A MakerBot patent shows that the company is working on a dual-filament solution that can change print colors on the fly. By leading the filaments through the heated extruder using a sort of “slider” system, the patent suggests that future MakerBots should be able to change colors mid-print, a vast improvement over current dual-color solutions.
Current dual-filament solutions use two heads to extrude two different colors. The extruders squirt out hot filament onto the build tray like toothpaste. This solution would enable the same extruder to squirt out different colors, much in the same way toothpaste dispensers can extrude blue and white paste (which is later mixed, if needed). This could enable easier non-monochrome builds.
The goal of the patent is to allow multiple types of materials to be printed into the same object. For example, you could print “wood-based” filament along with plastic filament or even embed conductive traces into a plastic object. The patent states:
The system also manages output in order to ensure there is no overlap or mixing between the two filaments.
In related news, Stratasys, MakerBot’s parent company, has announced $4.1 million in net income Q1 2014. They sold 8,802 printers last quarter, over 7,000 more than Q1 2013’s numbers for an increase of 653.6%. According to an earnings report released last week, the company “experienced strong revenue growth of 54%, including 33% organic revenue growth, driven by sales of higher-margin products and services.” Much of this success can be attributed to the sale of home printers like the MakerBot. In fact, the company writes: “MakerBot product sales strong as we continue to invest for future growth in the rapidly expanding desktop market.”
This information should give hope to smaller 3D printer companies as larger corporations realize that the desktop 3D printer market is finally and decidedly heating up.