Traditional 3D printers tend to use plastic resin to build objects but the Matrix 300 from Mcor Technologies provides a lower-cost, more eco-friendly alternative by printing paper. The Matrix 300 builds up 3D objects by alternating layers of paper and adhesive with tungsten carbide blades cutting away excess paper to leave the finished product, which can be up to 400 cubic inches. Incredibly, the Matrix uses ordinary 80gsm office paper to create 3D designs, taking ten sheets of paper to build up 1mm in height. If you want to create different coloured objects, you simply feed coloured paper into the printer's paper bin.
The running costs of the Matrix 300 are considerably less than conventional 3D printers; the machine itself is relatively cheap to build and the cost of materials is up to 50 times less than other methods, according to Mcor. From an environmental standpoint, the Matrix 300 is much greener than its competitors as it uses paper and a water-based adhesive, so both waste and the finished product are easily recyclable.
Obviously, a 3D paper model isn't going to be as strong or durable as a plastic one and the Matrix does have some limitations as to what it can produce but there is a strong market and the technology is particularly popular with architects. It's also popular with students at the Royal Academy of Art, who typically use the Matrix to produce low-cost early prototypes. 'Many students have to do five or six iterations and they don't want an expensive technology to do that,' says James Russell, CAD advisor at the RCA's Rapidform department. Once the students are happy with the 3D paper version, they can then move on to more expensive printing processes to produce a more durable prototype or the finished article.
Conor MacCormack, CEO and co-founder of Mcor is keen to promote the Matrix 300's green credentials but knows that its low costs will appeal most to buyers. Rather than sell a printer and associated add-ons, Mcor is selling subscription packages for the Matrix 300. For around £10,000 (roughly the starting price for an industrial 3D printer) users can have unlimited replacement blades and adhesive, plus use of the machine. The only thing not included is the paper. According to MacCormack, customers like the idea of a fixed price, 'No one else does this in the 3D printing space,' he says. Not yet, anyway.
by Anthony Morgan