In a very interesting twist in the tracking of the 3D printing story, today1 marks the first sighting and emergence of a new industrial 3D printer that looks to be utilizing a new 3D printing process — from plastic injection moulding machine manufacturing giant ARBURG, no less.

There’s no arguing with the credentials of this new player in the market, and ARBURG has unveiled the new platform at the vast K Show in Dusseldorf today.

The company states outright that this is “unlike conventional additive manufacturing techniques”. Called the ARBURG Plastic Freeforming machine, the company’s acronym (of course, it’s tradition) for the system is AKF — not quite wrapped my head around that yet, but possibly something lost in translation. Due to the time of day here I can’t get hold of anyone at Arburg, but be in no doubt, I will be following up!

In terms of the process behind the system, ARBURG states that: “standard granulates are melted as in the injection moulding process. The Freeformer produces the component without support structures, layer by layer from minuscule droplets. The discharge unit with nozzle remains stationary, while the component carrier moves with three or five axes.”

To me this sounds similar to the jetting process, with the originality being in the material state and the movement of the platform for X, Y & Z build axes. There’s not a huge amount to go on, so I could be totally off here, therefore please don’t quote me on it, this is speculation based on the information available today, but I am dying to see it. Also, if the molten material is produced in the same way as for injection moulding, it kind of reassures that this is going to work well — like I said, hard to argue with ARBURG’s credentials. I know the company from old when I worked on EPPM for a while (at the same time as I was doing TCT).

The other interesting thing that ARBURG states is that the Freeformer works directly with 3D CAD files, with no reference to intermediary (slicing) software. Again, this is something that needs follow up, but if it’s not a marketing oversight (my suspicion is it might be), this could be an interesting development in and of itself.

Other highlights quoted in the launch marketing materials include:

  • Versatile: low-cost standard granulates are used instead of expensive special materials.
  • No support structures: stationary discharge unit and moving component carrier for complex 3D geometries.
  • Combinable: AKF is also suitable for processing two components, e.g. in moving hard/soft combinations.
  • Effortless: parts are automatically built up layer by layer on the basis of 3D CAD files.

There is no visibility on parts, accuracy or resolution ….. yet!

Hat tip to Jochen.

1. As I write this it’s still 15th October even though it’s already tomorrow here on the 3DPI site!! Time zones and all that.