RE: 3D printers - what are they?

From: Brock Hinzmann (
Date: Wed Oct 15 1997 - 03:12:44 EEST

Brad Fox wrote:
>I appreciate you bringing up the following issue:
>>I read recently they were distancing themselves from the RP market and
>>proclaiming themselves a 3D printer for office use, not an RP system.
>This brings up an issue I'd like feedback from the industry: "are these
>printers to be considered RP?"
>If not, what are they? Is/Should "3D printing" be set aside as a new
>industry or is it a subset of RP? Also if a 3D printer is to be
>from RP, then what is the leading market indicators that caused the
>development of 3D Printers? What set of metics should be used to
>and benchmark this new animal? And how do these metrics differ from
>used to measure RP?
>While some answers may be obvious, all opinions are welcome ;)
>Brad Fox
>Rapid Design

On the obvious side, you have at least three metrics: What is rapid? What
is a prototype? What is an office?

The new 3-D printers are similar in function to the original so-called RP
machines, in that they give you a three-dimensional physical model of a
CAD (virtual) model. The parts thus made are delicate, but useful to look
at. The original RP machines have become gradually more useful over the
past decade. The new 3-D printers are faster and cheaper than the old ones.
The demand for that segment of the market, whatever you call it, has always
been there, but the small RP vendors were able to afford to research only
a couple of improvement areas at a time and most of them chose to
concentrate on tougher materials, higher accuracy, and larger build volumes.

But back to the metrics. Rapid? OK, faster than other RP machines, but
still slower than carving crude concept models from foam. Prototype? OK,
they make concept models, but not functional prototypes as some people think
of prototypes. Office? OK, you don't need a hooded, vented shop to operate
them or to remove the printed part support material (or do you?). All of
the major vendors can make arguments for why their machines are better
than the others, according to which metric you use.

In summary, I consider 3-D printers a subsegment of the RP market, which
I believe the RP vendors never really forgot (now obvious). Each of the
three metrics (and additional metrics can be added, such as accuracy,
degrees of freedom in the design envelope, material choices, and so forth) is a
continuum. Warning: Foam carvings, CNC, and virtual prototyping can also
be measured in the same way. Everyone needs to make a decision about where
they want to play, in terms of cost and comfort in decisionmaking.

Brock Hinzmann
SRI International

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