Drew Prindle/Digital Trends
What do you get when you combine additive and subtractive manufacturing? No, it’s not a math problem that adds up to zero, but rather an impressive-looking hybrid computer-controlled milling machine and metal 3D printer, which is being shown off this week at CES by startup Ability3D.
Called the 888 3D printer, Ability3D’s creation promises (or at least hopes) to bring about an alternative to the kind of laser-fused powder process used by the majority of metal 3D printers. Instead, it uses a MIG welder to mill custom metal pieces out of aluminum, steel or stainless steel, while also offering users a regular extrusion printhead fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing.
Oh, and did we mention that it comfortably fits on — or at least alongside — your desktop?
Don’t worry if you’re not planning to create all of your pieces in metal, either: it can apparently also mill wood, and carry out many of your more routine 3D-printed jobs in a way that makes it a catch-all solution for all your additive manufacturing needs.
“I designed the printer to be able to be used by anybody in any setting,” creator Ben Willard, who previously worked at NASA, told Digital Trends. “The entire design is made of metal to contain welding sparks, and there’s an integral vacuum to collect all the metal chips from the trimming operation so there’s no messy metal chips. The unit is also completely sealed, and vented with a negative-pressure blower to push all the welding gas and fumes safely out of a mini-‘dryer hose’ out a nearby window. In addition, the software we’re developing for our hybrid 3D printing process is simple and extremely intuitive: just put a 3d model into it, orient the part, pick a few settings, push the print button, and in a few hours your part is sitting inside the box waiting for you.”
The last tantalizing piece of the puzzle is that the 888 3D printer is significantly cheaper than the kind of metal 3D printing alternatives already being used in factories. How cheap? Well, according to its creators, the device will go on sale for under $3,000. After CES, the next step is a Kickstarter campaign to raise additional funds, which will take place early this year.
CES isn’t the first place to get a glimpse of the 888 3D printer. Its creators have been touring it around other venues like the Maker Faire Orlando, although its presence at one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics fairs is certainly its most high-profile outing to date.
In all, it sounds very exciting. Provided that it works as well as described, we should be in for a treat when it finally starts shipping to customers. You can follow its progress on the company’s website, as well as here on Digital Trends, where we’ll be shedding light on many intriguing-sounding 3D printers throughout 2017.