Lasers are the secret to many forms of advanced manufacturing, such as laser cutting, engraving, and certain forms of 3D printing like Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering. Given the versatility of the laser, it is perhaps surprising that relatively few manufacturers have attempted to develop multipurpose machines that utilize a laser for several functions. Arthur W. Matteson, maker of the ‘SafFire’ 3D printer and laser engraver, saw an opportunity there, and his all-new galvo-based machine is currently half-way through a Kickstarter campaign which, with around two weeks left to run, could yet hit its goal of $40,000.
Ever since the global success of Formlabs and its Form 1 and Form 2 Stereolithography 3D printers, it seems you just can’t make an SLA machine without giving it a translucent orange casing. We have no problem with this identifying feature, and—in fairness to the SafFire—the combination of orange plastic with silver metal and a retro typeface makes Matteson’s fabricator one of the more attractive 3D printers on the market. According to the engineer, however, the SafFire puts substance over style, delivering “unparalleled print quality” and the ability to engrave wood or mark paper.
While the SafFire has the potential to be both a laser engraver and 3D printer, customers must choose which add-ons they require at the point of purchase. The base unit is capable of laser engraving wood and paper, but the small (Build area of 120 x 80 x 80 mm) and large (110 x 110 x 125 mm) 3D printing accessories come as paid extras. This modularity ensures that digital manufacturers only purchase the pieces they need. “The SafFire Laser Engraving System with Small and Large 3D Printing Accessories is a modular tool for jewelers, dentists, makers, and anyone who wants top-quality stereolithography prints or wood engravings at an affordable price,” Matteson said.
The SafFire is versatile not only in its functions, but also in its material compatibility, as it works with virtually any resin that cures at 405nm. Better still, the printer’s 75 micron laser spot allows for tiny positive and negative features to be made in those materials. According to Matteson, the SafFire has advantages over most SLA and DLP 3D printers, with many SLA 3D printers having larger laser spots, and most DLP 3D printers having more “boxy” voxels that can produce a jagged, visually unpleasing finish. Furthermore, the SafFire has relatively few components compared to other SLA 3D printers, making it cheaper and hypothetically more reliable.
Matteson notes that the SafFire’s printing speed depends largely on the quality required, with the speed roughly proportional to the third power of the voxel size. However, to demonstrate the 3D printer’s super-fast speed at low qualities (250 microns), Matteson was able to print a small ring in just six minutes and 40 seconds.
With a little over two weeks left to run of the Kickstarter campaign, over a quarter of the $40,000 goal has currently been raised. Backers looking to bring that goal closer can choose from a combination of SafFire parts, from the laser engraving system alone ($1,095) to the complete system with engraving and both small and large 3D printing capabilities ($3,285). Estimated delivery for most backers is April 2017, but those ordering the entire system must wait until August 2017.
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