A pair of students in Wisconsin, Cedric Kovacs-Johnson and Charles Haider, have announced they've made a device which may well prove revolutionary to those using 3D printing on consumer-priced machines. And they say they've come up with their method for converting to on-demand color capabilities on most 3D printers for less than $100.
Kovacs-Johnson and Haider, chemical engineering undergrads at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, call their device the Spectrom. The adapter, which is compatible with FDM 3D printers using standard filament spools, makes it possible to print a rainbow of colors by adding dye to filament material on the fly. This automated process is similar to experiments in manual dye filament coloring performed by Richard Horne (aka, RichRap) last year.
The Spectrom attachment won the pair both the $10,000 Schoofs Prize for Creativity, and the $2,500 Tong Prototype Prize, at the 20th annual University of Wisconsin-Madison Innovation Days competition. The competition is aimed at students who come up with "creative and marketable ideas," and it was held in February of this year.
The pair says the Spectrom is aimed at FDM 3D printers because they're the most viable consumer machines due to their ease of use and lower cost materials. The Spectrom delivers solvent dyes directly onto clear plastic filament in a continuous flow.
Kovacs-Johnson and Haider say the machine could impact a variety of medical applications.
"With 3D printing, you have the ability to scan someone's face and build an exact face profile," Kovacs-Johnson said. "You can then print off, using Spectrom, a nose that would match their skin exactly."
Haider sees the ability of their device to create inexpensive and realistic prototypes as a competitive advantage.
"One of the things when you're doing prototyping is that you're looking to highlight specific, complex features. Being able to bring clarity to the parts that are unique – while in meetings with clients and upper-level management – that's where we have an advantage," Haider said.
They add that the development of the Spectrom took them more than a year of experimentation and testing before they settled on a version which they found satisfactory.