be immediately useful, particularly for any people with non-standard shape bodies that will never be catered for by mass market manufacturers. Just sayin'

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Joke

Lexmark have one of these on the market for £250 with enough ink to print a keyring.

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Missing the point

When you're making useful things you need sophisticated materials science. I don't care what colour my bike helmet is, I want it to be as strong as possible while also being light.

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Re: Missing the point

>I don't care what colour my bike helmet is, I want it to be as strong as possible while also being light.

I don't want my bike helmet to be as strong as possible. I want it to deform on impact in order to reduce the acceleration exerted on my brain. That is why they are made of polystyrene or, more recently, cardboard:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25681895

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Re: Missing the point

Really, you want the outer shell to be as hard and strong as possible, to prevent ingress from sharp pointy things, and the inside to be as deformable as possible and able to absorb the most impact energy in the shortest amount of time, in order to reduce the sudden deceleration your head experiences when dropped from 6 feet onto a hard surface.

IMHO, the helmet is the most important part of a bicycle, and anyone not wearing one when riding a bike is an absolute idiot of the highest degree.

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Mushroom

Re: Missing the point

anyone not wearing one when riding a bike is an absolute idiot of the highest degree.

Why? They're not doing you any harm, just running a very small risk to themselves.

You are a Safety Nazi and ICMFP.

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Re: Missing the point

Small risk to themselves and potentially a huge cost to the general taxpayer.

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Re: Missing the point

>anyone not wearing one when riding a bike is an absolute idiot of the highest degree.

The statistical evidence in favour of bicycle helmets is not as clear cut as one would assume, though it does appear that, on balance, wearing a helmet is a good idea.

I would recommend the film 'The Crash Reel' to anyone. For a film about the consequences of Traumatic Brain Injuries, it is surprisingly uplifting. That film, and also the movie 'Senna' were on my mind when I heard the news about Michael Schumacher's crash last month.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the point

> Small risk to themselves and potentially a huge cost to the general taxpayer.

You might be interested to know, Sir, that we mountain bikers are highly appreciated amongst the medical profession and health services, as we make the best possible organ donors, thanks to the relatively intact condition of our bodies after we suffer death from trauma to the head.

I stopped wearing a helmet since my GP told me that. You will thank me for it one day, so wind your neck in. :-)

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FAIL

Re: on balance, wearing a helmet is a good idea.

On balance, wearing a helmet is likely to make you more amenable to risk taking, and not protect you as much as you expect it to.

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Re: on balance, wearing a helmet is a good idea.

"wearing a helmet is likely to make you more amenable to risk taking"

True enough. The addition of seatbelts, antilock brakes and airbags to cars has, rather than increasing the number of survivable accidents, led to an increase in high speed collisions, cars running off roads, etc, as drivers depend on the technology to let them travel faster and brake later/harder

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Re: on balance, wearing a helmet is a good idea.

My car was made in 1959 and therefore has no seatbelts (and also no airbags, no anti-lock brakes, no collapsible steering column, plus the tyres are skinny with little grip). No wonder I drive carefully!

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While being able to print different types of material in a continuous process on the printer sounds cool it isn't really that useful. Take the headphones in the example, is there really any benefit in printing 3 the hard plastic and rubbery plastic components at the same time instead of just printing multiple parts and assembling them?

The items are unlikely to be manufactured as single pieces so why prototype them like that if 3D printing 3 separate parts and gluing them together is cheaper and easier.

3D printing is always presented as this magical way to create objects quickly and easily when in reality printing an object of any complexity takes many hours. If you want something to be of a high resolution and not require much finishing then it can take days to print a complex model which does erase a lot of the benefits over conventional prototyping techniques.

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"Take the headphones in the example, is there really any benefit in printing 3 the hard plastic and rubbery plastic components at the same time instead of just printing multiple parts and assembling them?"

At the moment no benefit in prototyping, and not a cat in hels chance of being used for manufacturing. But thinking forward to a real world manufacturing situation you'd need to balance the reduced part count of a 3D printed object against the multiple supply chains and assembly steps to create the object as per normal. 3D printing is a technology in its absolute infancy, and costs should come down and capabilities increase, which will see it move to the norm for prototyping, and eventually to be a contender for manufacturing - perhaps not the full finished part, but certainly making inroads on the way things happen now.

There's also the fact that 3D printing can produce designs that cannot be made by normal machining or injection moulding. BAES are working to get 3D printed parts certified for aircraft application, and they can produce prototypes of suitable parts quicker than any competing approach, and then go from the prototyping machine that uses plastic to metal parts on a production machine. The resultant parts are lighter, stronger and although having (for example) two hinged halves and a hinge pin are still only a single component. That isn't evidenced in the sort of simple example shapes we see here, which reflect how things are made now. But take the headphone shell, and consider the headband, ear piece shells and cushions - why are they made up of so many different parts now? Simply because we struggle to do composite moulding of this complexity with materials that have the necessary and differnet properties.

3D printing will probably only remain one approach of many, but it has the potential to be the next revolution in manufacturing, as significant as CNC machining was thirty years ago.

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The multi-material continuous process is a feature in search of a market.

The ability to do something, is not indicative of its value. Kind of like how a car will float for a substantial amount of time if you keep the doors and windows closed. That's kind of cool and all, but it isn't the kind of feature that sells minivans.

The reason you don't see this kind of construction isn't because it has been impossible up until now. It is because joining two dissimilar materials without a lot of consideration for the joint is an atrociously awful idea for anything that needs to do more than just sit on a shelf.

As a rule, most all manufactured 'things' appear as they do because appearance is primarily a function of the joinery required for the 'thing' to function as designed. Everything you see around you, from the building you are in to desk your computer is on to the shoes on your feet are nothing more than fashion to obfuscate, or highlight, the required joinery.

If your thing satisfies its purpose aesthetically and is not meant to actually 'do' anything appropriate joinery isn't a factor. But if your thing is supposed to do something, and it requires multiple materials be joined, your options are severely limited if chemical bonding is your only available choice. Even a prototype isn't useful as without the joinery you can't actually visualize how the finished product will actually look.

You quickly get into a whole mess of problems because chemically joinery is generally less effective in direct proportion to how dissimilar the two materials are. If you're going to have to use fairly similar materials in order to create a suitable chemical bond you need to ask yourself if the second material is actually required.

I'll just stop there, but suffice it to say, you're moving way beyond basic engineered design when you start imposing arbitrary limits on design options. Beyond basic design validity, you're going to run into logistics issues, maintenance and service problems, cost issues, etc...

There's a lot of potential in 3D printing and one day it'll actually be a viable commercial process. But even then, the laws, rules and practices of engineered design can't be altered. Joining two (or more) things by drilling a hole in them and sticking a fastener through them is still going to be really, really hard to beat on many, many different fronts.

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Re: joining two dissimilar materials ...

...is as easy as keying them together when you're printing different materials at the same time.

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Re: joining two dissimilar materials ...

That's how you design something if you don't care if it works or even if arrives to the customer broken.

I assume by 'keyed' you mean a locking joint, like a dovetail in furniture. You can't even 'just do that' with all woods. Both the pin and tails of a dovetail must be constructed of woods with very similar attributes and environmental responses or the joint breaks as the materials move according to environmental conditions, which all materials, even metals and plastics do to greater and lesser extents.

Locking joints also require at least one open end to allow for connecting with its mating part. You can't just leave it open, you've got to either insert material after assembly or chemically bond the two mating parts. The method of chemical bonding must also be compatible with not only the end use of the 'thing', but also with the environmental responses of the two materials.

With a simple machine, like this printer, where you're limited to polymer composites, you've not only got the variables above, but also material compatibility issues. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of composites available to general consumers and the compatibility tables are things only the worst sort of person enjoys. There are many, many, many composites you can't put in direct contact with each other or are stable together only under specific conditions. Your 'thing' was doing great, until a soda got spilled on it, now it's turned green and it's sizzling and hot to touch.

Ever wonder why there are so few composite hinges out there? It's because the chemicals that keep the composite in a plastic (soft for bending) state react with a vengeance on most easy to process and affordable composites. It melts them. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three dozen composites that create toxic and/or highly corrosive fumes if in contact with each other at or above comfortable room temperature. Joinery doesn't matter if you've killed everyone in the shop or destroyed $300k of equipment because you stuffed it full of dangerously incompatible materials.

I'm not saying joining two dissimilar things is impossible. Just that it requires a lot more knowledge than creating the actual joint. The mechanical part of the joint is the easy bit. When discussing manufacturing techniques it's a pretty hard and fast rule that if you haven't seen something done before there are reasons why. It's rarely because nobody already thought of it.

Us physical engineers, industrial chemists and materials scientists are a right clever lot you know. Joining two or more materials is the bulk of what we do. If it was easy they wouldn't make us go to university for a decade and pay us all this money would they :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: joining two dissimilar materials ...

"Locking joints also require at least one open end to allow for connecting with its mating part."

Not so for printed stuff. You can print them with a permanent lock joint, no glue necessary (though it may be appropriate for other reasons) and as long as the materials are compatible in shape over temperature+time (and chemistry as you describe) that joint will stay locked.

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Pint

to widen the discussion...

it could perhaps be used to print prosthetic limbs?

Perhaps integrate cavities etc for wiring motors etc..?

I'm still and optimist that this technology could get way cooler.

The pessimist in me is imaging all the ways consumers will get milked....

P.

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Re: to widen the discussion...

There just isn't a lot of benefit over existing methods. Potentially 3D printing the part of the prosthetic that fits on to the persons body would allow a better fit than standard part but it would be crazy to 3D print the whole thing. Mass producing prosthetics using injection moulding is far cheaper and quicker than 3D printing and allows for any cavities etc for other parts.

There is a reason 3D printing is generally a prototyping tool and that is once you need to produce more than a small amount of something 3D printing is very expensive and time consuming compared to established manufacturing methods.

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Pint

Re: to widen the discussion...

Perhaps 3D Printing could be used to print out springs under tension?

How about cables under tension?

A vacuum canister with the vacuum printed inside?

I saw one B.S. article where they claimed to 3D Print out a concrete house in 24 hours. First of all they falsely implied it was a "house" as opposed to an empty shell requiring another month of fitting out. But, more critically, it was a bit fuzzy about how the 3D Printed concrete lintels over the doors and windows stayed in place while the concrete cured. The article was misleading on this detail.

3D Printing seems to generate a lack of Critical Thinking skills.

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Re: to widen the discussion...

I like your thinking! Voids can be 3D printed using a filler material that can be easily removed afterwards. In the concrete printing you describe, perhaps some kind of urethane foam that hardens to support the next layer? Depending on the resolution, and the materials available, you could even print ABS support members into the concrete as you go...

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Re: to widen the discussion...

Anytime most all commercial processes/products are introduced to the consumer you see a big wave of enthusiasm due to being recently 'empowered'. Shortly afterward you see a collapse of enthusiasm when people realize that it wasn't a vast conspiracy that kept flying/canoe/cars/kazoos with optional cup holders out of the reach of the masses.

Desktop CNC was almost killed at birth because of this. The possibilities are nearly endless, but you've got to have a reasonably advanced skillset to actually turn out anything useful. Those with the requisite skillset often have better options anyway, so they go with those.

I'm all for home and small inventors, tinkerers, supervillain starter kits, but it's crucial that expectations be managed as well. Push button wish fulfillment is still far beyond current technology. Turning your vision into reality is really, really, really challenging. Even for people who do it for a living.

A quick anecdotal example: The radial arm saw. If you grew up from the 70's - late 80's and your house had a garage, one corner of it was likely occupied by a radial arm saw. They're old commercial tech but when consumer versions came out every Human with a penis and $300 had visions of fine furniture they would build. What actually occurred was that the radial arm saw became recognized as the most dangerous thing in the modern home. It still holds the record for total number of amputations of extremities of any consumer device.

In the hands of a skilled operator it is still a powerful tool, but there's a LOT of requisite knowledge and skills and equipment required to create the jigs and workholding devices required to make the saw effective as anything other than a yard sale monument. If 3D printing expectations aren't managed the printers could become the new radial arm saw.

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Re: to widen the discussion...

I agree with Don's gist.

On points of detail though, my take is that technology like 3D scanning and image recognition will allow 3D printers to compensate for user ineptness. E.g the printer will be able to 'see' that what it is laying down on the bed isn't what is desired, and so will adjust the parameters accordingly.

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@monkeygh Re: to widen the discussion...

They're printing knees and hip joints, and possibly other bones too, as they can make those fit exactly, so less recovery and revalidation time for the patient, less chance of a repeat operation being necessary, and less need to use a bigger hammer to get it all to fit in the first place. It's even being done occasionally in a sort of JIT fashion.

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Re: to widen the discussion...

Inept users and those who simply haven't learned it yet are certainly aided by technology. As far as I'm concerned anything that gets people to thinking spatially is huge deal. Tech like this gives them a bit of stability before jumping off in the deep end. Once they get a bit of confidence they can look back and learn some principals then abstract them as far as they want to advance their skills. Just getting them thinking is a huge deal.

However, I've got to add this: It's really important. Twice a year I bring in a few interns for a semester or two to introduce them to the business side of engineering, design and manufacturing. These are super bright kids, mostly from top engineering focused universities.

I say all that to qualify this bit. The first thing I have the interns do is examine these steel blocks that have a variety of holes, angles and curves machined into them. They're 10" x 12" x 2.5". Their task is to reverse engineer the block and create a straightforward set of machine instructions and put together a tooling order that the tool guys will use to ensure the required tooling is always ready and calibrated for jobs in process. It's stuff they learn in school.

In 8 years since I started doing the intern program there have been around 50 super high caliber people come through here and only two interns have been able to do it successfully. Just two. It's how I introduce them to problems they'll face every day of their careers but aren't covered in textbooks.

None of the required operations are very complex, fairly simple actually. But taken as a whole the blocks are devilish creations. In order to replicate the block you absolutely must throw all the best practices you've been taught out the window. Everything must be done in a very specific order, right from the start or you simply can't do it. Not only can't it be done, each step following your first misstep increases in difficulty by orders of magnitude. I've seen people totally stuck after six operations.

It's actually worst practices applied and absolutely against everything they are taught. You have to remove the work between various machines while the work is out of its hold downs and lots of other wacky stuff. If you get the order of operations wrong, you realize later you've machined away reference points that are required to continue. You can attempt to substitute, but as I said, it just gets harder.

It's worst practices, not impossible, or even rare practices. It's stuff you hit at every step of engineered design. Here's the REALLY important part. The blocks were invented in 1899 as a learning tool and no amount of technology can beat them. Over 100 years of technology advancement is trumped by a simple metal block.

We've got a multi-turret compound axis CNC machine here that cost a bit over $18 million and runs on software that needs a computer scientist and two developers on staff to operate and even that can't beat an elementary vocational aptitude test. To do it on the machine you have to disengage the safeties that keep it from milling itself, which it would do if you followed the recommendations of the software.

My point is, that making things, even simple things, often requires a level of knowledge that allows you to know not only when 'correct' is incredibly wrong, but understand why it is that way. Technology can help, but it is limited: See $18 million dollar machine defeated by $125 block. The learning curve becomes incredibly steep when you advance beyond the simplest of things. Knowing how to do something doesn't mean one knows how to do something in the context of the whole.

I'm not trying to be negative. Not at all. I'm just saying that making things often requires completely counterintuitive and wholly illogical thing :)

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Re: to widen the discussion...

In general, I'm not arguing with your point. But I think you're missing the point of what a large part of hobby 3D printers are expected to be (mostly) used for - behold the wonders of the two click workflow: 1) Download. 2) Print.

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