During its IFA press conference Pearl proudly introduced its newest 3D printer, designed by Luigi Colani. If you are like most Americans, almost nothing of the previous sentence means anything, so allow me to put it into context.
The company, Pearl, in a way, is Germany’s version of QVC, even though QVC actually has a branch in Germany. Pearl specializes in long form commercials and aggressively selling celebrity-backed products, including cell phones, tablets, RC helicopters, and 3D printers.
Their current 3D printer offering is the FreeSculpt EX1, which not only prints 3D objects, but also is capable of scanning objects (max. size: ~8.75” x 5.7” x 6”) for alteration and/or printing. It features the very common incremental polymer deposition (IPD) technique to build the printed objects by adding layers of melted plastic on top of each other. The device comes ready-built, with no need for assembly, and is touted to be extremely easy to use.
One would think that during the press conference, all of the attention would be on the newly announced and improved version of this 3D printer… or maybe at least most of it, after all Miss Germany 2011 and Pearl TV personality Anne-Kathrin Kosch emceed the event. But the true star of the show was the innovator behind the new 3D printer design: Luigi Colani. Colani can be best characterized as the Tony Stark of Germany—only real.
While not well known in much of North America, Colani is a bit of a celebrity in Europe and in the industrial design scene in general. During the press conference, the octogenarian loudly boasted about his illustrious career during which he designed almost everything mass-produced, from trucks to DSLR cameras, and easily slipped in and out of controversial topics such as European politics and the socio-economic implications of his newest invention.
The host of the press conference occasionally succeeded in guiding Colani back to the topic of the new revision of the FreeSculpt EX1, which is aptly named Colani FreeSculpt. During these brief moments the innovations became apparent: a sleek new exterior design, a more voluminous printing cavity, and some innovative technical improvements. Most interestingly, the Colani FreeSculpt allows the user to print objects using two different types of plastic filaments: regular ADS plastic and water-soluble plastic.
Why would you want to print using water-soluble plastic? One little-talked about aspect of 3D printing is the support structures that sometimes need to be printed along with the actual desired object. Some 3D structures, like arches, are quite unstable until the whole structure is completed, requiring support struts and columns during the printing process.
Those support structures need to be removed after printing is completed, which adds an extra step to a process that is already quite complex and time consuming. Printing these support structures using a water-soluble material makes the removal easy. Simply submerge your model in a tub of water or rinse it with copious amount of water and you are left with only the desired object.
Since the specs of the Colani FreeSculpt are not yet solidified, there is little we know about performance improvements in terms of speed or resolution. However, if the name on the product is any indication, the performance of this 3D printer should not lag far behind its design. If nothing else, the attractive design and scanning capabilities certainly make the Colani FreeSculpt a favorite among its price class. The basic print model will be available in 2014 for €899.00 while the print/scan/copy/fax model will run a respectable €1299.00.