While the current state of 3D printing is blooming, with the rise of lower-cost, faster, and more complex machines introduced to market, there are still several obstacles before mainstream adoption. The cost of making 3D printed products is still somewhat high, the process is slow, and printers still require a lot of energy.
Today, a new product is poised to overcome many of these hurdles. British startup Mayku is introducing Formbox, a vacuum former that it calls "the world's first tabletop factory"—and believes it could change manufacturing.
While not quite a 3D printer, the FormBox claims to be "the smallest, most affordable and accessible vacuum former in the world." The kit includes a FormBox vacuum former, 30 sheets of material, a universal vacuum connector, and some instructions—no software involved.
"We started Mayku because we want to change the way our things are made," said co-founder Alex Smilansky. "We want to help the world move from large factories shipping things all over the world, to a network of mini ones making what is needed where it's needed. We hope that the FormBox, and the other machines in our pipeline, will help to catalyse a shift towards local making that is already bubbling up with the maker movement."
Mayku's mission is to "do for making, what the Mac did for home computing" by making creating customized products fast and accessible, requiring nothing but a vacuum and a tabletop.
It works by heating a sheet of plastic and laying it over a 3D form, then using the vacuum to suck out the air to create an air-tight seal. The sheet cools and makes a mold of the shape in seconds. Makers can also use the product as a mold to create other products.
Here are some other facts:
Vacuum-powered - uses any vacuum cleaner as its source of suction.
Compact - measuring just 30 x 22 x 40 cm, it fits on a desktop.
Fast - turns flat materials into 3D shapes in under 20 seconds.
Multiply objects - cast multiple creations using vacuum-formed molds.
Turbocharge your 3D printer - vacuum-form 3D prints to multiple in seconds.
Works with a variety of materials - choose from a vast library of different substances.
According to Smilansky, if you were to try to make a mold like the FormBox's product with current technology like a MakerBot, the process would be much more arduous. "You'd go into CAD to model the shape, and then you'd cut it out from a box and make the negative space, and print that," Smilansky said. After that, you'd still have to sand it down, "then you'd use that as your base and you'd pour concrete into it." The whole process, he said, might take more than eight hours.
SEE: CES 2016: The crowded field of 3D printers, in photos (TechRepublic)
Mayku, which is currently a Kickstarter project offering printers for $349, which they plan to ship in January 2017. The startup also plans to release an online library of projects to guide people in the process of making.
"What happens when you give makers the power to create not just one thing out of plastic," Smilansky said, "but when you give them the power to make 50?"
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Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.