There's no shortage of affordable 3D printers available today, so why would someone bother creating a new one?
The team at Tekma3D say it's because "we knew we could build better machines, ones that solve the accuracy, speed, noise and vibration problems that plague low-cost 3D printers."
That's a heavy promise, but the company says their Tekma3D TM1 is "the first in a line of better machines."
Capable of printing 200 mm/sec at 100 microns/layer – with no loss of dimensional accuracy – the company says the TM1 takes fused thermoplastic 3D printing to a new level and it does it for $1499. The printer is also capable of printing a resolution as fine as 50 microns.
"The TM1 is not meant to be the cheapest 3D printer on the market. It's aimed at makers, serious hobbyists and engineers who need a tool, not a toy," say the developers. "What makes the TM1 so functional is its combination of build speed and dimensional accuracy. Consumer-level 3D printers typically offer a maximum build speed no greater than 100 mm/sec with accelerations under 0.25 G. The TM1 clocks in twice as fast and accelerates twice as quickly."
And the team at Tekma3D says build speed matters. They arrived at that realization from their experience as aerospace and industrial robotics engineers.
"We use 3D printers every day, and the ability to build accurate parts quickly helps us meet our tight design deadlines," said Mike Everman, a co-founder of Techmothership Inc, the makers of the Tekma3D TM1. "In the past, we needed to use industrial 3D printers to meet our requirements for speed and accuracy. Problem was these machines typically cost $30,000 or more. The TM1 costs just a fraction of what a professional 3D printer costs. Yet it gives us all the speed and accuracy we need as working engineers."
Everman and Bill Spracher, his co-founders at Techmothership Inc., have years of experience as design and manufacturing engineers. Everman founded and serves as chief technical officer of Bell-Everman Inc., a maker of industrial robotics and motion control systems. Spracher has designed and built everything from skateboards to prosthetic devices, and his company, Spracher Engineering, produces precision elastomeric components – including some of the parts used in the Tekma3D printer. Spracher has also been a featured product designer at Autodesk University.
After surveying a number of the printers on the market, Everman and Spracher began to design the TM1. They say they then drew on their combined experience designing and building industrial robotics and motion control systems to create what they call "a low-cost, high-fidelity motion platform" which does away with belt drives. Their patent-pending motion stage – dubbed ServoSpline – positions the part under TM1's precision gear-driven extruder head. Making use of two independently-driven pinions that engage with elastomeric racks on the underside of the build plate, the splines guide, support and drive the build plate.
The method looks similar to the recent Indiegogo printer, the MOD-t, where the print head only moves on the Z-axis and the bed moves on both the X and Y axes. One of the obvious differences is that the MOD-t's print bed appears to ride on top of the pinions and can thus be easily removed, whereas the TM1's print bed appears locked in place, above and below the pinions. The TM1 also claims better resolution and print speed.