Monday, 23 January 2012

Aardman 3D-Print 8,000 mouths for Sony Pirates Animation

Aardman Animation studios have employed 3D Printing to produce 8,000 mouths of a Pirate Character for a new movie. You read that right, 8,000!

Traditional molding clay was still used to bring the characters in Sony's new movie "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"  to life, but the animators happily embraced the new technology to make those figures speak.

The 3D printing of all those different mouths helped speed up the animation process, allowing for more details and characters in the film.

“We’d still be shooting now if we had to sculpt all of these mouths,” key animator Whitlock at Aardman said. “Even with 3D printing, you can easily spend two to three months on a character. I probably did five or six characters in the space of 10 months ....You can get stronger individual animation styles to each face because of the way that they're made ....You retain the style very faithfully, so that's very helpful.”

Having read this story, one wonders how many mouths were printed at a time, on what printer and with what process?

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

3D Printing means that "Complexity comes for free"

3D Systems was at CES 2012 talking about the capabilities of 3D Printing. Cathy Lewis, VP, Global Marketing, explained how "Complexity comes for free". How true!  Watch the VentureBeat video below to the end and see for yourself.

Cubify from Venturebeat on Vimeo.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Microfabrication to sub 20um - World's Smallest "3D Printed" Objects

Klaus Stadlmann has "3D Printed" an object at 20um. See image. These objects are approximately the size of a dust particle. The technique is called Two Photon Polmerization (2PP).

Stereolithography, which is a rapid 3D prototyping process, and the 2PP technology are based on a similar mechanism - light triggers a chemical reaction, leading to polymerization of a photosensitive material. 

Stadlmann went onto to build the world's smallest 3D Printer for, he claims, e1500. Watch on TED here. Perhaps such tiny, affordable printers could "someday make customized hearing aids -- or sculptures smaller than a human hair"?

This technique is not new. The image below shows  micro-scale dragon (left) and a movable windmill (right) fabricated by two-photon polymerization in organically modified ceramics. This image appeared in an issue of Photonics Spectra in 2006

Friday, 13 January 2012

MatterPort uses Kinect for easy 3D Capture/Scan

MatterPort is creating a revolutionary new point-and-shoot 3D scanning system.  The software, combined with inexpensive 3D capture hardware, such as a Microsoft Kinect motion controller, will allow anyone to create 3D models of physical objects and interior spaces quickly and easily.

"Before the invention of the camera, capturing an image from the real world was an expensive and difficult process.  It required a painter with years of training, and the painter needed several days to make a realistic painting.  Now anyone can pull a phone out of their pocket and snap a picture in an instant.  The ease with which we can capture and share images has tremendously impacted how the world works. We are making a similar transition happen for the capture of 3D scenes. We want to allow anyone, not just 3D artists with years of training, to capture the 3D world around them." -- MatterPort

BBC covers 3D Printing at CES 2012


  • In the space of 20 minutes, the MakerBot Replicator replicates a plastic bottle opener
  • Typical hobby grade plastic extrusion process is 40mm per second
  • 3D printing is nothing new, but consumer 3D printing is
  • A spool of plastic for $50 is enough to build a toy castle costing 3x the price in store
  • Intellectual property rights issues
  • 3D Systems, a product and service provider for 3D Printers and Printing employs 1000 workers worldwide
  • Expect 3D Printing 'app stores'
  • Microsoft Kinect can be used as a primitive 3D Scanner, e.g. to model a face and then to print it
  • Sculpt objects in the air and have them come to life as 3D Printed models
  • Expect sub-$500 3D home printers in the future
  • ABS plastic, as used in some printers, does not break down in the environment
  • 3D Systems higher end machines can work in metals, nylons, powders and liquids [not sure what is meant here]
  • MakerBot Industries want to put a 3D Print-based manufacturing unit on the Moon

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Design in the West, 3D Print in the East?

Bruce Beasley is a prominent American sculptor working today. He has exhibited internationally and is represented in museum collections throughout the United States and Europe, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Using Autodesk software he and fellow artists created digital 3D sculptors which are then scaled up and fabricated, physically, in Asia. 

Beasley was one of several artists who created works of art for The Digital Stone Exhibition. Autodesk software enabled the artists to see and experience their ideas from every angle before a single stone was cut. The digital 3D model was transferred offshore, where it was 3D printed as a prototype. Skilled craftsmen, stonemason's and others then 'scaled up' these models for permanent display. 

The locally printed 3D prototypes enabled accurate rendition of the remote artist's original intentions.  The process was featured as part of an exhibition.

Extrapolate this to manufacturing process transformation and some interesting possibilities open up. Is this any different to contract manufacturing in the electronics industry? 

Friday, 6 January 2012

Will 3D Printing disappear?

Christopher Mims, writing in the MIT Technology Review, believes that 3D Printing will go the way of Virtual Reality, it will disappear. He says that extruding, printing and sintering are simply not the same as manufacturing. Is he right?

Mims compares the complexity of an iPhone, with the simplicity of many of today's 3D printed objects. Yet he focuses too much on claims he claims are being made that "3-D printing will on any reasonable time scale become a mature technology that can reproduce all the goods on which we rely is to engage". We are not sure who is claiming this. Rather, most observers point to the successes of 3D printing, such as this 3D printed Jaw. It is not about mass-manufacturing at this time, and no one is saying it is.

We think it is unfair of Mims to criticize some parts of the hobbyist 3D printing movement for "ideology". They are just doing what they enjoy, pushing the boundaries of engineering. One wonders what Mims has created during his life? And then he points to the hackneyied story of Gartner Hype Cycles, which are themselves widely discredited.

Mims does admit that "There will be plenty of interesting applications for 3-D printing, but I'll bet the ones that will have the biggest impact will be within traditional factories, where rapid prototyping is having a big impact [quoting an old article from 2006]." So, Mims is really saying this: 3D Printing won't be good enough to 3D Print consumer objects like iPhones at home. Yet no one ever suggested this to our knowledge.

Mims has produced nothing more than a simple piece of tech-journalism in order to get more eyeballs. He may however be right on a point which has been written about extensively elsewhere, which is that 3D Printing may disappear and be called what it is: manufacturing.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

What would an X-Prize for 3D Printing look like?

It's all too easy for forget that innovation takes time. Twelve years ago the then state of the art Objet Quadra Tempo (a bit of a mouthful) delivered 20 micron print layers, 1536 jet nozzles in 4 print heads, and the machine printed only one material, known as M510. Today, 12 years later, the Objet 260 Connex delivers double the print quality, from half the number of nozzles, at a significantly higher run speed, with a choice of over 68 materials and able to combine 14 different materials with very different properties and color shades in a single machine that is half the size. 

The now obsolete Objet Quadra Tempo circa 2000

This information was provided by Objet in an article celebrating How Far Have 3D Printers Come in the Last 12 Years? Do you agree that this progress is impressive? Is 3D printing developing at a similar pace to other important technologies? Or does the progress that Objet have achieved over the last decade signify that 3D printing may hit limits in the next.

What are the inpenetrable innovation walls of 3D printing?

Instead of making predictions about the sales and units shipped from various 3D printer suppliers, let's spend 2012 working out what 3D printing innovations we think may be possible in the decade ahead. I propose the development of a 3D Printing Innovations Barometer. It should not forget to include the barriers.

Is there an X-Prize of 3D Printing around the corner? What areas of 3D printing might the challenge address? How about finer print resolution?

If you'd like to get involved, please add your comments below.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Microsoft using Objet multi-material 3D printers to prototype consumer products

Will 3D Printing Kill Small Business?

Thingiverse is a 3D model exchange, a directory for .STL files, which is a format for 3D digital models compatible with most 3D printers. Many of the objects created and posted to Thingiverse have no commercial value, even if they do appeal to other members of the Thingiverse community. Download them, print them and create your own curiosity. But what happens when someone does create something that is genuinely useful and then posts it to Thingiverse, like this Tape Dispenser perhaps?

Before the era of 3D printing, when someone designed a useful product they could choose to turn it into a real business, or to license its design to another business already operating in that sector. Either way the original designer stood a chance of being able to gain financially. Even the most simple, but useful, products like Tape Dispensers and related items could become the basis of a sizable family business. No more.

Almost all immediately useful products will soon all be available in a "Thingiverse-like" model directory and thus be available to "3D print" on-demand. Is this the end of the line for small companies trying to make a living by conceiving of simple yet useful products?  Will 3D printing kill the Small and Medium Sized Businesses (SMB) that our economy depends upon?

All is not lost. Since it's a long long day before everyone will own a 3D printer at home, or have the time and the patience to operate it, most ad-hoc 3D printing requests will be achieved via a Web service such as i.Materialize or by a local 3D Print bureau such as Printo3D. And they will absolutely charge and they are small businesses. 3D printing option will also be added to the services of many 2D print shops such as Vistaprint.

Ask yourself this: Can a 3D print service/bureau charge less to print a Tape Dispenser than the cost of a regular plastic Tape Dispenser, manufactured at scale and available in every local Post Office from the stationary counter. I doubt it. So will 3D printing kill small businesses operating in popular, useful, product niches? I don't think so.

3D printing won't kill small business, it will empower it. 3D printing is an opportunity to extend any niche product business. Tape Dispensers are going to get interesting.