Wednesday, May 30 2007 @ 06:12 PM PDT
Contributed by: Windell
Top ten frequently asked questions for CandyFab
1. How does it work?|
Pretty well, actually! =D
2. How do you add the next layer?
Manually, with a scoop of sugar and a wooden straightedge.
3. Why isn't adding the next layer automated?
Adding a sugar handler would double the size of the machine, and wouldn't really save us much time or effort (since the sugar would still have to be lifted up manually or with a very complex system). Also, it wouldn't increase the precision because the vertical axis is already computer controlled. Add into that mixture that the machine is *not* whatsoever designed for unattended operation, and the last good argument for an automatic dispenser goes away. We had originally planned to automate it, but when we realized how easy and reliable it was to add the sugar by hand, we simply lost interest.
4. How does it taste?
While our process has incredible potential for making interesting food, we are still in the early stages of prototyping and we have primarily not worked with the sugar under conditions that could be construed as proper food handling procedures. We have thus far mostly been interested in treating the sugar as a relatively safe (but not edible) industrial chemical and prototyping medium.
However, there is no fundamental obstacle to food-safe 3D fabrication. We fully expect that food production will be one of the important things that folks do with CandyFab. You know those ice sculptures that show up at fancy buffets? We're coming for them!
5. Will you sell me one?
Maybe, but not yet. ;)
The current version, the CandyFab 4000, is a DIY project that anyone can build-- but you need to start by scrounging some old components to recycle. We have set the goal of making a clear set of plans for a new version of CandyFab that is easier to build by using new, off-the-shelf components. There has been good progress towards the CandyFab 5000, but some difficulty in having the large parts fabricated which has slowed the release. When it's finished, our plans will be fully open source and freely available online. We may also eventually try to gather up the components as full or partial kits to take some of the hassle out of purchasing individual parts, but we have not yet decided.
6. Why don't you use powdered sugar?
Our resolution is limited by other factors (mostly air flow rate) at a much higher level than the grain size of even granulated sugar, so it wouldn't actually help anything. It would however be much messier and (possibly) harder to contain with the canvas sack. Also, powdered sugar tends to not be pure sugar, but instead have a small amount of corn starch added. We do not know how that would affect the build, rigiditiy, clarity, or color of sugar sculptures built with that mixture. At some point we will try it, but there is not any urgency to do so.
7. Have you considered using a laser?
Yes, and using a laser comes complete with its own set of issues, so we are not currently persuing that option.
First, we are not aware of any laser systems under $1000 that will do the job well; we expect that 2-5 W of laser power would be effective, but the economics are not currently favorable for a low-cost system such as CandyFab. Using powdered sugar (which is more opaque) might allow the use of a less powerful laser. The second issue with a laser is that any invisible laser > 100 mW is a serious safety hazard. The magic of the modern laser engravers (e.g., Epilog) isn't what they do, but that they have made it safe. Any powerful invisible laser really needs to be operated in a sealed, interlocked box with *tested* IR-blocking viewports. Third, there are possible patent issues with developing new systems based on laser sintering and melting.
That said, and the drawbacks pointed out, we do plan to investigate a number of DIY alternative printing technologies that could be adapted to work with the base CandyFab system, even if not made part of the main CandyFab development thrust.
8. How long does it take to print?
CandyFab 4000 currently takes about one second to print a pixel, but we have reason to expect that things can be sped up in a few different ways.
9. What kind of files does it take?
You're asking the wrong question. This isn't a plug-and-play thing you got at the big box store. It isn't either a software package, it's a machine. It does what you tell it to, and *you* have to tell it what to do. Our first take at software takes a bitmap file (e.g.) PNG to tell it which dots to color in (er, melt) and which not to on each plane of printing, and it's up to you to slice the file in your choice of 3D programs. We've already demonstrated how to do that for POV-Ray, and how to convert STL files and use those. Are there other file types that can be used? Absolutely. If you want to suggest file types that we should be looking at, do so in the forums please. If you want to help add capabilities, please do.
10. Can you print other things besides sugar?
Dude, just wait 'til we get started! If you can melt it in your oven, CandyFab can sculpt it. The basic requirement is that the media have a fairly low melting point and are available in granular form. Some obvious things that we're planning to try: Various plastics, chocolate chips, glass, and low-melting-point metals.
Do you have other questions that you think should be up here? Ask away; the comments section here is a good place to start, or use our contact form.