If like this author you have been waiting for Inkbit’s first commercial 3D printer to launch, today is your day. The Massachusetts-based startup has officially announced its gated 3D printer with 3D imaging, the Inkbit Vista.
The first glimpses of the Vista were released in 2015 when a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published research on a multi-material 3D printer that uses image processing to produce almost complete functional components such as 3D printed items with integrated lenses, LEDs and razor blades. It has been almost six years and the technology is now commercially available.
The Inkbit Vista is based on an inkjet 3D printing technology in which photopolymer resins are deposited from piezoelectric inkjet heads. In this way it can be compared to PolyJet from Stratasys or MultiJet from 3D Systems. However, Inkbit’s Vision-Controlled Jetting (VCJ) also differs fundamentally in that it relies on image processing in order to introduce in-process real-time control at the voxel level to ensure reliability and repeatability. In addition, the company states: “This technology converges advanced computer technologies with a scalable hardware architecture and material chemistry to which established companies have no access.”
Based on the advance notice dates listed on the startup’s website, the Inkbit Vista has a build volume of 500 x 250 x 200 mm and a build speed of 2.75 l / h, produces 22 vertical mm / h and uses three materials plus supports. The XY resolution is 50 microns while the Z-axis resolution is 10-25 microns. However, the company says its technology is scalable, so we’ll need to see what that means exactly.
Inkbit suggests that VCJ will “bridge the gap between prototyping and mass production”. The company’s own vision system captures voxel-by-voxel scan data while the printer operates at “high speed” to ensure that every layer is printed correctly. The company also says that VCJ “enables easy, quick and safe post-processing of parts” and can be integrated into existing manufacturing systems. Additionally, VCJ does not use the same acrylate and methacrylate photopolymers as previous machines, which opens up the possibility of parts that are not as brittle and weak as those made with other inkjet technologies.
“We are very excited to bring Inkbit’s Additive Manufacturing System to market and offer a unique, fast-paced 3D printing solution to companies looking to adopt digital manufacturing,” said Davide Marini, Co-Founder and CEO of Inkbit. “Nowadays engineers often use 3D printing technology to make prototypes, but material constraints and high costs make it difficult to manufacture end products. At Inkbit, it is our mission to destroy that thought and develop a technology that provides fast printing capabilities with unmatched design freedom and reliability for even the most demanding applications and environments. “
As the inventor of inkjet 3D printing through its merger with Objet, Stratasys needs to understand the value of inkbit technology. It participated in a $ 12 million investment round for Inkbit with DSM. This followed a $ 2.8 million investment that brings the startup’s total amount to approximately $ 15 million. Inkbit has also received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Science Foundation, and MassVentures. Inkbit had previously partnered with Johnson & Johnson, although the details of that collaboration remain vague.
Exact applications for VCJ were not disclosed, but an Inkbit investor, the Ocado Group, is implementing the technology. The company’s CEO and Executive Director, Tim Steiner, CEO & Executive Director, said: “… we are working very closely with Inkbit on some of our own future developments that will enable some really fantastic transformational advances.”
It’s hard to say what that might mean. Ocado is a company with a diverse range of activities spanning everything from technology for automated warehouses and robots to machine learning for fraud detection. The company’s warehouses have a huge 3D grid where food is stored in boxes and robots swarm around moving boxes to pickers who pack the food for orders. It could be that Ocado is interested in mass customization of goods beyond food, with swarms of robots helping to run a huge digital factory. Like materializing, but with robots. Your guess is as good as mine.