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Printing In The Third Dimension

Imagine a colour printer that outputs images not just in the two dimensions we're all familiar with - width and depth - but adds the third dimension, height, so that the "printed" images can be physically held, picked up, turned, inverted . . . just like any other 3D object.

By Ross Tester

A few months ago, a company called SOS Components placed a flyer in SILICON CHIP advertising their rapid prototyping bureau.

Click for larger image
You better believe it: it's a model of a Tupperware bowl, complete with removable lid moulded in "Superflex" - developed in Australia by SOS Components.

It looked fascinating but, not being involved with anyone who needed or used such a service, I’d all but forgotten about it . . . until I came across the company’s stand at this year’s national manufacturing week exhibition.

Centrepiece of the stand was a magnificent model boat. It would have been well over a metre long, 250mm wide and perhaps 350mm deep. I was informed that this boat was an exact scale model of a boat currently being built in Queensland for a (very!) well-heeled individual.

Now prototypes or models are not exactly new – a lot of models, for all sorts of "products" are built before production begins. The client might want to make structural or cosmetic changes once they see how the "thing" actually looks. And it’s normally a lot cheaper to do it earlier than later.

A lot of companies also make accurate models of proposed new products for evaluation, testing, checking and so on.

But this was no ordinary model boat. It wasn’t carved from a block of balsa or modelling plastic by a skilled modelmaker, labouring away for perhaps several weeks. In fact, it wasn’t carved at all.

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