A company based in Seattle has developed a new method of 3-D printing that could revolutionize the way we think about manufacturing. The Glowforge 3-D laser printer can print using a wide range of materials and is extremely precise.
Most 3-D printers use a 3-D printing method known as additive manufacturing. This involves laying down layers of material to gradually build up a shape. The Glowforge 3-D printer uses a new method — subtractive manufacturing — that involves removing small pieces of material from a large block to create the desired shape.
Subtractive manufacturing can be used with a much wider range of materials than additive manufacturing. The Glowforge printer can even create objects from natural materials such as wood, fabric, felt, leather and paper, which aren't traditionally used in 3-D printing. It can also use synthetic materials, such as acrylic, to carve out user-defined shapes.
This new method of 3-D printing opens up opportunities to create personalized products. For example, the Glowforge 3-D printer can create a leather wallet etched with a custom design. Simply provide the printer with a piece of leather and it will cut and etch the material to create a wallet shape with the design of your choice.
Users who want to create custom designs for the printer to manufacture can use the Glowforge mobile app or Web app. There's no need to have professional design skills; using uploaded image files and templates, even amateur users can create beautiful designs for the printer to produce. Even artists who prefer to draw their designs out on paper, rather than using a computer, can use the printer. The technology in this printer can analyze drawn images and create a product that matches the user's design.
According to Glowforge, the laser inside the printer can etch the material with extreme accuracy. In a demonstration video, the company claims that the printer's accuracy is the width of a human hair.
According to manufacturing experts, 3-D printing is likely to become a regular part of life before too long. Printers could soon allow consumers to design and print products in their own homes as well as open up design opportunities for schools and colleges. Some companies are also using 3-D printing to make prototypes and specialized parts, although it is currently too slow to use in most large-scale manufacturing applications.
Subtractive manufacturing is a useful new 3-D printing technique. It allows printers to use a much wider range of materials than is typically available for 3-D printing. The new Glowforge 3-D laser printer allows consumers to create their own designs for wallets and other personal products. The accompanying Web and mobile apps make design easy and accessible to all consumers.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net