Next-Gen 3-D Printers Create Objects Out Of New Materials

DIY Design

This intricate bauble was printed in glass by Shapeways from a user's diagram.Courtesy Shapeways

3-D printers, sometimes called rapid prototypers, already instantly manufacture products by squirting out material layer by layer. Now they're turning out items made of glass, sand and other substances beyond the usual plastic or resin.

Why Now

Machinery has caught up with the idea that DIY fabrication could produce a wide range of goods. New chemicals help stick products together, and new mechanisms form precise layers.

How You'll Benefit

Inventors can turn more concepts into reality. They can produce small runs of items that used to require commercial techniques, armed with only a 3-D engineering sketch and an idea.

Materials In Print

Glass
With one of the first 3-D printers to produce glass, anyone can make vases, lamps and other items that once took glass-blowing skills, as well as delicate shapes not before possible. The machine, accessed by placing an order with the online service Shapeways, uses an ink-jet-style nozzle to spray a gluey binder onto thin layers of glass powder. Then an oven bakes out the binder, and the glass fuses into a frosted-white form.

Shapeways
From $15

Sweet Thing

Acting like an automated cake-decorating bag, the Frostruder can pump out pastes in interesting shapes.Zach Hoeken/Makerbot

Clay (and Frosting!)
MakerBot's desktop 3-D printer, sold as a build-it-yourself kit, already created plastic objects at home. Now it can add a new printhead, the Frostruder MK2, that squeezes out any pasty medium: clay, silicon, epoxy -- even cake icing. The tool is actually a 60cc syringe that gets its pressure from an air compressor instead of a plunger. It can precisely control a stream down to 0.02 inch thin because a relief valve dumps excess pressure, avoiding the oozing of earlier plunger designs.

Concrete Seat

D-Shape can make novel stone forms, like this six-foot chair.Courtesy D-Shape

Stone
Inventor Enrico Dini has bigger ideas for 3-D printing: buildings. His D-Shape fabricator can craft stone structures of up to 16 by 16 by 10 feet. It lays down a sheet of sand blended with a powdery chemical reactant, followed by a targeted liquid binder; where liquid and powder meet, the mix hardens. Its precise 0.2-inch layers allow for curved shapes that
are difficult and pricey with conventional concrete construction. Dini aims to work with architects on huge bricks, and perhaps someday on a machine large enough to print an en-
tire building.