3D printing company Stratasys, which previously partnered with Ford and Boeing on demonstration machines for large-scale additive manufacturing, announced a new product today: the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator.
Stratasys' newest 3D Demonstrator is scalable, starting with a single one-by-three server rack-sized machine. From there the printers are designed to be chained together into huge banks of machines with 99.9% availability.
Imagine a server farm-sized space full of 3D printers, all whirring along producing plastic parts with minimal human interaction: That's what Stratasys has in mind with its newest machine. The Continuous Build even has bins attached to it where it dumps completed parts and automatically starts on the next.
Continuous Build systems also reportedly eliminate tooling costs, need no special power or cooling, and can even be shared between customers to offset idle time.
How the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator operates
Each one-by-three rack of Continuous Build printers is powered by three Fortus FDM printers. Jobs are fed to the printers through a cloud-based print management software, which enables printing to machines in multiple locations—all that's required is that they be connected to your management engine.
SEE: 3D printing: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
The Continuous Build system is designed to be just that: Continuous. By chaining multiple machines together and connecting them to a print manager, multiple jobs can be run simultaneously and a failed printer can be bypassed, and all the heavy lifting is done by the print management software. Users simply input jobs and the system handles the rest.
Stratsys director of global sales enablement, Roger Kelesoglu, summed up the design behind the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator perfectly: It's designed to be an "end-to-end cloud based service to completely manage part production at scale."
The Continuous Build in action
There have been ongoing trials of the Continuous Build with three Stratasys partners: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), In'Tech, and Fathom.
SCAD has used the Continuous Build to expand its 3D printing curriculum availability, automate its 3D print lab, and allow students to upload files for printing from anywhere with internet access.
In'Tech, manufacturers of a variety of 3D printed and injection molded products, has been able to produce larger orders in less time, make low-quantity jobs more feasible, and eliminate the need for hard tooling.
Fathom was able to use the Continuous Build to make large-scale production runs even larger, increasing its cost-to-earning sweetspot from 400-500 pieces all the way to 1,000 pieces.
It could be huge, but don't get too excited
The Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator is impressive and has been a benefit for the three companies testing it, but it's just that: A demonstrator. It isn't for sale right now, and Stratasys doesn't have a release date in mind either.
If the Continuous Build does come to market it's going to be a huge change in the 3D manufacturing world. Producing parts will be cheaper, faster, require less manpower, and be more affordable for small businesses.
Don't put all your eggs in the Continuous Build basket, though: It might be a while before you can get your hands on one.
The three big takeaways for TechRepublic readers:
- Stratasys has unveiled a new system: the Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator. It is a scalable, cloud-controlled 3D print system that requires practically no human intervention.
- The Continuous Build has already been successfully tested by three companies, enabling them to increase access to systems, make prototyping easier, and increase the feasibility of large production runs.
- The Continuous Build is just a demonstrator for now and is not for sale. Stratasys has not released a timeline of when the system will be commercially released.
- 3D Printing: Building the Future (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature)
- Stratasys takes the next step in its software strategy (ZDNET)
- 3D printed parts give Honda's McLaren race cars an advantage at Grand Prix (TechRepublic)
- Ford to trial Stratasys system to use 3D printing of one-piece auto parts (ZDNET)
- Scientists hit milestone in 3D printing of cartilage (CBS News)
Brandon Vigliarolo has nothing to disclose. He does not hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.