If you liked the idea of cutting duplicate keys from a personal 3D printer, then you might be interested to know that researchers at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria have successfully designed the smallest 3D printer to date. The prototype device is smaller than a shoebox and weighs only 3.3 pounds.
It uses stereolithography compared to the RepRap's extruding molten plastic, and it's not a self-replicating machine and costs a bit more, at nearly $1,800 each. But compare that to any other 3D printer on the market and it's still a great deal. Klaus Stadlmann, one of the principal researchers, hopes that the cost will only get smaller. "We will continue to reduce the size of the printer, and the price will definitely decrease too, if it is produced in large quantities", he stated.
The printer builds the 3D objects, layer by layer, in a small tub of synthetic resin at 1 centimeter per hour. The resin itself hardens exactly where irradiated by intense beams of light from the light-emitting diodes. When the first layer hardens, the next layer is attached, until the whole object is completed. It's called additive manufacturing technology, which allows the creation of complicated geometrical objects with an intricate inner structure.
What's most impressive about the micro-3d printer is its resolution. The individual layers are hardened by light beams that are just 0.05 millimeters thick. This makes it possible to create 3D objects with extraordinary precision, like spare parts for hearing aids or handheld video game consoles.
This micro-3D printer is not designed for large scale production, but is perfectly suited for making tailor-made 3D-objects at home, using building plans from the Web. This could potentially save money for expensive custom-built spare parts, given the printer drops in price soon.
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