Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Metal Powder

If you want to know everything about metal powder, try the Metal Powder report.

The magazine covers developments in metal powders, their use in Additive Manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D Printing) and related topics, such as ceramic powders, non-ferrous powders and powder production processes.

Metal powders are of increasing importance in many industrial processes.

Friday, 15 March 2013

3D printing ... It's hardware AND software, good news for Autodesk?

Makerbot is partnering with Autodesk the leading provider of CAD and 3D design software. Autodesk own the well known 3D software brands such as 123D, AutoCAD, Maya, Inventor, 3DS, Navisworks and others.

It's not so easy getting 3D software to talk to 3D printers in a way minimizes friction and re-work. The image of 3D printing as little more than hitting the 'Make' button is just plain wrong. In practice, 3D designers use many software tools, adjust many parameters, and oversee a complex multi-step process.

Take a look at this 'marketing' image from Bre Pettis and Makerbot Industries. It's clearly posed.

Whether or not those objects were printed on a Makerbot I could not tell you. But you can be sure that their production was a lot more complicated than downloading a .STL file from Thingiverse and hitting 'Make'.

And that's a problem if you want to sell 3D printers to consumers.

For Makerbot to be successful beyond the hobbyists, they need software optimized for a consumer 3D experience. Hence the partnership with Autodesk.

Remember the XBOX? Will Autodesk learn from Makerbot and produce their own 3D Printers? The 3D experience needed to create a mass market is not hardware, it is not software, it is the integration of both.

And as has been shown by the explosion of RepRap copies (there are now over one hundred companies making products similar to the Makerbot) its easy to make hardware, but a lot harder to develop software.

Software of the kind that Autodesk own takes decades of R&D investment. Good news if you want to bring the 3D Printer equivalent of the XBOX to market.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Unirapid, Japan, advances SLS for small detailed objects

Unirapid Inc in Japan have demonstrated a small SLS 3D printer which is claimed to have the same 3D printing quality as those costing 200,000 to 500,000 US dollars.

The printer is "specialized for printing very detailed designs, with a maximum build envelope of 150 × 150 × 150mm. The machine prints with a minimum of 0.05mm per layer."

The resin material used is ProtoGen 18420 from DSM, a liquid, ABS-like, photopolymer that produces accurate parts. In addition it can also use NanoTool also from DSM to produce strong, stiff, high temperature resistant composite parts.

The UNIRAPID III is suitable for making high resolution parts for research and development, but it is not recommended to make large models because the speed of construction is slow.

That's the contradiction inherent to 3D printing.  If you want detail in large objects, print times are excessive.  However, this development signals further advances in SLS down the line.

3D Printing high performance shoes for elite athletes

At the New Balance Games in January 2013, Team New Balance athlete, Jack Bolas, became the first ever track athlete to compete in customized, 3D printed plates.

New Balance has developed a proprietary process for utilizing a runner's individual biomechanical data to create hyper-customized spike plates designed to improve performance.

The process requires race simulation biomechanical data which the New Balance Sports Research Lab collects using a force plate, in-shoe sensors and a motion capture system.   Software is used to translate this data into custom 3D printed spike designs.

For the additive production of the custom plates, New Balance uses selective laser sintering (SLS) to convert powder materials into solid cross-sections.

In addition to printing semi-rigid parts like spike plates for track runners, New Balance is working on softer SLS printed components that mimic the cushioning properties of foam midsoles.

More info

Monday, 11 March 2013

i.Materialise or Shapeways?

Shapeways attracts a lot of press, but there are other interesting companies out there.

i.Materialise is a 3D printing service based in Belgium. Just like Shapeways they offer range of processes and materials. Just like Shapeways they offer a marketplace for designers to showcase their wares to drive on-demand sales. And just like Shapeways they offer product finishing services.

Browsing the i.Materialize gallery one cannot escape the conclusion that the 3D printed objects look very similar to those found in the Shapeways gallery. So why would a designer or consumer choose i.Materialise over Shapeways or vice versa?

A consumer with no intention to learn 3D design would probably just browse both galleries to find an attractive product. The winner will be the service offering the most desirable products at the right prices.

As a designer, both companies would be able to realize the majority of their 3D designs, but one or the other will probably provide higher quality, larger size, subtle finish or a service more relevant to their business model. The choice will depend on many tiny details to do with the additive manufacturing process options provided, or the terms of finance, e.g. designer fee percentages.

Since both service bureaus operate a buyer-marketplace, designers will probably choose to host their product designs in each, even if they decide to work with one company as their primary relationship.

For makers, however, just starting out and learning about the complexity of 3D design, the company that offers the best tools, learning and start-up experience will win.

The end game for companies like i.Materialise and Shapeways will be their ability to attract venture capital, broaden the range of services offered, to scale their operation and to provide exemplary service.

The winner is likely to be the company that offers the most comprehensive and reliable marketplace of 3D designers, 3D data and 3D processes.

So what happens to both of these pioneering companies when Amazon enter the market? Will Amazon build its own factory of the future? Or will Shapeways and i.Materialise appear inside Amazon's retail front end?

Consider this scenario:

Shapeways and i.Materialise have both created an entirely new product category. The unique 3D-printable products on show in their galleries are available no where else, literally. The additive manufacturing processes that create theses products are themselves a product, hard to find elsewhere in quite the same convenient and accessible form.

And then what happens when every company producing similar items also provide a 3D-printer powered mass-customization 'Make App' or 'Make Button' of their own?

Just as Amazon has become the channel to market for so many companies, won't Amazon want to absorb the 'Make' feature in every viable product category it covers? As as it does so, how will Amazon's CEO think about that factory of the future?

'Make Apps' that Make Products using 3D Printing

Shapeways is now providing Web APIs into its Factory of the Future platform. With the Shapeways API you can generate and sell physical products, just by writing code!

Your 'Make App' can submit 3D data files to Shapeways, control pricing, materials and finishing, with  control of the Shopping Cart customer experience. 

Mixee Me is using Shapeways via the new API to outsource its production to Shapeways. Each Mixee is designed by you using the Mixee editor app. Then, it is 3D printed by Shapeways and delivered to your doorstep. You get to decide what your Mixee looks like - you can pick the hair, eyes, body parts, even upload your own graphic for facial expressions and shirt designs! 

Learn more here

Documentation is provided to developers here. Shapeways are encouraging the sharing of client reference code via GitHub

re:3D Gigabot brings 30x the print volume in FFF

We've written before about the desire of engineers to materialize very large objects using 3D printing.  Now a start up company called re:3D has launched a funding round on Kickstarter in order to bring a Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) printer to market.

The Gigabot provides 30X the build volume of a typical desktop 3D printer.  It is capable of prints to 24" x 24" x 24" at 100 microns in PLA or ABS. Read about the team behind Gigabot here.