You can put 3D printers on the list of items with wacky European counterparts.
Traveling overseas often means stepping into a world with strange but slightly familiar goods. Like tiny bubble-shaped cars with diesel engines. Fancy cellphones with dual sim-card slots. Machines that wash AND dry your clothes. PAL television standards. Odd power plugs. The list goes on and on.
When arriving to Maker Faire Rome last weekend, we were prepared to find a few different 3D printers than those regularly seen in the US, but the exact quantity stunned us. As did the low number of US-domestic machines.
One of the biggest presences at the event was from Sharebot, an Italian 3D printer company most notable (US-wise, at least) for their recent collaboration with Arduino to produce the Arduino Materia 101, which was debuting at Maker Faire Rome, and could be found in three different locations — the Sharebot booth, the Arduino store, and at Atmel’s section (they bought and assembled one of the machines on site).
Sharebot also showed off many other printers, including nicely designed super-sized FDM machines, and an SLS powder-based (or sugar) printer called the Snow White that costs around $20,000 — an affordable figure for what the technology normally costs.
Many exhibitors also had Sharebot printers in their booths, including the Milan Fab who retrofitted theirs to use a pasta cutter instead of an extruder head, allowing it to cut sheets of pasta into any shape. The decidedly Italian project is called “Nonnabot,” which translates to Grandma-Bot.
The other highly visible printer company in attendance was WASP, another Italian 3D printer maker who brought a 20-foot tall delta printer that was extruding a clay mixture to demonstrate the application of 3D printing to make homes in rural areas using native materials. The company is financing the project by selling a line of consumer and industrial delta printers that range in size from desktop to refrigerator, and that can print in both plastic and in ceramic.
Beyond those two, we found machines from Araknia, Ktech, Playmaker, DWS, Ewe Industries, Ubot, Strato, Dreamaker, and more. Lots of RepRap designs. More delta machines than we normally see. A few resin printers. Various filament extruders. And some interesting multi-head four-material printers.
Dutch-based Ultimaker was the most prominent 3D printer company at the event that has high visibility in the US. Meanwhile there were only a couple Makerbots were on site, including one at the booth of French 3D design firm Le Fab Shop, which had its extruder head replaced with a tattoo gun. An eerily realistic silicone arm demonstrated its effectiveness.
As one of the main pillars of the event, every 3D printer seemed to be a center of attention for the attendees. Each had Makey the Robot demonstration prints. Many had graduated from an exposed, tinkered look to refined encasements, a design aesthetic that many of the Italian companies were proud to tell us about.
Some of these companies will undoubtedly make their way stateside. But with the challenges of international distribution and service, as well as a very healthy European market for 3D printing, most will likely stay in that area. With hopes, some of their refined elements will influence the industry and help advance developments in the field globally.