The promise of additive manufacturing is attracting plenty of creative, and very interesting, engineering.
On one end, injection molding machinery manufacturers such as Arburg and Sandretto are creating heavy-duty (and expensive) machines that complement the injection molding process. On the other, inventors are starting with a clean sheet of paper and designing reasonable quality, inexpensive machines for hobbyists and standalone inventors.
One example was introduced (at least conceptually) in March at SXSW, an annual arts conference held in Austin, Texas. Founder and CEO Matt Gajkowski announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund and roll out of a 3D printer called Tiko that is based on new design concepts and has a selling price of just $179. Commercial availability is expected before the end of the year.
Tiko, which is based in Toronto, uses a low-part-count parallel-arm mechanism without the use of high-precision rails and linear bearings to achieve mechanical repeatability. “That means we can manufacture Tiko using consumer-grade tolerances and relatively simple parts, rather than the crazy-expensive CNC-machine components found in other 3D printers,” states the Kickstarter prospectus.
The unibody Tiko uses a proprietary direct-drive system using motors mounted on extruded aluminum rails. The motors replace “an eye-popping arrangement of belts, pulleys, and tensioners.”
The engineers at Tiko also developed proprietary electronics and a liquefier assembly, which “to the best of our knowledge, (is) the only liquefier in the world that can extrude PLA without active cooling—and in an enclosed space at that.”
The heat shield is integrated with an injection-moldable end effector with integrated ball joints. Use of a titanium alloy nozzle also helps reduce heat in the system.
Build size in the z direction is 1.25 mm (4.9 inches) and total build envelope is 2.27 liters (138.3 cubic inches). Part resolutions of 50 microns can be achieved, according to the prospectus.
Tiko runs on nonproprietary filaments of PLA, ABS, nylon, high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and “more”.
If I have one criticism of Tiko it’s this: a very ambitious roll-out schedule. Tooling (apparently made in China) will be initiated June 15 and will be finalized Sept. 15 (prospectus timeline). Yikes. Production, assembly and shipping will begin Nov. 15. It’s good to be young.
The rollout schedule is particularly dicey given that none of the parts in the Tiko have actually been made and tested using injection tools or other actual production processes. The ability to achieve projected tolerances and mechanical properties has yet to be determined.
After all, that’s the biggest problem with the additive manufacturing process since it was first invented by Chuck Hull in the 1980s. The materials used in additive manufacturing processes (and the parts) don’t replicate the actual production materials and parts. The Kickstarter prospectus does not disclose actual production polymer materials.
Tiko is very interesting and promising, but may take a little longer than projected to reach prime time. And it may never hit prime time at all.
Meanwhile, MakerBot –the subject of effusive hype from the Economist magazine just two years ago and the last great new thing in 3D printing—recently laid off one-fifth of its staff and closed its three retail stores.