Industrial 3D printing bigwig (and MakerBot owner) Stratasys took to the stage at the Rapid additive manufacturing event in Pittsburgh this morning showcase the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator. As the name implies, the system is still in showcase mode, but the company believes its wall of cells represents a key shift toward the dream of 3D printing for manufacturing.
The move from purely prototyping to actual manufacturing has already begun – but largely in baby steps, as companies like Boeing have experimented with it on a small scale for customized pieces. Stratasys’ new wall of 3D printers could mark an important shift in scale and speed for those looking increasingly toward the tech as an alternative to more traditional modes like injection molding.
The technology brings the promise of continuous manufacturing, all keyed up to a single cloud-based system. The individual cells are capable of working simultaneously on different parts, ejecting their prints when done. If one of the cells screws up a print for any reason, it will be moved to the next cell to complete. Stratasys says the rig can be run with minimal interventions by human operators, and modularity means that new cells can be added to the system at any time.
The print wall is making its public debut on stage at today’s Rapid kickoff event – a fitting setting, in a city that’s looking toward technology to help replace some of the job loss it suffered as local manufacturing moved to lower cost markets overseas. It dovetails nicely with the manufacturing model 3D printing sees as its next step forward.
True wide scale manufacturing by 3D printers still feels like a distant dream at the moment, but if Stratasys and competitors like HP Enterprise and 3D Systems are able to keep the cost down, it could, perhaps, serve as a key alternative to other more traditional manufacturing models. Certainly it offers the ability to create much more customizable parts than traditional methods – and could even help return local manufacturing for hardware startups, as a more lightweight and elastic system.
Baby steps. Right now, the system is being trialed in a few select locations, like Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and a couple of manufacturing partners. General availability is still forthcoming.