Fab: 3D Systems’ New V-Flash


Sometimes it seems as if developments in the rapid-prototyping world speed along at the pace of a non-computerized milling machine. There’s doubtlessly an eager and ready market for the devices. And those of us in that potential market are savvy enough to know that it won’t be the fabbing device itself that empties our wallets but the material costs. For that reason I suspect a fair number of people have been wondering why a plethora of low-cost (sub-$10k) “desktop” devices hasn’t materialized. Well, maybe things are changing because here’s such an entry: the V-Flash desktop modeler (Link) from 3D Systems.

Other than specs, there’s not much information on the website; you can surf over and read those for yourself. However, what I found surprising is that this appears to be a standard cartridge system like an inkjet printer*. If this is an inkjet-style system, I’d not have expected such a solution from 3D Systems. Even Z-Corp doesn’t do that. Z-Corp uses HP print heads but only to deliver binder to a powder inside an SLS-style chamber. This is different and something with which I’m not familiar (though modifying inkjets to “print” solid material isn’t new – reLink).

From the site:

V-Flash™ models demonstrate stereolithography (SLA) like accuracy, resolution and quality. The ready-to-use models can be used for modeling, testing and verification the same day. V-Flash™ material is optimal for all phases of design – from concept build to functional testing and assembly verification.

Wish I knew more about the material. And the process. I’ve signed up for their newsletter which will hopefully provide more details. In the meantime I’ll be surfing around trying to gather some of the information on my own. If I find anything interesting, I’ll update this post.

* Note: it could be an implementation of the system they use in their InVision printers; I may not have correctly understood how those work.

{Update: While going back and looking at the InVision device, I was reminded of how that thing seemed to work: by fusing layers of some kind of material together. If you watch the demo on their site (Link – “click here to see demo” will be on the right side of the LD-3-D page), note the very end where the support material is removed. I assumed that the support material was, in fact, just some of the build material. Okay, so while thinking it over it occurred to me that the V-Flash cartridge might be like a Super8 film cartridge (I’m familiar with those things). That would mean it’s not an inkjet-style printer.

Doing some surfing around, I’ve found an excellent article on this announcement over on MCADCafe Weekly (Link) where the editor, Jeffrey Rowe , seems to have come to a similar conclusion:

3D Systems tends to keep their new product information close to the chest, so I’m going to have to speculate on the technology issues that follow regarding the V-Flash, not to mention its build speed, mechanical properties of the build material and finished parts, and the cost of the consumables. The machine is based on what the company terms Film Transfer Imaging (FTI) technology, whatever that is. I imagine this means that the V-Flash, as a desktop unit, does not deal with messy liquid or dangerous plastic resins. FTI seems like a film deposition method via some type of dispensed tape, building a model a layer at a time up using mechanical techniques to elevate the model as layers are added.

Sounds like I might have gotten on the correct track, but in the end, I care less about the process than I do about the results. With any luck, I’ll be able to score a sample part this summer and see for myself.

By the way, I don’t recall reading about the “Desktop Factory“. It’s mentioned in the piece and looks to be out soon as well. A search on it yielded a link to a design firm which worked on it (Link). Some interesting stuff out there it seems… and I missed it. How much more did a I miss this past year? Guess I need to get myself up to speed.}

via Desktop Engineering Magazine

{Images Copyright (c) 2007 3D Systems Inc.}

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  1. Pingback: David Unleashed » Blog Archive » 3D Systems V-Flash Printer

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