Aug 22, 2016 | By Alec

Desktop 3D printers have seriously come down in price, in part thanks to the efforts of large-volume manufacturers such as the XYZprinting – who are forcing competitors to rethink their business models. Just last month, they even announced the $229 da Vinci miniMaker 3D printer, designed for schools and education. But open source principles and crowdfunding can also do a lot to make the technology much more affordable, as a team of Chinese students just reminded us. They have just unveiled their new VAY ceramic 3D printing kit, which costs as little as 1099 RMB ($165 USD) for crowdfunding backers.

Who says specialist 3D printing needs to be so expensive? That is, in a nutshell, what the team of Chinese students behind the VAY were thinking. They are led by Wen-Qiang Liu, who has been involved in open source 3D printing for years. Unsatisfied with the huge costs involved in 3D printing, he founded Vision 3D Studio in 2013 and has launched several RepRap-based 3D printing setups already. Back in 2014, he launched a series of tutorials aimed to promote RepRap 3D printing in China, and followed that up with a 999 yuan ($150 USD) 3D printer – which managed to raise more than $20,000 USD through crowdfunding.

 

The mechanical engineer, whose studio is currently located at the Shandong University, has since received support from all sides to promote and lower the costs of different 3D printing platforms.

As Wen-Qiang Liu explained, ceramic 3D printing is one of those very potent 3D printing platforms that is reeling under the huge costs that are involved. Among others, ceramic 3D printing requires specialized extrusion and material feeding mechanisms, which tend to drive up costs enormously. But in part thanks its kit form, he and his team are now working to commercialize the VAY 3D printer that costs just a hundreds, instead of thousands of dollars.

 

Despite that level of simplicity, the VAY ceramic 3D printer still performs up to par. It relies on a spiral extrusion system to stir the clay before 3D printing, reducing the number of bubbles and increasing material stability during the 3D printing process. A 2 mm nozzle is used to produce layers of anywhere from 0.5 to 3 mm at 20~100mm/s (extrusion speed of 10-20mm/s). The three-axis 3D printer also uses a T8 screw as driver.

What’s more, the Chinese developers say that the quality of the ceramic prints is excellent. “That quality is achieved thanks to the air compressor we use for extrusion, which can adjust the air pressure with a valve. Our special screw extruder removes bubbles, making the material far more stable,” they say. As the clay is extruded as a raw material, little heating is required at all – making it safe and environmentally friendly. What’s more, the material is reusable again and again, and therefore a perfect option for use in STEM education.

In fact, the researchers have so much faith in their system that they are already looking to adopt it for other 3D printing setups as well. Among others, they are already looking into using the same extrusion system for the 3D printing of cream, ice cream, sludge and other (edible) fluids. Future add-ons that make the VAY compatible with common filaments such as ABS and PLA are also on the agenda, as well as other modules. Even a dual-extruder printer with laser engraving functions can be expected.

 

But the real question is: how are they keeping costs as low as 1099 RMB ($165 USD)? In part, that price has been set for crowdfunding appeal, with the final retail price expected to be set at 6099 RMB ($1000 USD). But even then, they are staying very competitive. These low costs are mainly being realized by buying in bulk to reduce average costs, allowing them to invest part of the raised funds into research and development for future add-ons.

For that 1099 RMB, backers will be provided with a DIY kit, featuring almost all necessary parts as well as a certain amount of high-quality clay. The only thing they need to find separately is an air compressor that can provide enough power – at least 0.4Gpa in pressure, with a 5 liter capacity. But even then, the VAY will be very affordable when compared to competing ceramic systems. If successful, shipping will begin in October.

 

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Aug 22, 2016 | By Alec Desktop 3D printers have seriously come down in price, in part thanks to the efforts of large-volume manufacturers such as the XYZprinting – who are forcing competitors to rethink their business models. Just last month, they even announced the $229 da Vinci miniMaker 3D...