Industrial 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys today announced what it called the world's first multi-color, multi-material printer capable of making objects of hard, soft and flexible polymers.
Stratasys' Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer features a triple-jet technology that combines droplets of three base materials to produce parts with virtually unlimited combinations of rigid, flexible and transparent color materials in a single print run.
Previously, manufacturers could print multi-colored parts using many different materials and assemble them after completion. Stratasys' new printer ushers in an all-in-one technology that speeds production by combining the materials at the print head.
"This ability to achieve the characteristics of an assembled part without assembly or painting is a significant time-saver," Stratasys said in a statement. "It helps product manufacturers validate designs and make good decisions earlier before committing to manufacturing, and bring products to market faster."
When available in the second quarter of this year, the printer will sell for around $330,000, according to Joe Hiemenz, a Stratasys spokesperson.
"A single machine will do everything. You can literally get hundreds of colors and hundreds of material formulas out of this one machine. They can mix together," Hiemenz said. "You can build a part that's solid plastic and rubber and transparent and various colors all on the same build. This is like no other machine before."
Trek Bicycle in Waterloo, Wisc. is currently beta testing the Objet500 Connex3 printer for creating accessories such as bike chain stay guards and handlebar grips prior to actual production.
Mike Zeigle, manager of Trek's prototype development group, said the multi-material printer changed the way the company manufactures, augmenting its "traditional, time-consuming CNC processes with fast, iterative and realistic prototyping and functional testing.
"Now we produce bicycle parts that look and feel like production parts," Zeigle said. "We are particularly excited about 3D printing our models directly in color. This gives our designers the ability to graphically display color contact pressure map data on rider contact parts like seats and grips."
Stratasys offers three colors in the new printer that are similar to 2D inkjet colors: VeroCyan, VeroMagenta and VeroYello. By combining the colors at the printer head, the Objet500 Connex3 can produce hundreds of shades.
Stratasys has for years had a range of photopolymer materials, including digital materials as well as rigid, rubber-like, transparent and high-temperature materials to simulate standard and high temperature engineering plastics. The company said a new "flexible" color polymer is also a first for the 3D printing industry.
The Objet500 Connex3 printer also features six palettes for new rubber-like Tango colors, ranging from opaque to transparent colors in various shore values use in the automotive, consumer, sporting goods and fashion markets.
"The Objet500 Connex3 Color Multi-material 3D Printer produces models and parts using photopolymers in vivid colors so you can create colorful models from investigating concepts to pre-production pilot runs," said Igal Zeitun, Stratasys' vice president of product marketing and sales operations.
Stratasys said the Objet500 Connex3 is ideal for high-capacity production. Print jobs can run with about 30 kilograms of resin print cycle. The new printer can produce objects with layers as fine as 16 microns in thickness for fine detail.
Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.