The Future is Here: Laser 3D Printing

pegasus-touch3D printing has really come into is own in recent years, with the range of applications constantly increasing. However, not all 3D printers or printing methods are the same, ranging from ones that use layered melted plastic to ones that print layers of metal dust, then fuse them with microwave radiation. This range in difference also means that some printers are faster, more accurate, and more expensive than others.

Take the Pegasus Touch as an example. Built by a Las Vegas-based company Full Spectrum Laser (FSL), this desktop 3D printer uses lasers to create objects faster and in finer detail than most other printers in its price range. Available for as little as US$2,000 via a Kickstarter campaign, its performance is claimed to be comparable to machines costing 50 times more.

 

pegasus-touch-8Instead of building up an object by melting plastic filaments and depositing the liquid like ink from a nozzle, the Pegasus touch uses what’s called laser-based stereolithography (SLA). This consists of using a series of 500 kHz ultraviolet lasers moving at 3,000 mm/sec to solidify curable photopolymer resin. As the object rises out of a vat of resin, the laser focuses on the surface, building up layer after layer with high precision.

To be fair, the technology has been around for many years. What is different with the Pegasus Touch is that FSL has shrunk the printer down and made it more economical. Normally, SLA machines are huge and cost in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Pegasus Touch, on other hand, measures just 28 x 36 x 57 cm (11 x 14 x 22.5 inches) and costs only a few thousand dollars.

pegasus-touch-4This affordability is due in part to the wide availability of Bluray players has made UC laser diodes much more affordable. In addition, FSL is already adept at making laser cutting and engraving machines, which has allowed the company to base the Pegasus Touch on modelling software and electronics already developed for these machines. This allows the device to operate at tolerances equivalent to a $100,000 machine.

The device also has an on-board 1GHz Linux computer with 512 MB memory that can do much of the 3D processing computation itself, making a connected PC all but unnecessary. There’s also an internet-connected 4.3-in color touchscreen, which allows the user to access open-source models that are printer-ready, plus the machine comes with multi-touch-capable desktop software.

pegasus-touch-3It also has a relatively large build area of approximately 18 x 18 x 23 cm (7 x 7 x 9 inch), which is one of the largest in the consumer 3D printer market. The company also says that the Pegasus Touch is 10 times faster than a filament deposition modelling (FDM) printer, has finer control, and up to six times faster than other SLA printers, and can produces a better and more detailed finish.

The Pegasus Touch’s Kickstarter campaign wrapped up earlier this month and raised a total of $819,535, putting them well above their original goal of $100,000. For those who pledged $2000 or more, the printer was made available for pre-order. When and if it goes on sale, the asking price will be $3,499. Given time, I imagine the technology will improve to use metal and other materials instead of resin.

And of course, there’s a promotional video, showcasing the device at work:


Sources: gizmag.com, kickstarter.com, fsl3d.com

A Look at “Living Mars”

Living-Mars With the confirmation that Mars with once home to oceans and rivers, and with speculation that a terraformed Mars will once again, there are many who wonder what a “Blue Mars” would look like. As it happens, a software engineer named Kevin Gill took it upon himself to create a series of images showing what a “living Mars” might look like.

Relying on his own imagination and a series of combined source material, the Red Planet gets a makeover, with aesthetically pleasing results! In an interview via email, Gill said the following of his process:

“This was something that I did both out of curiosity of what it would look like and to improve the software I was rendering this in. I am a software engineer by trade and certainly no planetary scientist, so with the exception of any parts derived from actual data, most of it is assumptions I made based on simply comparing the Mars terrain to similar features here on Earth (e.g. elevation, proximity to bodies of water, physical features, geographical position, etc) and then using the corresponding textures from the Blue Marble images to paint the flat image layer in a graphics program.”

Living-Mars.2For example, the view above is of the western hemisphere of Mars, with Olympus Mons on the horizon beyond the Tharsis Montes volcanoes and the Valles Marineris canyons near the center. The placement of clouds and the atmosphere was mainly to achieve a sense of scale and grandeur, but the rest is in keeping with information obtained by NASA over the years.

And these are just some of the images Gill has made over the years. His Flickr is awash in visualizations, many of which are of Mars, the Moon, and of course Earth, all of which are rendered from orbit. He also makes 3D models of geographic features, which comes in handy when its time to construct large-scale models.