Saturday, 22 December 2012

Ford seeds low cost 3D Printers throughout its design shops

An article published by GigaOM and reproduced in BusinessWeek claims that Ford Motor Co intends to put low cost 3D Printers near the workspace of every engineer, in order to encourage their creativity, design thinking and prototyping. 

Exactly how many 3D printers are already inside Ford is unclear. Engineers always love new tools.

"A Ford spokesman... while it’s tough to give an exact count of the number of employees who have the 3D printers, the company has multiple locations at the company’s Dearborn headquarters where hundreds of engineers have access. And at the carmaker’s Silicon Valley Lab in Palo Alto, all employees have Makerbots. The most popular areas they are in use today at Ford are in the Vehicle Design and Infotronics group."

If this is a trend, expect other global manufacturers to discover that a simple Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printer is a good enough tool to give to engineers. 

With FDM prices falling, and capabilities rising, is this a market? If so, good news for MakerBot Industries and the rest. 

Source of the story

Friday, 21 December 2012

Draw an iPad case and have it made in Paris

The number of ways businesses are going to allow consumers to customize products is going to explode. Trying to teach them to be 3D designers is not going to work. In this video, the simple act of drawing on a printed layout, and then scanning it, enables the materialization of an attractive iPad cover.

3DSVP is the first 3D print shop to open a physical 'walk in' store in Paris.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Inside Moddler, a 3D Print Model Shop

Grab yourself a $250,000 3D printer, 15 years of experience in design, and you too can do what Moddler are doing.

Listen to how John Vegher explains the 3D printing process using an Objet Eden500V.

He comments: "Another area of innovation is what everyone wants, a printer in their room [this big] so that you can print out whatever and wherever you want. I don't think that that's happen in any high resolution way or any really high quality way for .. decades ... but it's going to happen".

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

MAQET 3D Printed Collectibles

Last month I designed a robot model using an online tool called MyRobotNation. A few days later it turned up in the post. It was great fun, rather expensive, but I love my 3D printed robot. I showed it to my nephew and he immediately did the same.

My niece does like robots, but is not obsessed with them. Sensing she was feeling left out, I began hunting for a 3D print service that would appeal directly to girls. So it came as a great relief that I found MAQET and their impossibly cute series called "Emily the Strange".

Like all good designs, Emily comes with a 'Make It Real' button. I do think we are going to see a lot of 'Make' buttons coming to a device near you.

Founder of MAQET Keith Cottingham is a San Francisco-based artist whose work fuses computer art, photography, animation and sculpture. Keith believes the world of mass-produced collectibles has lost its imagination.

Designing My Emily consisted of choosing a pose, expression, starting patterns for her clothes, and then using various paint and 'stamp' tools to decorate her. (left) The system also offered to allow me to import my own art work.

More 3D printed collectible art here

Technical detail
As with MyRobotNation, MAQET collectibles are materialized on ZCorp 3D printers. Unlike MyRobotNation the models are finished in an attractive glaze.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Go Green with 3D Printing say Melotte

A company in Belgium called Melotte claims that 3D printing has considerable ecological and economic benefits.

The company has published an infographic with startling data about dental production processes with and without additive digital manufacturing. (right)

Is this hype, or real? We need to know more about the basis of the claim and the research approach used.

Others are also claiming significant benefits.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, additive manufacturing on average uses 50 percent less energy and saves up to 90 percent on materials costs compared to traditional manufacturing. Because one prints only the desired product, it greatly reduce the amount of materials used, and the energy required for manufacturing.

3D Printing plant
Furthermore, since additive manufacturing involves sending data around the world via the internet, rather than sending physical materials, shipping, packaging and storage is reduced to almost nil, which dramatically reduces energy use.

Lastly, the ability to cheaply print complex designs leads to more efficient designs and products, reducing the “footprint” of a product, and often strengthening it in the process. All of these factors together contribute to a dramatic reduction in waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

TeamPlatform releases new features

We've highlighted TeamPlatform before, a promising cloud based service for building collaborative, customer and partner facing processes for executing any 3D project.

Suitable for small or larger companies, the new features include:

  • New WebGL Viewer provides instant STL download of parts, assembly tree integration, and enhanced performance and supports over 65+ 3D data formats including 3D Scan, Mesh,  Point Cloud, CATIA, NX, Inventor, SolidWorks, ProE/Creo, IGES and STEP. 
  • Embedding a custom form and file uploader into your company’s website couldn’t be easier. Once a visitor uploads files and submits the form, the files and user-entered data are transferred securely to your predefined project workspace in TeamPlatform. 
More details here 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Materializing large 3D Printed objects

What do you do if the object you wish to 3D print is simply too large for your build chamber?

PRotos X400
Print size has been a limitation in all additive manufacturing processes, and is most acute in the 'build chamber' limitation of hobby 3D printers.

When the Makerbot 2 was introduced the company proudly announced a larger build chamber of 28.5 x 15.3 x 15.5 cm. That's still quite small. In similar vane Ultimaker boasts an "extremely large build chamber" of 21 x 21 x 20.5 cm.

What if you need larger? Well, there's the PRotos X400 designed by a RepRap group in Germany. It still only manages 40 x 40 x 35 cm. What if you need larger?

Recently, Bre Pettis CEO of Makerbot showed a sculpture of a horse head printed on a Replicator. How was it done? It was printed in parts, and glued together. In other words it was assembled, a rather traditional manufacturing process. That's cheating? Isn't the point of additive manufacturing to cut out assembly steps? Not only that, but the designer of the sculpture had the tortuous task of modelling each part separately but so that they would later fit together. Sounds like a lot of work.

In another story of large 3D printed objects, engineers at Stratasys and Autodesk showed an enormous colored model (with moving parts) of an entire aircraft engine - full scale. While the industrial printer employed was much larger than a Makerbot or an Ultimaker, even they could not print the engine as a a single object. Once again, the team 'cheated' and it was assembled from parts. Perhaps assembly is not so much of a problem?

Large prints have always been a requirement in additive manufacturing process. Suppose you wanted to produce the accurate contour of a car body. In a process called mammoth stereolithography a single part can realized up to 4 meters in length.

It is not inconceivable that larger industrial printers will appear in the future, but as all engineers know we will reach the point of diminishing returns ... although I also suspect that marketeers will continue to boast via stories of larger and larger prints. They do make for good publicity. But when the engineering constraints kick in, it will be back to cheating and good old-fashioned assembly.

CAD/CAM designers know all too well how to model parts that can later be assembled. It's quite an art. For the rest of us, could software come to the rescue? Could a software tool take a single 3D model - designed as such - and then post process it into parts that could be individually printed, and later assembled?

Chopper is experimental software for partitioning a 3D model into parts. The software formulates a number of desirable criteria for the partition, including ease of assembly, minimizing the number of components required, creating unobtrusive seams and ensuring structural integrity. It combines computer-aided partitioning, with user guidance.

More info on Chopper here

Chopper really is remarkable. Until the day such software is commonplace, we'll need larger and larger 3D printers in order to print out the humongous objects of our imagination. So its comforting to know that Objet have announced the Objet1000 printer.

So if you need to print a single object up to 1000 x 800 x 500 mm in volume, and with multiple materials (color, rigid/soft, opaque/clear), and with moving parts and in one operation, there really isn't anywhere else to go. Take a look at this marketing video:

Forbes go inside Shapeways

Shapeways believe that home 3D printers won't effect their service business, because people will print rough copies of their designs at home, and then will choose to print in higher quality for the final part, via a service like Shapeways.

It certainly true that people will become better designers by being able to make mistakes, and iterate quickly and cheaply, using their home printer.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Formlabs full steam ahead despite patent lawsuit

Despite a lawsuit from 3D Systems concerning potential patent infringement, Formlabs are moving ahead and have announced on their blog that low cost, high resolution stereolithography will make its way to your desktop.

"At Formlabs, we’re designers, engineers, and makers just like you. We all want freedom to design. Freedom to innovate. Freedom to create. That’s why we’re moving full steam ahead."

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Soil Scientists are using 3D Printing

While the consumer, art, aerospace and automotive applications of 3D Printing get all of the media attention, there are also many applications of what might be called the 'Long Tail'.

The 'Long Tail' is all about making the things you need, that you simply cannot get anywhere else, and which no one else needs.

In a paper by the Soil Science Society of America, a team describe how, using a 3D printer, they are able to create specialized soil-science equipment. One example is a permeameter. This device measures the hydraulic conductivity of soils.

Because complexity comes for free in 3D printing, the team were able to produce parts containing, for example, non-concentric structures and intricate conduits ... things very hard to make otherwise.

3D printed equipment for Soil Science
While such equipment is available off-the-shelf, those standard products would not give the soil scientists any ability to adapt their equipment to reflect new experimental methods in the field. What  if the soil scientists needed something really special or simply not available off-the-shelf?

It would be too expensive for them to place a contract for a custom part with a traditional manufacturer. To 'tool up' the supplier would need the scientists to place an order for hundreds or even thousands of units!

With 3D printing the scientists can model what they need on the computer, and press 'Make'.

Another advantage of 3D printing in scientific work is that the 3D model file can be shared on the Internet, allowing other scientists to improve on it. Even if other teams did not need to change the design, they would still be able to download it just by clicking on a web link, and then print it for themselves, locally.

Simple 3D printers are also portable. It is not inconceivable to take a 3D printer into the field, or on expedition, and print any parts needed on-site.

More info here

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Electrospining finds its place in 3D printing

I once asked if Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) counted as "3D printing?" According to at least one media story it does. I am now asking if electrospinning also counts?

Once again, a story connecting "3D printing" and an esoteric manufacturing technique is making the news.

Researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have apparently "3D printed" a material with the characteristics of human cartilage making it more amenable to surviving and even repairing itself in the body.

The experimental 'bio printer' combines two processes, ink jet deposition and electrospinning.

Printing bio materials from gels using inkjet technology is well understood. The difference here is that the electrospinning technique was added in order to produce porous and flexible 'mats' of synthetic polymer.

Electrospinning uses an electrical charge to draw very fine fibers from a liquid.  It is similar to electrospraying and conventional dry spinning of fibers.

It is unclear from published reports whether the ink jet and electrospinning processes were really combined in a new hybrid technology. The ink jet component of the experiment may have been limited to deposition of the living cells in amongst the fibrous layers creating by the electrospinning.

More info here

Is paper the new plastic filament at Staples?

"3D printing" refers to a slew of very different technologies. They share only one thing in common, a layer-by-layer approach to building an object.

In one process, plastic is squirted from a hot nozzle which moves in the X and Y axis, while the platform upon which the object sits moves in Z. It's called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) and comes in a few variations. It's the process used in most hobby printers because of its simplicity.

In another process, a laser beam flits across the surface of a liquid in wild and rapid movements. Where it touches the liquid a layer of the object is solidified. By moving the container in which the layer is being drawn, a complete 3D object emerges as if by magic! It's called stereolithography (SLA) and has previously been very expensive. However, new entrants like Formlabs will eventually be successful and prices will drop to allow all designers to have a unit on their desk.

In a very different process developed by mcor technologies a ream of standard A4 paper is used. Each sheet is fed into the machine, and laminated to the layer beneath using a water-based adhesive. Glue droplets are placed only where they are needed. Color is applied using inkjet technology to each page, as the build proceeds. After many layers have been built up, the ream can be removed from the machine and a solid object broken out. A tungsten blade is used during the process to cookie-cut the shape of each layer. Because the mcor process uses paper as its raw material, it works out cheaper for some applications.

Using standard paper for 3D printing is pretty unique, but mcor can also do this in a million colors, in 5760 x 1440 x 508dpi, and claim to deliver consistent, rich color, from part to part. How? See here

The company has recently cut a deal with Staples in the Netherlands to provide 3D model printing on demand. Customers will upload 3D data to the online Stables Office Centre and will pick up their model in their nearby Staples store (or shipped).

This news follow announcements at EUROMOLD of the new mcor IRIS printer, the first 'true color' 3D printer.

Because all of these processes are very different, and there are many more, each 3D printing 'technique' will find its niches in specific applications. There is no universal approach (yet).

Monday, 3 December 2012

CSC releases report on 3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing

The CSC Leading Edge Forum has released a report entitled "3D Printing and the Future of Manufacturing"

This detailed 33 page report describes current, near term and future potential developments in the field. It explains the disruptive implications of additive manufacturing without tooling, assembly lines or supply chains.

Download the LEF report on 3D Printing

Previous Leading Edge Forum reports have covered topics as diverse as Digital Identity, the Future of Healthcare, Windows 8, the Big Data rEvolution and Finance in the Era of the Connected Consumer.