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Multicolor Parts will Flourish

March 10, 2005

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:44

For more than 15 years, I have received input from a wide range of people close to rapid prototyping. Few have expressed strong interest in multicolor models or prototypes produced from an additive fabrication process. Monochrome parts suit them just fine, they would suggest. This may be puzzling until you understand that a large percentage of models and prototypes are used for fit and assembly checking or serve as patterns to produce silicone rubber molds. Others are given to professionals for finishing and painting. A significant percentage is used to evaluate form and aesthetics, but most people in the business have accepted the fact that prototyping processes (additive or subtractive) do not produce multicolor parts. Z Corp. is the lone exception.

I remember when color document printers were on the verge of commercial introduction. At the time, few believed that there was a need for them. The printers and supplies were expensive, resolution was poor, and colors were dull. Some even predicted their demise before they began to ship to customers. Color monitors also had a rocky start, but you wouldn’t consider the purchase of a monochrome monitor today.

I am certain that color 3D printers will become popular in the future. Engineers and designers prefer to design products using a spectrum of colors, so it makes sense that they would also want to use the same colors when printing the parts. Can you imagine industrial designers limited to one color when creating new design concepts? Consider the world around us: Everything is in color and some of the most interesting objects consist of multiple colors.

Currently, Z Corp. is the only company that manufactures systems that produce multicolor parts directly using an additive process. In the future, other manufacturers will have little choice but to offer machines that produce parts in multiple colors. If they do not, they will be at a competitive disadvantage, just as monochrome printers, monitors, and televisions would be today. If you don’t believe it, just look around.