At the beginning of this year, Irish company Mcor announced a new series of its paper-based 3D printers, the Arke at the CES show. Since then the company has worked to finalise this model, which is due to ship in the next month or so, and added new features along the way.
Mcor has specialized in using paper as its raw material and the Arke continues with this but in a smaller, faster form that promises to be cheaper than the older Iris printer. The headline feature for the Arke is the addition of full colour inkjet printing. It has a high resolution print head, delivering 4800×2400 dpi resolution, which is actually better than most 2D printers and should lead to much sharper colour objects than most other 3D colour printers currently available. The raw material is A4 paper, giving it a build volume of 240 x 210 x 125mm. There’s a choice of skins available for this printer, offering users different colours.
Since the original announcement Mcor has continued to develop the printer and has been able to improve the Arke in three ways. Firstly, Mcor has added more colours, up to two million. This has been achieved by a new paper ingredient, new compression software algorithms, new ink formulation and full utilisation of the print head. CEO Conor MacCormack says: “We are proud to say that we have the highest measured colour in the industry.”
There is also a new adhesive that greatly strengthens the models created on the Arke, giving them double the stiffness of parts from previous printers. Mcor has also beefed up the hardware in the Arke, which now has higher load capacity slide rails, a precision heater and a reinforced chassis to withstand the higher press force required. The aim is to ensure that objects printed on the Arke can be better suited for functional applications.
There’s also a new Orange Peel software that’s an evolution of the Orange software developed from scratch for the Arke. Mcor had to redesign the slicing process for the Orange software as the Arke is a standalone printer that can run without being connected to a computer. This in turn means that the layers can’t be streamed so the slices have to be packaged into a single file that also includes the printing printing. Mcor claims that this is faster and that the Arke can handle larger parts as a result. The software takes files from both PC and Mac, and most formats including STL, OBJ, VRML, DAE and 3MF.
The Orange Peel update should improve file preparation including splitting and joining files, colour and texturing and file modification including smoothing, solidifying and extruding surfaces.
However, these improvements have come at a price, with the cost of the Arke now rising to €17,995/$17,995, which is quite a jump from the original price that Mcor quoted back in January of €8,995. We put this to Conor MacCormack, CEO of Mcor, who replied: “The vision for the ARKe was always to provide a full colour professional 3D printing solution to fill an unaddressed space in the 3D market. During the EVT process we identified an opportunity to improve the colour and functionality of the final output and we took it! This required a change in components, chassis, electronics, ink & paper formulation and software, all of which added to the cost of manufacturing the ARKe. I made a conscious decision not to wait until ARKe 2.0 before releasing these additional features as I believe that they add considerable value for our target audience for who colour quality, ease of file preparation and increased functionality is of huge importance. With the ARKe, we have strived to make the best product possible whilst staying true to our proposition of providing full colour, professional 3D printing on the desktop.”
The print process itself is fairly straightforward, starting with a roll of A4 paper. The object is built up one sheet at a time, with the shape cut out of the paper and the edges printed in colour. Each layer is then laminated to the next. The cutting, gluing and inkjetting are all integrated in the same housing to avoid any registration issues so that the system can produce quite high resolution models.
Mcor’s vision is to put a 3D printer in every office and classroom and the company has had considerable success, particularly with the education sector, with its previous printers. This is partly because paper is a familiar, easily handled material that’s cost-effective and widely available. Paper is also environmentally friendly, and there are no harmful particle emissions or toxic chemicals used in the printing process. But Mcor also believes that the addition of colour printing should help to make greater inroads into the product prototyping and modeling market.
The Arke can be ordered now and should start to ship this Autumn. MacCormack says that Mcor will assess the demand for the Iris once the Arke is available.