By now we have all seen a commercial 3D printer in action, spitting out filaments layer by layer until it replicates a predetermined design.
The technology is stunning, but conventional usage of 3D printers has been limiting for two specific reasons: technology and design. Sure, we can all use more trinkets, knick-knacks and miniature models, but there must be a way to add value to the printers. Perhaps one day we’ll have 3D printer sets in our home, an appliance placed beside the microwave, blender and television.
Kingston, Ontario-based, Mosaic Manufacturing is not a company that builds 3D printers but a company that is making 3D printers better, more practical and with a greater purpose. By introducing multi-material and multi-colour filaments into the printing process, Mosaic is able to create working products such as a flashlight.
“[The flashlight] is very much a proof of concept,” said Chris Labelle, co-founder and COO of Mosaic Manufacturing. “At the end of the day, it is not that usable. But what it represents is the potential in all those machines.”
For the time being, electric devices require certain parts and assembly. The capacity to add several materials into the 3D printing process will enable the industry to print goods in a cost-saving manner. Imagine a world where we can print a remote control when we lose it.
The old solution, should you want to print a multi-colour or multi-material product, is to have two printer heads performing different tasks (example: one would distribute the colour red and the other one would distribute blue). The problem with this process is that—like a hot glue gun—when you stop using it, the material will ooze and drip.
“The two main things you need for a circuit are an insulator and a conductor, and if you think about all the printers on the market, the vast majority—80-90%–of them only have one printer head. So they can’t print an insulator and a conductor.” Labelle continues, “If you drip conductor filament and you complete the circuit, you’ll have a short circuit. Your part just doesn’t work.”
The Mosaic Manufacturing solution takes materials with different properties and combines it into a single filament so that it extrudes from a single printer. Using Mosaic’s unique software, the program is able to analyze the design model and determine what material is needed in what order.
“Multi-colour and multi-material is huge when you start thinking about how limited the range of item you can print in this world,” said Labelle. “It’s probably 0.1%. We want that to be one day 100%. Materials with different properties is the first step in a world where we can just download a file and print something, instead of ordering it from Amazon.com.”
The number of use cases for 3D printer will depend on the person using it, but as the technology and design outlets improve, we may find it to be the convenient and feasible solution. A kilogram of filament is currently priced at approximately $35. With a kilogram, you can print a lot of things (example: a phone case may cost you $20-$30, if you print it, it’ll cost you 50 cents).
“You have a hammer, you can hammer nails,” said Labelle. “You have a printer, you can make anything. People will find uses for it.”