Finally, a 3-D printer that could be used to actually manufacture complicated plastic objects. We’ve seen clever 3-D plastic printers by now, some very clever and some very much hobbyist devices, but nothing has looked like this new Freeformer machine from Arburg.
The secret to the machine is its combination of very precise movement motors and its plastic extruding nozzle. Most 3-D printers take a long filament of plastic, heat it, and squirt it out of the nozzle. But the Freeformer takes granulated plastic stock–just like an industrial plastic injection molder–then heats it and puffs minuscule drops of the material at a rate of up to 100 blobs a second. The Freeformer’s nozzle stays still, and the object being printed is maneuvered around in complex patterns under it.
Though it’s hard to see why this is an advantage at first, it means the machine can very easily print 3-D shapes that traditional printers can’t. This is a hint at the future of additive manufacturing–and it could change pretty much everything.