Heading for a showdown

As the pressure for functional component perfection mounts, the rapid prototyping giants have started a war of words.

In the drive to to build systems capable of producing functional components, designers of rapid prototyping (RP) machines are under constant pressure to offer higher resolution, greater accuracy and more advanced materials.

Israel’s Objet Geometries claims that its new Eden 330 machine, launched last month in Chicago, addresses all three issues.

Boasting the finest resolution on the market, the largest build size available, and a new flexible, functional photopolymer resin called FullCure, the Eden 330 uses a polymer-jetting technology to create 3D models from CAD files.

The jetting block uses eight heads which slide backward and forward along the X-axis, like a line printer, depositing a single-layer of photopolymer resin on to the build tray. The system accurately jets at a resolution of 600 x 300 dpi, in layers that are only 16 microns thick. Immediately after building each layer, UV bulbs alongside the jetting bridge cure and harden each layer. A second material, a gel-like photopolymer, is used for support and removed using a water jet when the model is complete.

However, Mark Tyrtania of Laserlines, the UK distributor for RP competitor Stratasys, is sceptical about many of Objet’s claims, and suggested that the only difference over Objet’s previous offering, the QuadraTempo, is that it has a slightly larger build envelope and a different arrangement of print heads.

Graham Lindsay, general manager with 3D Systems UK, echoed these criticisms.Questioning Objet’s motives for making the print heads easier to replace, he suggested that the company might be compensating for performance deficiencies.

But a spokesman for Objet denied there are any problems with the heads.Lindsay added that 3D Systems will be launching a competitive machine – Invision – this summer. ‘The build platform size and the resolution will be about the same, and the resins will be about the same,’ he said. The prices will also be roughly the same, with Invision costing £60,000, and the Eden 330 about £63,000.

However, Lindsay questioned Objet’s claims that the Eden 330 is a top-of-the-line, full RP system producing functional parts.

‘It’s a nice looking machine for an office environment,’ he said, ‘but for this type of machine we see the users being concept modellers, not working on too many functional parts. If you’re looking for highly accurate parts we would definitely steer customers towards a stereolithography (SLA) machine because we would get higher accuracy and resolution.’

Lindsay added that with RP increasingly being defined by systems capable of producing highly accurate functional assemblies made up of numerous parts, there is no way that machines such as the Eden 330, or 3D Systems’ Invision, which both use general purpose materials, can be described as full-blown rapid prototyping machines.