Most consumer 3D printers are iterations of the same idea: A single nozzle moves around above a print surface, depositing layer after layer of melty plastic.
But designs are now beginning to diversify, in ways that include incorporating a 3D scanner or printing in different materials. One of the more interesting mold-breaking printers I’ve seen lately just went live on Kickstarter. Radiant Fabrication, which formed in Madison, Wis., in 2011, hopes to raise $60,000 to fund its Lionhead Bunny printer. Instead of one nozzle, it has four, and they can all print at once.
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Radiant also plans to debut an eight-nozzle machine called the Lionhead. If the campaign raises at least $120,000, the nozzles on each model will be capable of printing in different colors, instead of all the same color.
While more print heads opens up more colors, it also opens up the ability to print faster by printing four times as much material at once. Co-founder Nathan Patterson said his team decided incremental increases in the speed of a single nozzle were not enough, considering it can take hours to complete a single print job.
“Something the size of both of your fists put together would take six to 10 hours to print. At that point, you kind of have to think, ‘If I could find something on Amazon, I might as well order it instead.’”
Like a growing number of their competitors, the Lionhead printers incorporate a 3D scanner into the printers’ cabinet-like design. Users can place an object an the printer’s print platform, and it will scan it and create a digital 3D file.
Patterson said they founded Radiant Fabrication after growing frustrated with existing 3D printer options. He owned a low-end machine, which he had to sit in front of as it printed to correct errors as they arose. Despite his PhD in mechanical engineering, it was frustrating.
“Everyone in this market claims to be easy to use,” Patterson said. “A lot of these machines still break three hours into you owning them. We’ve really tried to hit home reliability in our hardware design.”
The printers they are releasing are meant to be highly easy to use, with integrated software and hardware that’s easily accessible to the average user. The machines also calibrate themselves, cutting out the daily tinkering required by older printers.
In the future, Patterson would like Radiant Fabrication’s 3D printers to support more advanced manufacturing, such as integrating electronics or printing a range of materials.
“It’s really adding these functional materials that would enable people to make even more interesting designs and prototypes,” Patterson said.
The Lionhead Bunny starts at $1,649 for early backers and ships in October 2013. The Lionhead begins at $2,099 and ships in February.