Thursday, 30 August 2012

Mammoth Stereolithography

Those on the inside of the 3D Printing revolution will know all about stereolithography, also known as optical fabrication. It is one of the oldest, and most surprising, of the various 3D printing techniques. Invented by Charles Hull, the original patent describes how a concentrated beam of ultraviolet light can be focused onto the surface of a vat filled with liquidphotopolymer. The light beam draws the object onto the surface of the liquid layer by layer, and using polymerization to create a solid object which emerges, magically, out of a liquid vat. It is quite magical to watch (see below).

Today the technology is available from 3D Systems. The technology has been scaled up and available from Materialize, a process they call Mammoth SL. Materialise is well-known in the automotive industry for its extensive knowledge in the production of large prototypes. How large? How about parts 2 meters in length?

Recently, this technology has been used to print virtually an entire car. Wired has reported that a Belgian team of engineers has produced the first (mostly) 3D-printed automobile, the Areion, for the Formula Student Challenge.  The team turned to 3D printing, specifically mammoth stereolithography and were able to print out parts up to 2,100 x 680 x 800mm in size, the entire car body, including the shark skin-inspired coarse-textured nose, the aerodynamics of which reduce drag and increase thrust. The CAD design, which included several innovations in aerodynamics, including texture and air channels, were printed, not assembled, in one pass.

3D Printing? It's the Software Stupid!

When we think about 3D Printing our mind often moves quickly to the physical object, its shape, material and other tangible aspects. We know it was once a CAD model and that software was somehow involved, but it is easy to forget quite how sophisticated the software driven process could be in a 3D Printing process.

Watch the video below. It shows the fabrication of an articulated character from a simpler 'skin' model. The technique goes well beyond what is possible using CAD software, and is the result of clever programming by a team  comprising: Moritz B├Ącher and Hanspeter Pfister of Harvard University, Bernd Bickel of the Technische Universit├Ąt Berlin, and Doug James at Cornell University.

Having watched the video, read on and wonder.

The software examines the geometry of the model and finds suitable bend points in which to add a joint. Elbows and knees get hinges. Torsos, tails, and perhaps tentacles get ball and socket joints with three degrees of freedom. The software optimizes for full movement and no collisions with other joints or possible movements. 3D Printing then allows the whole model, including its moving parts and joints, to be materialized all at once.

Some day, James suggests, it might be possible to build in motors and other actuators to create robotic figures that could “walk out of the printer when they’re ready.”

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Defense Distributed P.O. Box 301765, Austin, TX

Well, it had to happen, enthusiasts are 3D Printing lethal guns. Following the success of  user HaveBlue (a gunsmith) from the AR-15 forum in firing 200 rounds from a partially 3D-printed AR-15 (M16) others are now taking up the challenge of producing designs for, and demonstrating the viability of, 3D-printed weapons. Once designs were uploaded to Thingiverse others started printing gun parts, even if they did not have the skills to build a workable weapon that would not injure its owner in operation.

Of course, there has, and will continue to be, a retinue of garage enthusiasts employing a variety of engineering techniques, including CNC machining of gun parts,  who are in thrall to the idea of making their own weapons, as opposed to buying them off the shelf at Walmart. Moral panic about 3D-printed guns is probably over-stated. Nevertheless, the idea of anyone, anywhere, with absolutely zero skills as a gunsmith, yet able to print guns-on-demand from a CAD file downloaded from the Web, will surely send a chill wind blowing through civil society. Rapid advances in 3D printing (moving parts, multiple material prints, novel materials potentially undetectable at airport check-ins, use of metals) will only serve to pour petrol on the fire.

Which is the why the announcement of a group calling itself Defense Distributed and whose stated aim is to produce a 100% 3D-printable gun, and then to spread it to all by adapting the design to ever cheaper 3D printers, is not going to be welcome.

Defense Distributed are a loose band of collaborators from varied backgrounds and who have a vision of what they call 'private law society'. It is unclear precisely what philosophies the group subscribe to, but the term has been defined by others as:

A society where every individual and institution is subject to one and the same set of laws! No public law granting privileges to specific persons of functions (and no public property) exists in this society. There is only private law (and private property), equally applicable to each and everyone. No one is permitted to acquire property by any other means than through original appropriation, production, or voluntary exchange; and no one possesses the privilege to tax and expropriate. Moreover, no one in a private law society is permitted to prohibit anyone else from using his property in order to enter any line of production and compete against whomever he pleases.

The relationship to 3DP is clear: Utopian visions of a future in which low cost 3D printers are available to all citizens and where every garage has been converted into a personal manufacturing laboratory.  Although in the case of Defense Distributed the argument seems to focus on the uniquely American ennui surrounding the right to bear arms. The group's "Wiki Weapon" site is full of terms related to weapons and armory. They have even thought of a scenario in which bullets become unavailable pointing the possibility of 3D-printed designs for blunderbusses and bang-sticks accommodating "any kind of projectile".

Despite the overt focus of Defense Distributed on lethal weaponry, the language they use on their web site may indicate that this is a thought-prototype to highlight a thoughtful philosophy. Quoting from their  site:

"Guns prove out some of our younger generations’ beliefs about information and sharing at an extremity. If we truly believe information should be free, that the internet is the last bastion of freedom and knowledge, and that societies that share are superior to societies that censor and withhold, then why not guns? The firearm has pride of place in underlining an individual’s significance as a moral agent."

"This is a veiled way of asking if people are capable of handling their own freedom. Still a serious question, but let’s bring the paternalistic assumptions out into the sunlight. If you’re a modern political “progressive,” there is nothing that can be said to sway you from your social contract literal-isms and sense of duty to the cowering masses. But achieving your world of perfect safety, and transferring all risk of freely-printed guns, will require tyranny."

These guys may be educated!  The founder, Cody Wilson, is an engineer and law student.  In his manifesto he even quotes John Milton's Areopagitica for the liberty of UNLICENC'D PRINTING to the PARLAMENT of ENGLAND. Milton's title alludes to Isocartes's seventh oration, often called the Aeropagitic Discource (about 355 BC). There, Isocrates addresses the General Assembly of Athens on a topic of civic safety.

Will civil society embrace a Distributed Defense?

The group's crowd-funding plans are already in some disarray after Indiegogo froze their campaign and took down their public funding page, pending a Terms of Service review. They had raised $3015 to this point. Now they are accepting direct donations via PayPal, Bitcoin (an untraceable and encrypted P2P experimental digital currency with no central authority) or good old physical mail to P.O. Box 301765, Austin, TX. Where else!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The US Army is proposing to ship Rapid Prototyping Labs to the battlefield

The lab is a simple 20 feet long shipping container that’s packed with the latest technologies including a 3D printer, industrial CNC machine, plasma cutters and more.  The Rapid Equipping Force (REF) director, Col. Peter Newell, said that 3D printers “are not really inventing anything new; they are modifying something that exists already so they can do something else.”

Friday, 17 August 2012

Modern Meadows are 3D Printing meat

A start up creatively named Modern Meadow is attempting to apply advances in tissue engineering to create meat and leather without the need to raise, kill and transport animals. It sounds utterly insane, but the start up has received funding from some well known and respected sources, including  PayPal founder Peter Thiel.

Thiel thinks that 3D printed hamburgers could be pretty neat, and he bets that others will too. That’s why he recently donated anywhere between £160,000 to £220,000 to the effort. Some pretty serious scientists are at the heart of this, including:

  • Andras Forgacs, Co-founder and Director of Organovo Inc the much heralded 'Tissue on Demand' company and who own patents in the area of tissue engineering. Forgacs is also a consultant with McKinsey with a focus on translational science, innovation, venture capital and biopharma. 
  • Gabor Forgacs, Chief Scientific Officer of Organovo and an expert on Embryonic Biophysics and biological self-assembly.
  • Francoise Marga, Lab Manager at the University of Missouri with deep expertise in bio-printing, and co-inventor on core bio-printing and meat printing patents. 
  • Karoly Jakab, a biophysics post-doctoral researcher at the University of Missouri and U. of Virginia, with a focus on tissue self-assembly and bio-printing, Co-inventor with Marga on core bio-printing patents.
Phew! I cannot help but think that these talented scientists should stick to tissue engineering for human advancement, and not for making Hamburgers. I'm not sure the world is ready for a Dot Com Boom in 3D Printed Food Starters, but who knows, I've been wrong before.

Watch a video in which Andras Forgacs speaks about bioprinting at an Ideas Economy conference organized by The Economist.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Custom Everything for Emma via 3D Printing

Two-year-old Emma wanted to play with blocks, but a condition called arthrogryposis meant she couldn't move her arms. So researchers at a Delaware hospital 3D printed a durable custom exoskeleton with the tiny, lightweight parts she needed.

Nothing could be more "custom everything". Watch and learn:

Every parent wants a 3D printed fetus (foetus)

A Japanese clinic is offering parents-to-be the chance to hold their baby months before the child leaves the womb. Using a "Bio-Texture" process and MRI scans, the technology offered by Fasotec and Hiroo Ladies Clinic in Tokyo, Japan, creates a 3D model of the mother's foetus and womb.

There seems to be a theme emerging here. Previously we told you about a Japanese firm called The Clone Factory, who provide a service to scan and 3D print models of happy wedding couples.


The Motley Fool,  a multimedia financial-services company that provides financial solutions for investors through various stock, investing, and personal finance products, says that "The Future is Made in America" and that 3D Printing will put 100 million Chinese factory workers out on the street. Bold claims. Moreover, they assert that three companies control the technology and that not to invest in 3D Printing now would be like not investing in Apple, Microsoft, Intel or IBM during their early years as growth stocks.

If you have never read a Motley Fool Special Report you really should. Particularly entertaining are the list of 3D Printing wonders the author lists as evidence that "This Changes Everything". They are:
  • "I just saw a violin appear out of thin air and play a Bach sonata"
  • "Right before that, I saw someone cram a milk jug into a metal tube and pull a shoelace out at the other end."
  • "Heck, when I sat down to my desk this morning, I saw an anatomically perfect human kidney spun together on a cotton candy wheel. A surgeon used it to perform a successful transplant."
  • "And they can now print with more than 99 different materials. Not just high quality plastics, many of which are completely recyclable (like milk jugs) or biodegradable. But also some of the most durable and useful physical materials we use in the "analog" world, like wood, glass, rubber, steel, and concrete." "Some printers can even handle biological materials like human kidney cells. Or composites of more than two materials that create special properties like heat resistance."
  • "Some can make three dimensional objects from ordinary printer paper and even chocolate."
  • "How about an architect building a model? Or a product designer making a prototype? Or a dentist casting a mold?"
  • "One dentist in Belgium even fabricated an entire titanium jaw and successfully implanted it in an 83-year old patient. He says "there are no limits" to what 3D printing can do in the medical field: "We can replicate bones and even make them stronger than the original. It's like the Six Million Dollar Man.")"
  • "Scientists at Drexel University in Philadelphia are using 3D technology to create exact scale-model replicas of ancient dinosaur bones, a breakthrough that was never possible before."
  • "Another group of researchers is making shells for "homeless" hermit crabs. (They like the printed shells even better than the real thing.)"
  • "The Air Force's new F-35 fighter jets use components created with 3D printers. The process can make complex structures that were previously impossible to manufacture."
  • "Rolls Royce is using them too."
  • "Motorcycle maker Ducati cut 20 months (or 70%) off its usual development time for a new racing engine."
  • "A small supplier to Nike called Union Footwear got a leg up on its bigger competitors by faxing its design bid in 3D."
  • "An Ohio company that supplies crash test dummies to automakers is using the technology to produce new shapes and sizes that respond to client needs that can evolve by the day."
  • "3D printing is an "additive" process that builds objects from the ground up, layer by layer. One architect is even using it to make entire buildings."
  • "The Smithsonian is using 3D printers to digitize their entire collection; the statue of Thomas Jefferson you see in the National Museum of American history is actually a 3D replica of the original brass statue."
  • "Shoppers are already ordering lamps, jewelry, sunglasses, and even bikini swimsuits, all made to their exact specifications. (I know I won't miss having to try on shoes at the mall.)"
  • "CSI using a 3D printer to make a model of a crime scene bullet."
There is so much more in the report it worth a read. Then you can decide whether to take more Motley Fool advice and take up their investment suggestions. You know it makes sense.