Z Corporation 3D Printing Technology
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26-11-2010, 04:14 PM
Z Corporation 3D Printing Technology
Originally developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1993, Three- Dimensional Printing technology (3DP™) forms the basis of Z Corporation’s prototyping process. 3DP technology creates 3D physical prototypes by solidifying layers of deposited powder using a liquid binder. By definition 3DP is an extremely versatile and rapid process accommodating geometry of varying complexity in hundreds of different applications, and supporting many types of materials. Z Corp. pioneered the commercial use of 3DP technology, developing 3D printers that leading manufacturers use to produce early concept models and product prototypes. Utilizing 3DP technology, Z Corp. has developed 3D printers that operate at unprecedented speeds, extremely low costs, and within a broad range of applications. This paper describes the core technology and its related applications.
How does Z Corp.’s technology work?
Z Corp.’s 3D printing technology leverages 3D source data, which often takes the form of computer-aided design (CAD) models. Mechanical CAD software packages, the first applications to create 3D data, have quickly become the standard for nearly all product development processes. Other industries such as architectural design have also embraced 3D technologies because of the overwhelming advantages they provide, including improved visualization, greater automation, and more cost-effective reuse of 3D data for a variety of critically important applications. Due to the widespread adoption of 3D-based design technologies, most industries today already create 3D design data and are capable of producing physical models with 3D printers from Z Corp. The software that drives Z Corp.’s 3D printers accepts all major 3D file formats, including .stl, .wrl, .ply, and .sfx files, which leading 3D software packages can export. In addition to mainstream applications in mechanical and architectural design, 3D printing has expanded into new markets including medical, molecular, and geospatial modeling. Additional sources of data include CT/MRI diagnostic data, protein molecule modeling database data, and digitized 3D-scan data. As designing and modeling with 3D technologies has become more pervasive, developers have created a large number of software packages tailored for use in specific industries.
After exporting a solid file from a 3D modeling package, users can open the file in ZPrint™, the desktop interface for Z Corp.’s 3D printers. The primary function of ZPrint is to cut the solid object into digital cross sections, or layers, creating a 2D image for each 0.1016mm (0.004”) slice along the z axis. In addition to sectioning the model, users can utilize ZPrint to address other production options, such as viewing, orienting, scaling, coloring, and labeling multiple parts. When a user decides to print the job, ZPrint software sends 2D images of the cross sections to the 3D Printer via a standard network, just as other software sends images or documents to a standard 2D printer. Setup takes approximately 10 minutes.
Z Corp. 3D printers use standard inkjet printing technology to create parts layer-by-layer by depositing a liquid binder onto thin layers of powder. Instead of feeding paper under the print heads like a 2D printer, a 3D printer moves the print heads over a bed of powder upon which it prints the cross-sectional data sent from the ZPrint software. The Z Corp. system requires powder to be distributed accurately and evenly across the build platform. 3D Printers accomplish this task by using a feed piston and platform, which rises incrementally for each layer. A roller mechanism spreads powder fed from the feed piston onto the build platform; intentionally spreading approximately 30 percent of extra powder per layer to ensure a full layer of densely packed powder on the build platform. The excess powder falls down an overflow chute, into a container for reuse in the next build.
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