The new Alta 3D printer from Polarworks

Polarworks, the company behind the Alta 3D printer, is the collaborative effort of Norwegian production and design company Bengler, mechanical engineer Thomas Boe-Wiegaard and industrial design students Hans Jakob Føsker and Alexandre Chappel. The launch of Polarworks was announced in early 2014, along with its intention of developing an ‘extravagantly simple and efficient 3D printer’. Things have been quiet since then, until a promising prototype was revealed at last weekend’s Maker Faire Trondheim.

What was shown, was the prototype of a simple but elegantly designed printer, that is quiet and unorthodox. There is no X and Y axis, as it shifts all the mechanical complexities that accompanies their movement to software. Instead, those movements are all executed by a single linear arm and a rotational disk. And interestingly, the Alta Polarworks should be compatible with all usually used software and STL formats.

The ambition to build this printer grew out of the simple but highly adaptable software GRBL, written by Bengler’s in-house ‘tinkerer’ Simen Svale Skogsrud. This software quickly became a staple for various ‘maker machines’ like laser cutters and writing hardware, but is also used for operating various CNC mills and the popular and open source 3D firmware Marlin. ‘It [GRBL] worked for us – it ran a little CNC mill we used to have in our office – and has also worked for hundreds of other DIY projects that shape by cutting with metal, burning with lasers or laying down minute quantities of molten plastic.’

However, Simen has long since wanted to incorporate it into 3D printers which could be, or so he felt, constructed much easier. ‘He came upon the idea of using two rotational axis instead of a gantries for the X and Y axis. This cuts part count radically and makes the printer nearly silent. No linear bearings, no timing belts, no gears. Just a few slabs of solid metal and precision motors. It also looks excellent when the printer draws a completely straight line by twisting around.’

In the past few months, the team behind Polarworks have been silently trying to realize this printer, after students Føsker and Chappel, along with engineer Boe-Wiegaard blew new life into their ambition.

And while both the design and the promises made are certainly drawing our attention, we’ll have to wait for more pictures and promotional videos before we can endorse the Alta Polarworks’ innovations. Their Kickstarter – that will be aiming for approximately $1500 – will start within the next few months, so we hope to be able to present an update on this interesting 3D printer in the near future.