Thanks to a new dual-spot laser and other enhancements, the latest stereolithography machine from 3D Systems, Valencia, Calif., offers speed and surface-finish improvements crucial to rapid-tooling applications.

Thanks to a new dual-spot laser and other enhancements, the latest stereolithography machine from 3D Systems, Valencia, Calif., offers speed and surface-finish improvements crucial to rapid-tooling applications. The new SLA 7000 builds parts about four times faster than the company's previous high-end machine, says Art Sims, 3D's founder and CEO.

 

Better surface quality

The new laser helps improve surface finish by allowing parts to be made of thinner layers, thus reducing the need for hand finishing of up-facing surfaces. Technical director Dave Flynn says the SLA 7000 can build layers as thin as 0.001 in., half the minimum of its forerunner, the SLA 5000. The SLA 7000 also has "variable optics" that permit the spot size to be made smaller to cure detailed areas at high resolution and larger to cure big patches of resin quickly.

The SLA 7000's thin-layer capabilities also result from control enhancements. Flynn explains that linear encoders and closed-loop-control software now govern the positioning of the elevator platform to a vertical resolution of 0.0004 in. Earlier SLA machines had open-loop control of vertical positioning.

The SLA 7000 has a max. build area of 20 x 20 x 23.62 in.

 

Faster software & resin

The SLA 7000 comes with new part-preparation software for Windows NT. New 3D Lightyear is said to verify data up to 150 times faster, renders parts six times faster, and prepares files for the SLA two times faster than the company's earlier Unix-based part-preparation software.

The SLA 7000 also makes use of a new stereolithography resin from Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., Brewster, N.Y. SL7510 reportedly cures faster and offers better mechanical properties.

 

Printing in 3D

3D Systems introduced its latest "office modeler," the ThermoJet Solid Object Printer. Working from CAD output, ThermoJet builds three-dimensional parts from layers of a proprietary thermoplastic. Like the company's earlier Actua concept modeler, ThermoJet selectively deposits the resin onto its 8 x 10 in. build platform with jets or nozzles, similar to an ink-jet printer. Whereas Actua had 96 jets, ThermoJet sports more than 360. Additional jets reportedly give a three-fold increase in model-building speed. At $49,000, ThermoJet also costs less than the $65,000 Actua.