The country's love of giant things is well-documented, but all those books, articles and documentaries chronicling the Big Banana, Big Prawn, Big Merino et al. may have to be updated now that ART 3D has released its Sabertooth 3D printer system.
Jason Simpson, who runs ART 3D (formerly Advanced Rollforming Technology), has devoted a healthy-sized chunk of this year, with his team, to working on a goal, simply: “creating the world’s biggest and best printers”.
Simpson came late to 3D printing, which has enjoyed more than its fair share of hype this year. To its enthusiasts, it could radically change the way companies develop products and create exciting possibilities for new ones, massively disrupt supply chains and global trade, and much more.
For Simpson, the possibilities of his new machine are vast. But what drew him to additive manufacturing about three years ago was simply the beauty of the process: thin layers gradually built up on each other to create potentially very complicated shapes.
“We’ve always loved technical things and 3D printers are pretty beautiful when you look at the technology,” Simpson told Manufacturers’ Monthly of his company, which he started with his dad in 1992.
From designing rollforming equipment, the business moved on to medical and imaging equipment, radiation protection equipment, racing car simulation, some coding, and even artwork for computer games.
Then 3D printing fever caught his attention, and his tinkering urge took over.
“Every time I looked at 3D printing I was just more and more intrigued,” Simpson recalled.
“One day we decided to buy a 3D printer and discover more about it and to actually print and we were just hooked from there. We discovered that there was a huge amount of designs that could be improved, we decided to modify our little printers to get them working a little bit better.
“And then we decided that to print anything worthwhile for us it would need to be pretty big and you couldn’t buy a printer cheaply that would print the size of model that we’d like. And we thought that this would be pretty common with people who had small printers that they would most likely progress into larger printers.”
Which brings us to the Sabertooth - its name was chosen for marketing reasons, as its build envelope is big enough to print a 1:1 model of a skull of one of the extinct giant cats - and its impressive dimensions.
The printer’s footprint is 1,400 mm wide, 1,600 mm deep and 2,500 mm high. The Thomastown, Melbourne-based company has designed a unique, 12-rail system for stability and accuracy as the print head whizzes around at high speeds, which Simpson hopes will be able to reach 2,000 mm a second.
The build space in the machine is 1,000 by 1,000 by 400 mm, with a four-zone heat bed. Power consumption, said Simpson, was a low 2,400 watts, with operation controlled by a 22-inch touchscreen computer, running on Windows 8, mounted at the front of the unit. At the rear is a four-decoiler system able to hold spools of filaments up to 10 kg.
At the time of our conversation, the unit was still being 3D tested, and had performed well in 2D tests.
“We are still fine tuning the code to get the ultimate setting for our printer,” explained Simpson. “There are more settings and variables than we could handle in one single day. And we’re going through the little adjustments one at a time to get the ultimate set-up.”
According to the engineer, the Sabertooth can achieve resolutions of 0.1 mm and will mainly use 3 mm filaments as well as some liquids.
It can currently create items in a variety of materials, including ABS, PLA, nylons and combinations of other plastics. Of note is that the Sabertooth “should be able” to print in at least two colours of chocolate, and Simpson plans to print the world’s largest 3D printed chocolate sculpture in collaboration with a patisserie school in Brunswick.
ART is currently in discussions with a patent lawyer and discussing which developments he might want to secure.
Developing the Sabertooth has had its difficulties, including time away from regular projects (and 14-hour days of slog). Add to that the fact that, aside from telling a few people (such as the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing, whose help Simpson adds he is grateful for) about the project during development, it had to be kept under the company’s collective hat.
“As you can imagine we couldn’t advertise to the world that we were looking for funding for the world’s largest 3D printer when we wanted to keep it to ourselves and be the first people to have a large, large printer,” said Simpson, who avoided telling suppliers what their components were going to be used for.
“So we’ve really had to finance the whole thing ourselves, which has meant doing nothing else this year apart from building our printer. Which has made it pretty hard. But being a tough Australian company, we’re certainly up for the job.”
The company believes that its units, which are available for well under $100,000 each, will offer a great deal to sectors including health, education and manufacturing.
According to Simpson, the Sabertooth is, “a very upgradeable system that is easily modified to print a wide range of materials.
“It has a very easy user interface as well as full back-up and support from our company in any particular project that our customers may want to take on. Because our printer is one of the largest printers in the world of its type at about a tenth of the price of its opposition, we expect that many educators and healthcare industries may get involved in our product.”
He estimates that a made-to-order unit will take about 12 weeks to build for a customer, with custom-sized printers an option.
As though the current size isn’t big enough, Simpson plans to come out with an even larger unit in the near future.
“We are happy to accept orders for the Sabretooth now and early in the next year we will be able to take orders of custom-sized printers, as well as the Sabertooth and the 1 metre by 1 metre by 1 metre model that we will have next year.”