Our newest machine is an EOS Formiga P100. To the left you can see a picture on it. The thing with the wires in front of it is not part of the machine by the way, it is a webcam so the production guys can keep an eye on it. The EOS Formiga P100 is a Selective Laser Sintering machine made by EOS gmbh of Germany. EOS was founded in 1989 and has revenues of 70 million Euros and is the largest manufacturer of Laser Sintering systems. You're supposed to call them E, O, S but most say EOS.
The SLS process works with a laser that selectively hardens your part. The object is made from a very fine powder. With SLS the build platform on which your part is being built goes up as your object "grows." The powder is applied to the build platform, the laser hardens the part and the rest of the powder remains. Then the platform moves higher and a new layer of powder is applied. The hardened part is then at the end lifted out of what has by now become a big block of powder. The remaining powder acts as a support material and can be re-used(for a limited amount of time).
You can SLS plastics, sand and even metals such as titanium. The Shapeways White, Strong & Flexible material comes out of the EOS. The material used is called Fine Polyamide PA 2200. The term polyamide might not be very well known but Nylon is a rather famous polyamide. Nylon 6 is a very common hard polyamide. The PA 2200 material is a polyamide 12.
It is white and feels powdery to the touch. The material melts at 80 degrees Celcius and consists of spherical powder that has an average grain size of 60 μm. 60 μm is about 8.5 times bigger than an X chromosome or twice the size of a skin cell as this nifty graphic tells us(use the slider!). If you want detailed information about the material we have the Material Safety Data Sheet here.
The good thing about White, Strong & Flexible is that it looks good and is an interesting material to touch.The resolution or accuracy is also high compared to other systems. The material can get dirty with the grease on your hands though. The material is also strong & flexible as you can see here. You can make live hinges with it as well as mechanical assemblies. It is very versatile and you can use a lot of different paints to paint it. It looks good for sculpture type objects and has translucent properties when thin that we used for our Photoshaper.
The EOS Formiga P100 itself is the baby of the EOS family. Having said that it is still as big as a coke machine and costs between $150,000-240,000 depending on what you buy along with it. It uses a 30 Watt carbon dioxide laser and is capable of a layer thickness of 0.1mm. The maximum build volume is 20cm by 25 by 33(7.9 inches by 9.8 by 13).
The advantages of the machine are that removing support material is simple and quick compared to other processes. You simply take it out and for delicate parts use compressed air to blow away the powder. The laser does require some time to warm up though. All in all it is a great machine and definitely outperforms any other SLS systems in its price category.
Shapeways community member Virtox made something completely truly awesome for 3D Studio Max(3DS Max, is how they want us to call it) users the other day. He made a script that calculates the volume and price of your model including or excluding VAT. The script also allows gives you a warning if you go over the maximum polycount and helps you see what scale you can use to price your object as you would want to have it. This is a Studio Max script so you can check all of these things from within the application!! I think that this is a wonderful thing and hope that all the 3D Max users on Shapeways help Virtox by testing his script and giving him feedback. You can check it out and download it here.
Some of you might have noticed that a few days ago we launched problem visualization for non-manifold models. This is a tool to help you guys upload your models easier. It allows you to actually see on Shapeways what the issue is with your model.
If you upload a model that is non-manifold then we send you an email telling you that you have a non-manifold error. You can click a link in that email and this link will take you to a part of your my designs page, there you will see a log of your non-manifold errors. These are kept for 14 days.
You can then click on the model name and you will be taken to the analysis page. On this page you can see where the non-manifold areas are in red. You can use the viewer to spin your model around and look at it in 3D and then go back to your 3D app to repair it. In actual fact it is an online 3D mesh analysis tool. You can probably guess where were going with this?
A little background: Every shape that can be 3D printed has to be 2-manifold, so each edge has to be shared by two faces(no more, no less). A model can be non-manifold if it for example contains two cubes that share one edge as you can see below. The edge itself is shared by four faces, so the resulting shape is not 2-manifold. For a little more detail about non-manifold you can check out this link.