Product Design

Taiwan Researchers Develop 3D Printer Prototype

8 Jan, 2009 By: Kenneth Wong

Project raises hope for domestic rapid prototyping machines.

Sen-Yung Lee, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Mechanical Technology Research and Development Center at the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Taiwan, may have found a new revenue stream for his country. He and his colleagues recently developed a prototype of a rapid prototyping (RP) machine, or a 3D printer.

In the announcement, the university wrote, "This RP technique has also been transferred to a domestic company, MicroJet Ltd. … The annual revenue garnered from this technique is expected to reach 3-5 hundred million NTD [New Taiwan Dollar), approximately US$10-16 million, in five years."

Terry Wohlers, founder of Wohlers Associates and the author of Wohlers Report 2008 (an in-depth global study of the advances in additive fabrication, including 3D printing and rapid manufacturing), observed, "It's possible to ramp up to $10-16 million in five years, but they'd have to invest aggressively, put together a strong R&D team, create a good method of distribution and support, and make few mistakes along the way."

Wei-Hsiang Lai, a participant in the RP machine development, pointed out this could lead to "the first commercial RP machine developed domestically," with "many commercial potentials. … All of its parts and assemblies are nowadays supplied and manufactured domestically, instead of imported from other countries [as] in the past."

Wohlers noted that the project's success also depends on the price and reliability of the system and the quality of the parts it produces.

Explaining the technology, the university wrote, "The RP technique 'prints out' the stereo object by assembling components stack by stack, layer by layer, to the final stereo work. It integrated CAD and CAM systems, similar to computed tomography technique, to slice a 3D solid object to many 2D cross-sectional pictures. This RP device simply prints out these 2D tomographic pictures one by one, eventually to assemble the original 3D object." The machine is expected to print color models in addition to black-and-white ones.

The technique described resembles the technology employed by Z Corp.'s 3D printers, which use a derivative form of ink-jet printing (for more, read Jan/Feb 2009 feature article in Cadalyst).

Wohlers added, "The Dimension product family from Stratasys, followed by the machines from Z Corp., have been the most successful in Asia." If the NCKU prototype results in a series of commercial models, Stratasys and Z Corp. will compete with MicroJet, the recipient of NCKU's technology, for the Taiwan market.

Related content:CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing), MCAD, Prototyping/3D Printing

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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