One of the most talked-about news announcements at the K 2013 in Dusseldorf, which wrapped up last week, was Arburg’s introduction of an ink-jet type 3D printer. Its marketing approach is bound to expand the popularity of additive manufacturing for production parts as well as prototypes. In fact, Arburg says, “Prototypes are a thing of the past.” Arburg is saying to its injection molding audience, in effect: You may have complex parts that cannot be injection molded, or you may have parts that you want to produce in very small lots—even one-offs. Now here’s a machine to do it that needs no tooling and that uses the same plastic pellets you put into your injection machine.
The latter is the particular innovation of this machine—the “Freeformer”—it needs no special, high-cost materials tailored specifically for additive manufacturing. The limitation is that its tiny dispensing nozzles cannot handle glass fiber or much filler content. So, far, it appears that almost any thermoplastic resin can be used. It's for smallish parts—in the same size range as are molded by most Arburg machines. Typical build time might be 1 hr. It can do two colors or materials (e.g., hard/soft) and severe undercuts with no need for supports and washouts.
The Freeformer won’t be available until next year and will be priced in the range of a high-end injection machine.