MIT’s Computational Fabrication Group recently announced the MultiFab, a low-cost 3D printer that can combine up to 10 different resins in one part and also includes a 3D scanning system to identify and fix errors during production. According to Lux Research, these capabilities are rare in commercial 3D printers today due to the manufacturers’ need to maintain high margins on materials supply and service contracts.
“MultiFab’s enhanced multi-material capabilities, open platform, and order-of-magnitude cost reduction potential are high-value, high-impact challenges to the status quo among leading 3D printer companies and offer a clear path to affordably printing polymer parts with a much wider range and combination of properties,” said Lux Research Analyst Anthony Vicari.
“Cheaper hardware and materials will then make 3D printing affordable in more applications for making both prototypes and end parts,” he added.
Lux Research analyzed key implications including:
- Stratasys, 3D Systems, and EOS need to raise their game. If MIT’s claims hold up, then MultiFab beats incumbent polymer printers on price, performance, and adaptability. Today’s giants will need to follow suit or watch new entrants quickly capture market share.
- Computer vision shows cheap path to higher reliability. MultiFab’s optical 3D monitoring system uses low-cost hardware and standard computer vision techniques to self-calibrate and prevent errors. This increases part-to-part consistency, which has historically been one factor limiting adoption of 3D printing for manufacturing end-use parts.
- Open platforms will accelerate development. Just as the open source RepRap project led to low-cost consumer printers, MultiFab’s open hardware and software platforms will lead to cost reduction, material selection expansion, and more experimentation with new printer design modifications in industrial polymer printers.
“As with all new research, MultiFab will need to continue to prove its lofty claims, but early signs look promising. The system lays bare technological and business model weaknesses that incumbents have been able to avoid confronting for decades,” according to Anthony Vicari.
MultiFab is no panacea–it is limited to photopolymers and does not solve the problem of poor mechanical performance of printed plastics–but it paves the way for many more researchers to put their minds to solving those challenges.