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From Austria, the World's Smallest 3D Printer 120

fangmcgee writes "Printers which can produce three-dimensional objects have been available for years. However, at the Vienna University of Technology, a printing device has now been developed which is much smaller, lighter and cheaper than ordinary 3D-printers. With this kind of printer, everyone could produce small, tailor-made 3D-objects at home, using building plans from the internet — and this could save money for expensive custom-built spare parts."
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From Austria, the World's Smallest 3D Printer

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  • Surely this is an important breakthrough. Just as surely, it is not that wealthy nations can now make small toy objects more cheaply than (developing nation). This is Enterprise Transporter 1.2
    • by CoopersPale ( 444672 ) on Tuesday May 17, 2011 @11:17PM (#36161978) Journal

      It's small, but probably not as cheap as a Rep Rap [] which is a fully open-source implementation of a 3D printer that's been around for a few years. They've developed the first iteration into the 'Mendel' which has addrssed some of the issues they came across in initial development.

      • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

        if you bothered to read the 1 page article you would know its not cheaper than the Rep Rap, it weighs in at 1200 euros

        BUT! the rep rap is at best a toy with little practical use outside of a hobby market, this on the other hand could be used for light commercial applications

        • RepRap can produce parts as big as this whole printer is big.

          I think the finest detail size to manufactured object size ratio is on RepRap's size, and commercial application of this is primarily limited by absolutely tiny work area. And the resin is expensive. Sure this has its place where one needs tiny precise custom parts. But I believe objects bigger than a cubic inch are in higher demand...

          There was a different project, that utilized similar approach but much better work area. []

      • I agree. Plus, since it is open source, someday you will not only be able to build the laser with it but the shark too!

    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      Not only is it far from cheap, the chemicals used in the resin are far from cheap. Previous DIY versions (e.g. []) are much cheaper to build, though to my knowledge there has yet to be a breakthrough in finding a cheaper (near)UV-activated resin with the right characteristics.
    • This is a litigation timebomb that is going to loudly and messily explode in the near future.

      If technological progress has taught us one thing, it is that industries with a vested interests against this progress have caused huge problems in the uptake and development of those technologies. Witness the lack of standards for both web audio and video despite 20+ years of research and development. Witness the paltry excuse for digital media distribution in the music and movie industries(though things are slowly

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lego and Games Workshop are going to be so thrilled if these ever get mainstream

    • You'd think so, but I'm not sure it would be a problem.

      Lego has fairly simple shapes - one if its many strengths - but you need loads of them to make decent structures. There may be a market producing spare bricks when yours break or if you lose one little block in your kit. I don't think I've ever broken a Lego brick, but I have lost lots over the years. Simply for convenience that might win, but I imagine that Lego will still be cheaper when bought as a kit. Lego is moulded and using a very specific

      • by Adriax ( 746043 )

        Custom models would be a great use for this by games workshop themselves.
        Put a 3d model viewer on their website, let players pick the model, armor, facial expression, weapons, and gear, and let them pose the figure by manipulating the joints. With that model saved to a server the player could order it online or take a code to a local game shop (that has a licensed model printer) and get it printed right there.

  • What about Makerbot? []

    It may not be as small, but just about -- and a kit is $1299US, cheaper than $1707US ($1200EU), but some assembly is required, and it doesn't harden a bath of patented chemical liquid with LEDs -- Makerbot builds things using a plastruder (high res hot glue gun) and a spool of "lego" plastic.

    Still waiting for the "revolution".... I feel that it's just around the corner.

    • by Zelig ( 73519 )

      Makerbot's got way worse resolution, and is a bloody bear to calibrate.

      The newer version appears to be better than the one we bought and built, but so far all the depositional printers I've messed with seem good for building other printer parts and little toys.

      This laser-based one has far better precision and resolution.

      • by dbc ( 135354 )

        I have a MakerBot -- I wouldn't call it a "bear" to calibrate, but it *is* tweaky. The one linked to here has much better resolution than a makerbot, and presumeably is turnkey. The MakerBot isn't turnkey -- it is a lifestyle choice :) but great fun if you are the tinkering type. But nobody would confuse the output with service bureau SLA output.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

      I think I'd be more interested in a tabletop CNC mill, personally. They're fairly comparable price-wise, but they don't limit you to working with plastic. I'd expect them to be a lot more precise, too.

      • Re:Hmmm... Makerbot? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dbc ( 135354 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:38AM (#36162644)

        Well, yes, but a totally different animal. I own a makerbot, and have used a Tormach, a ShopBot, and a Techno. The MakerBot is far simpler to use, and far less messy. Our makerbot is in the living room. No CNC mill is going to live there, spitting chips and collant all over the place, and potentially ripping the arm off an unwary passerby. It's very handy to be able to print small widgets in plastic quickly and easily, even with size and resolution limitations. But there are times when that doesn't cut it, and you go machine plastic, aluminum, brass, or steel on a mill.

        Don't be taken in by the little CNC mill ads that you see for little guys like the Sherline -- not that the Sherline is bad, but most people that haven't used a mill don't understand the limitations. The work envelope is so small you can't make much of interest, and the machine isn't rigid enough to do anything harder than aluminum and even then you need to take pretty light cuts. And guess what -- end mills and dial indicators and so forth don't cost less just because you are going to use them on a Sherline -- the mill is just the beginning of the expenses and buying a cheap mill is sort of silly when you compare the cost of the mill to the tooling. The smallest, wimpiest mill I would even consider spending my money on is a Tormach. []

        And then there is ease of use. My 12 year old daughter prints doll house furniture on the MakerBot. In a CNC machine shop, the machinist that has been there ten years is "the new guy" -- there is *huge* amount to learn to become anything beyond a hack hobby machinist like me.

        • Fantastic link - anybody seriously interested in prototyping should take a look at the Tormach mill systems. High quality, adaptable, professional capabilities, and not that expensive for what they can do, especially when resale value is taken into account.

      • I think I'd be more interested in a tabletop CNC mill, personally.

        I own a tabletop CNC Sherline mill. I have also used 3D printers. They are not really comparable. The mill is definitely more precise, and can shape metal and very strong engineering plastics like acetal. But it is much more limited in what it can do. A mill cannot carve out an internal cavity, it cannot cut sharp internal angles or overhangs, and for complex parts it requires frequent user intervention for tool changes and repositioning. CNC mills and 3D printers are different tools with different s

    • The makerbot has a much lower resolution - this thing can do 20 layers/mm (about 500 layers per inch, so close to the resolution of a laser printer).

    • I'm not all that interested in making the unit smaller since I'd like to make something other than freaking cufflinks or shirt buttons.
      Make that thing bloody bigger! I want to print out a new car!
      Ok, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but wouldn't it be cool?
  • Dishwasher track wheels: $40 for $1 of material

    Analog button for thermostat: replacement full unit $80 (no parts supply, just full unit)

    New gas cap for car, still broken.

    Cheap toys for kids, countless possibilities.

    • gas cap is complex. track wheels you want a lathe. button I can't tell.

      • by gr8_phk ( 621180 )

        gas cap is complex. track wheels you want a lathe. button I can't tell.

        Computer - want a PC, Laptop, or even cell phone. What did people do in the early days? They bought an Apple, C64, or Atari ( I had an Interact). Mainframes existed at the time, better languages existed than BASIC. Think of these things as the early stages of a revolution. As people grow up with these inferior tools, they will be inspired to make better ones, and to learn about the good ones that already exist.

        Yes they suck, but it's

        • Yes they suck, but it's the fun of DOING stuff that counts. And you certainly don't need a real machine shop to make toys.

          As a kid I made toys into other toys with tape.

          Recently I made a full sheet sized workbench and integrated a portable table saw that I got used for $20 with the top accessories but without the fences into it... without measuring :) (I held stuff up to other stuff and scribed it. It came out really nice.)

          I still want a 3d printer. I just want one that makes big stuff.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      dishwasher wheel can be made with a drill (preferably drill press), a bit of round stock plastic, and a sharp chisel

      putty epoxy and little thought

      gas caps cost like what 20 bucks for a locking model

      cheap toys? go to dollar tree, might not poison little johnny with chemical residue from half melted plastic and fibrous threads

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        Hurr durr why make stuff just buy it. You totally miss the point of this thread, what are you even doing here?
      • cheap toys? go to dollar tree, might not poison little johnny with chemical residue from half melted plastic and fibrous threads

        Baahahahahaha. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? No, instead you'll poison little johnny with crap PVC which bleeds dioxin and with lead paint which turns up on dollar tree items AGAIN and AGAIN. I'm on the CPSC recall list and they are probably the single worst offender of the federal lead paint standards. Stuff is made FOR them, virtually always in China, so they are directly responsible.

        I am on a crusade against the dollar store because they carry lead paint warnings in English only in a store which is shopped heavi

        • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

          what do you think most people feed these things, pvc

          • I get that, my point is that sending them to the dollar store to avoid the danger of home made toys is like sending them to taco bell to avoid the danger of home made food.

      • go to dollar tree, might not poison little johnny with chemical residue from half melted plastic and fibrous threads

        and of course, don't forget the lead-based paint.

    • I've got access and use regularly our 3D printer at work, and the one thing I've come away with is that it just wouldn't be as useful at home as you'd think. Don't get me wrong, I love the machine for work purposes... it's soooo much faster and easier than sending a prototype part out to a machine shop, but but it just wouldn't be worth it for home use.

      Dishwasher track wheels: Yes, you could do it. this might be feasible. I don't know how well the material would hold up under constant thermal cycles an

  • The casual user could find some use for this, making custom Lego bricks or parts for their hobby models. Also for porn made in Poser!
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Lego bricks have precision that is *FAR* higher than what is apparently obtainable with this device. You may very well be able to make your own Lego parts, but they probably wouldn't fit regular Lego very well.
      • Lego bricks have precision that is *FAR* higher than what is apparently obtainable with this device. You may very well be able to make your own Lego parts, but they probably wouldn't fit regular Lego very well.

        Okay so you get to make Mega Bloks instead!

        • by dbc ( 135354 )

          Ha ha! So right. Mega Bloks are sucky. Lego is outrageously precise injection molding -- that's one of the reasons they cost so much, the tooling is super precise. On the spectrum of machinists there are hack hobbyists like me, professional machinists, mold makers, gods, and Lego's mold makers.

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )
          Even Mega Bloks' precision is higher than this machine, which has a stated minimum feature size of 50 microns. Mega Bloks utilizes a precision of about 10 microns, while LEGO molds are made within a tolerance of only 2 microns.
      • There is manufacturing precision and there are "analog" tech tricks to get things done.

        Print a brick that is a notch more "loose" than real Lego. Dip in the resin, shine UV to cure it halfway-soft. "Plug" into real lego to push the soft layer of resin to match precisely. Cure completely. If too loose, add another layer.

        The beauty of manufacture engineering is that you can lie to the machine and make it create things it was not intended to do. Using tools it was never designed to work with, forcing it to do

  • is fantastic.
  • the smaller and more precise these things get, the more chance they have of becoming a self-replicating machine.

    i, for one, welcome our new colourful plastic overlords.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      yea you have not held this material in your hands, its "strong" but just not at the seams ... which is like every 10th of a mm

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can finally make a tiny Giraffe!

  • So, can someone explain to me how this is different from a small personal CNC mill? With the obvious exception that this is plastic goo, instead of a block of alloy to start with.

    Better question, what advantages does this have over a small CNC mill?

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      So, can someone explain to me how this is different from a small personal CNC mill? With the obvious exception that this is plastic goo, instead of a block of alloy to start with.

      Try to do something like this with a CNC mill [].
      The image was linked from the [] site and used only as an example (I'm not endorsing or promoting their services - just been impressed of some 3D printed models I found there).

    • One advantage I can think of right away is for making hollow objects with a complex interior surface and lack of openings large enough for the tools of the CNC mill to reach into.
    • by dbc ( 135354 ) on Wednesday May 18, 2011 @01:48AM (#36162676)

      Milling is a subtractive process. Start with a block of stock material and a drawing of the part you want. Cut away everything that ain't your part.

      3D printing is an additive process. Start with feedstock material of some kind, and through some process fuse bits of it together to form your part. The machine in the article solidifies a resin slurry. Many 3D printers extrude plastic rod through a heater barrel, and deposit the molten plastic onto previous layers and let the whole thing solidify again. There are many 3D printing processes with various advantages and drawbacks.

      Both milling and 3D printing involve a Cartesian robot that moves the tool head and/or the build table to achieve X/Y/Z positioning. A key difference between something like the MakerBot is that there are zero side forces on the tool head as it moves around. When you are driving cutting tool through steel stock on a mill there are big-time side forces. This is the key reason 3D printers are small, light, and office friendly, and why mills are big, nasty machines that weigh thousands of pounds and can rip your arm off.

  • ...first thing you should do when you get your hands on one of these? Make another.
    • The first machine that could reproduce itself was a lathe. One of the oldest machine, now some are computer controlled but still take a human to operate.
      • by dbc ( 135354 )

        A twin spindle lathe with live tooling and a bar feeder can crank out parts all shift long -- the only thing a person needs to do is add stock to the bar feeder on occasion.

        • It can also crank out junk all shift long if nobody is there to detect a slightly broken cutter (they can usually detect the outright broken ones).

      • The first machine that could reproduce itself was a lathe.

        How is the lathe powered? Maybe if it's powered by a donkey on a treadmill, but I'm not sure how you'd make the geatbox for a lathe. If it's electric, I'm fairly sure you can't make an electric motor with nothing but a lathe...

        • You can easily cut gears on a lathe. The one my father owns even has auto-indexing so that it turns the stock as it passes by the cutter.

      • The three machines that were used to make all other machine tools are:

        Milling machine.
        Surface grinder.

        You need both a milling machine and a surface grinder to make precision beds for a lathe.

        You need a lathe to make screws for a mill. You need a lathe to make the fixture to turn a surface grinder into a rotary grinder. You need a rotary grinder to make end mills, spiral drills and reamers.

        • by dbc ( 135354 )

          You need layout dye and a hand scraper to make a precision bed for a lathe. Surface grinders are a mere convenience item. The lathe existed before mills, the mill is a replacement for the shaper.

          Go to Lindsay Books, and check out the home workshop series by Dave Gingery. Volume 1 starts with a charcoal fired crucible furnace that you can build in an old 5 gallon can. Volume two has the patterns for all the castings you need to build a metal lathe using nothing more sophisticated than a hand drill. Vol

  • Until it gets below $1K I personally don't see home 3D printers taking off. Until it comes standard with a turntable & infrared camera for the average person to scan & replicate their own items, it'll just be too expensive for the average person when you can get a MakerBot for $1300USD. Don't get me wrong I see them sticking around, but remember until the Apple // got an (official) hacked shugart floppy drive it was just a hobbyist machine that played cassette games.
  • What always gets me is this: what if you combine the two? Have a depositor with a pretty fine tolerance (say a 0.1mm nib), and a small CNC unit built into it, say 4 axis. I imagine you could get some pretty insane shapes and really nice tolerances. Especially something that can deposit multiple materials, say wax, plastic, etc. With wax you could then coat it in plaster and sand, melt the object out and voila, you can caste a metal part.
    • by dbc ( 135354 )

      Well, except that the resolution limit in 3D printing isn't the Cartesian robot, it's the material and method of deposition. With the print head I'm currently using on my makerbot, the extruded thread of ABS is about 0.45mm give-or-take the phase of the moon, the color of the plastic feed stock, etc.

      But essentially you are correct -- if you already have a perfectly good Cartesian robot, just put a 3D print head on it. Although if you use a plastic extrusion process you will also probably want a heated bui

      • by lxs ( 131946 )

        The problem is that a cartesian bot for milling needs to be far stiffer and far powerful than one used for extruding plastic, making the bot needlessly expensive, although there is a guy on the reprap forums who made a printer from lathe parts. Building his own controller and writing his own G-code interpreter.

        • The machine has to be stronger for milling, yes, but not as strong as if the machine had to mill from a solid block. Also we are talking about milling plastic here, not steel. The 3-d printer can make a reasonable approximation of the final shape additively and that "rough" is milled down to perfect dimensions. It's not crazy at all and the fabber/maker/cnc community kicks the idea around a lot.

          Personally I think mold making is the killer app for fabbers and cnc. Casting gets around lots of material lim

  • This is remarkably similar to another 3D printing project that I've been watching closely: []

    This guy is using a DLP projector, some custom software, and a working surface that raises very slowly out of the printing resin.

    From Youtube: []

    There has been quite a lot of speculation about the project, with most of it centered on the resin that he's using (which he hasn't divulged yet). I've done some researching and

  • Has anyone here worked with 3D printers? The results I've seen are great for prototyping but not much more than that. The material they produce is soft, wears easily, melts / warps at a low temperature, and isn't very smooth.

    It would be great to have at home a small CNC mill would provide something that could produce a sturdy and useful end result. For the most part 3D prints I have seen so far could never be used as spare parts for anything... well not for a very long period of time... or even really a sho

    • by dbc ( 135354 )

      yes, I've worked with several 3d printers. there are many technologies. Some do fused metal deposition. Steel parts straight off the printer into the application.

      • Are these technologies significantly more expensive than those which print with an epoxy type resin? Also what's the result like? Do they need further machining to be useful?

  • I imagine this would be one way to introduce the concept to the non-maker/hacker proletariat. Something relatively inexpensive that doesn't really produce anything practical right out of the box, but is fun as hell to use. You can just picture the commercials - "Make dinosaurs! Race cars! Amaze your friends!" It'd be great if the material is reusable like Play-Doh, unless your goal is to make money on the goo rather than the machine. Soon enough users will start hacking the toy version to use different mate
  • Wait till the Chinese hackers start printing this tiny 3D printer using the tiny 3D printer! And should these self replicating 3D printers ever become sentient, OMG! all hell would break loose!
  • I have to wear hard (gas perm semi hard) contacts. These things cost about 100$ a pair, but most painfully require cleaning everyday. If only I could print a fresh one once a week ...
    • This is nowhere near precise enough. This printer will do down to 50 micrometre. Corrective optical lenses have tolerances at or below 1 micrometre.

  • The current generations of machines are the equivalents of PDP or Data Generals (for serious work) or the Kim for hobbyists (eg, maker bot)
    In 10 or 15 years, you will be able to buy a 3D printer from HP or Epson or Canon that is....amazing.
    Aside from hardware, cheap, usable 3D printers will also requrie cheap, sophisticated software that is seamless from design to tool path; none of htis clunky crap you get with CNC mills where you need $$ software to design the part (solid works) and $$ software to trans
    • Can you compensate with on the fly adjustments? No.

      You have a cutting tool turning at thousands of RPM with multiple flutes per cutter generating a forcing function with a frequency in the 10000+ Hz range.

      You have a table, fixtures and a part that can have substantial mass.

      Even if you had a fast enough sensors and computer (saying a lot), the cost of the motors capable of correcting for the flex would be much more then just making the mill strong.

      Attempting to fix tool chatter by chattering the tab

  • Success or failure is going to largely depend upon resolution. Something that is chunky, with visible layers (and therefore shear planes), etc. isn't going to be of much use. Is there any talk of what the resolution of this device is?

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.