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Sandboxr: “Be Tony Stark” With A 3D Printer

A new company called Sandboxr aims to make 3D modeling software user-friendly and intuitive.  Sandboxr’s founder Berk Frei said his goal was to make users “feel like they can be Tony Stark from Iron Man.  They can design something in their computer and build it.”

Video and Photo Courtesy of Sandboxr

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Solidoodle 3: Introducing the Largest Build Area in its Class

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In early February, Solidoodle, makers of the first fully assembled $500 3D printer, the Solidoodle 2, unveiled the newest addition to the Solidoodle family. 

The Solidoodle 3 is incased in an all-steel frame, which means that a two hundred pound man can stand on top of it while it is printing.  Not only is the Solidoodle 3 durable, but it also contains one of the largest build areas in the desktop category of 3D printers.  With its dimensions of 8” X 8” X 8” (512 cubic inches), it has more than twice the volume of its predecessor, which had only 216 cubic inches. 

According to Solidoodle, the Solidoodle 3 3D printer will allow users to print larger objects with up to .1mm in layer resolution.  Although it is slightly more expensive than the Solidoodle 2, with a price tag of $799, the Solidoodle 3 still falls within Solidoodle’s goals of creating high-quality plug-n-play 3D printers, which fall well below typical 3D printing industry prices. 

Photo Courtesy of Solidoodle

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Solidoodle 2: Affordable, Out-of-the-Box 3D Printing

In a world filled with $1,000, $2,000, and even $40,000 3D printers, the Solidoodle 2 is an anomaly.  A 3D printer designed for the homes and desktops of hobbyists, its costs start at only $499!  

At Replicator World, we were curious about the Solidoodle 2’s price and capabilities, so we spoke with Sam Cervantes, the company’s founder and CEO.  First, we asked him about the conception of the Solidoodle 2.  “ When we first designed [it], we set out to create a printer that meets the needs of the majority of people.  We had three things in mind: quality, affordability, and ease of use.”

The Solidoodle 2 has all these qualities and more.  Once you order this mini-desktop factory, you can install its software package, and using Google Sketchup (as Mr. Cervantes demonstrates in the video above), a very intuitive modeling program, you can convert that Sketchup file into a file the printer will understand by sending it through the Solidoodle software.  Compared with other CAD programs many 3D printers utilize, such as Skeinforge, this process is a breeze.    

The original Solidoodle could only print 4X4X4’, but the Solidoodle 2 prints objects that are 6X6X6’.  However, as Mr. Cervantes explains, “there are some slight limitations, such as overhangs [and other complex structures] (the limit is about 60 degrees) but aside from that the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.  Our customers are printing toys, new inventions, useful objects for around the house, and nearly anything else…” 

We also asked him about the printer’s phenomenal price: “We’re able to sell the Solidoodle 2 at such a great price [fully assembled] because of the great engineering design.  Using my background as an aerospace engineer, I applied world-class engineering and design principles to create a totally unique printer from the ground up.”

Mr. Cervantes then went on to discuss the sorts of people who would want to buy a Solidoodle 2.  “Our target customer is a designer, dad, or hobbyist who wants a printer at a great price that works well right out of the box…the majority of our customers begin printing in an afternoon.  We expect our future products to be even more efficient and easier to use.” 

And what sorts of things are these designers, dads, and hobbyists going to be printing?  Mr. Cervantes has a great example.  “My personal favorite creation with the Solidoodle 2 is the Star Wars Yoda,…I like it because it’s a great demonstration of what the Solidoodle 2 is capable of.”

Indeed, many of the Solidoodle creations are impressive.  Mr. Cervantes says that “Solidoodle users all around the world are sharing their ideas with each other on our Google group, forum, website, and with each other.  Already we’re seeing new innovative 3D designs emerge organically within our community, and the possibilities are endless.  We see a bright future for 3D printing and the open sharing of digital designs.” 

We at Replicator World couldn’t agree more with Mr. Cervantes.  We look forward to a world where 3D printing, like computers and cell phones before it, “is something that we can’t live without.”

Photos courtesy of Solidoodle.com                       

Video courtesy of G4TV

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Objet: “Office-Able” 3D Printers

Sam Green, Creative and Content Manager at Objet, spoke with Replicator World about his company and the sorts of 3D printers they produce.  Objet merged with Stratasys earlier this year. 

 Objet was one of the original innovators within the 3D printing industry.  Their founders set out to revolutionize the way designers and manufacturers prototype products.  As Mr. Green states, “all Objet’s 3D printers work on the inkjet principle – that is they use print heads to jet liquid photopolymers that harden in UV light upon the build tray.”

Objet24 3D Printer

Objet currently produces three distinct lines of 3D printers: Objet Desktop, Objet Eden, and Objet Connex.  Mr. Green explains their basic differences quite easily.  “The Objet Desktop line features smaller build sizes ideal for desktop and smaller offices and come with a range of between 1 and 7 materials.  The Objet Eden line [includes] larger, industrial level 3D printers with a choice of up to 17 different materials including both rigid and a family of rubber-like materials.  The Objet Connex line consist [of] the same build sizes as our other 3D printers, but unlike the other lines [they] are able to mix and simultaneously deposit different materials at the same time to the same part.  This ability to mix two materials to produce different composites brings the range of possible material combinations for the Connex to 107 to date, and 14 material properties to the same part in one print job.”

Mr. Green was eager to discuss Objet’s (and in turn, the entire 3D printing industry’s) growth during the last several years: “Compared to our original systems, today’s Objet 3D printers are faster, higher resolution, more accurate, easier to use, with a much greater choice of build sizes and with a far greater choice of materials and material properties.” 

Knives?  Glasses?  Faucets?  “The possibilities are almost endless…”

He went on to add: “The Objet range of 3D printers can print virtually any product idea that you have in mind, ranging from small electronic hand-held devices to shoes and sports accessories, engineering parts, larger consumer goods, jigs, fixtures, transparent glass-like parts, functional parts such as clips and joints, etc…  The possibilities are almost endless.  Of course we are limited by the size of the build trays, but these bigger parts can be 3D printed in parts and then assembled.”

Mr. Green added that the only challenge “has been to find a means of making [3D printed models/prototypes] from the 3D CAD designs easily and to effectively represent the final product.”  (In order to share the 3D printed objects)

Objet30 Scholar

However, Mr. Green went on to explain his vision for a 3D printed future.  “As 3D printers become smaller and more ‘office-able’ in future we will see more and more 3D printers in every department and maybe even every desk in large design and manufacturing labs.  We envision a time when every designer and engineer will have access to their own 3D printer in the workplace very much like they do to a paper-feed printer today…. We see 3D printing becoming mainstream in the business arena.  That means a 3D printer will become an indispensable part of product development, in every office, department, and organization that is involved in designing, producing, and manufacturing real products.”

But Mr. Green still marvels at the wonders Objet’s printers can already create.  “My personal favorite [Objet created object] is the gear cube – it’s a cube made up of interlocking gears that is printed in a single step within the Objet 3D printer and comes out already fully assembled.  You can play with it for hours!” 

Images Courtesy of Objet

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How 3D Printing Can change the world

Can 3D Printing Change the World?

SeveBy Christopher Barnatt

Christopher Barnatt is a futurist, videographer, and Associate Professor of Computing & Future Studies in Nottingham University Business School.  His book 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution (from which quotations in this article are taken) was published on May 4th, 2013.  ISBN: 978-1484181768. RRP $14.99 US / £9.99 UK / €11.50 EU.

3D printing is increasingly being heralded as the basis for a new industrial revolution. Not least, many now predict that personal manufacturing will democratize how many items are made, with crowdsourcing communities soon to able to compete with the monolithic manufacturing giants who currently produce most of the items in our lives.

At present, much of the focus in 3D printing is inevitably on specific 3D technologies and the kinds of items they can help us print. Yet outside of 3D printing’s own community, wider commentators are starting to recognize the technology’s potential to help us respond to the looming challenges of Peak Oil, broader resource depletion, and climate change. For example, as explained by Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth is about to embark on a project that will in part identify how 3D printing and crowdsourcing could help ‘get us out of the precarious environmental position we find ourselves in’.

The ecological footprint of the human race is already significantly beyond what the Earth can sustain. To avoid environmental catastrophe, over the next few decades we will therefore need to start using fewer resources, creating less pollution, and generally achieving more with less. Not least such a strategy will be forced on us due to the pending specter of PeakOil. This refers to the point in time when oil production reaches it maximum, and beyond which it will start to decline. Exactly when Peak Oil will occur is hotly contended. Yet practically all serious analysts believe that it onset lies somewhere between 2015 and 2030.

3D Printing to the Rescue?

So how exactly may 3D printing help us save resources? Well for a start, because 3D printing is additive rather than subtractive, it will allow us to consume and transport fewer raw materials. Many companies have already recognized this potential, with Rolls Royce now spearheading a European Union project called MERLIN that hopes to save materials by using 3D printing in the manufacture of civil aircraft engines. At present, using subtractive manufacturing methods, the production of a 1 ton aircraft engine can consume over 6 ton of metal. In contrast, using additive manufacturing techniques, it is hoped to produce engines with close to a 100 per cent materials utilization,

And talking of aircraft, another initiative, called the SAVINGS Project, has been investigating the use of 3D printing to reduce the weight of aircraft components. AsitreportedinFebruary 2012, just by 3D printing lighter seat buckles, the project has demonstrated that 3.3 million liters of aviation fuel could be saved in the life of the average passenger aircraft.

In addition to delivering such savings, 3D printing will also allow many things to be produced far more locally. Today, most manufactured goods are transported long distances and contain components made in many parts of the world. Almost everything we buy therefore burns a significant quantity of oil in transportation. In fact, logistics and transportation account for about one in seven sales dollars spent. The mass application of 3D printing to enable local ‘materialization on demand’ could therefore help change this current wasteful reality by allowing objects to be transported digitally over the Internet, and then printed out in local stores or even at home.

Whenever the above argument is made there are those who counter that 3D printers will never be able to produce items using the same materials and with the same surface qualities as traditional manufacturing. To this I would simply counter that the promise of any transformative technology is not to produce old things in new ways, but to make new things in new ways. Before and after the Industrial Revolution — and indeed before and after the consumer goods revolution of the 1950s and 1960s — the nature of the products in most people’s homes was very different. 3D printers may never be able to print leather goods. But they can already print such products in new kinds of plastics to which future consumers will become accustomed.

Next-generation 3D Printing Supplies

Of course 3D printers do themselves consume raw materials, and at present these are often oil-based resins or plastics. This said, many 3D printers are already capable of producing objects out of a bioplastic such as polylactic acid (PLA). Recent developments in syntheticbiology also mean that, within a few years, it will be possible to ferment bioplastics directly from corn, sugar beat or algae. By the time Peak Oil arrives, it may therefore be possible to  grow local 3D printing supplies. In ten or twenty years time, it may even be common for retail outlets and some homes to cultivate vats of algae and synthetic bacteria in their yards or gardens, and which will serve as organic 3D printing supplies.

As another alternative, it may soon be possible for 3D printers to manufacture new objects from household waste. For example, a fantastic project called Filabot is already working to create a system that will grind up waste plastics and turn them into 3D printing filament. By the time domestic 3D printing goes mainstream, such recycling technology may be built-in to many models. Both garbage and old prints will therefore be able to be recycled into new items. Once again, increasingly precious oil will be saved.

A Return to Product Repair

The final way in which 3D printing will help us cope with Peak Oil will be by facilitating increased product repair. Today, when just one part of something breaks, we usually throw the entire item away. This is incredibly wasteful, and in a Peak Oil world of reduced resources and diminished transportation will simply not be an option.

One of the great promises of 3D printing is not just the local manufacture of final products, but the local printout of spare parts. In theory, with a 3D printer available, almost any broken item will be able to be repaired. Either spare parts will be stored digitally online and printed out when required. Or else broken parts will be scanned, mended digitally in a computer, and a replacement part 3D printed. 3D printing will therefore help to reduce the number of nearly functional objects that are consigned to landfill.

Localization over Globalization

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have increasingly relied on complex and dedicated production technologies that have had to be centralized far away from where most people live. But as oil and other resources dwindle this will no longer be possible. One of the greatest promises and drivers of 3D printing may therefore be that complex, multi-purpose production technologies may soon be applied at a very local level.

A 3D printer may potentially never make the same product or component twice, so allowing local businesses to become highly effective Jills and Jacks of all trades. A few decades hence, broad-market local businesses with 3D printing facilities may therefore be able to meet a wide range of local customer requirements just as traditional craftspeople always did in the pre-industrial age. And almost certainly, some items — such as toys, ornaments, basic spare parts and DIY fixtures — will be 3D printed in many people’s homes.

More information on how 3D printing may prove useful in fostering a more sustainable mode of living can be found in Christopher Barnatt’s book SevenWaystoFixtheWorld

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IRIS: A Paper 3D Printer

Dr. Conor MacCormack is the co-founder and CEO of Mcor Technologies.  During the development of their first product, the Matrix 300 3D printer, he was the mechanical lead.  However, with their new printer, the IRIS, Mcor had a highly specialized team led by Fintan MacCormack, who is the other co-founder of Mcor, as well as the CTO. 

Mcor printers service a need for commercial grade, high quality machines addressing the issue of high total cost of ownership and offering a technology with a TCO at a fraction of the cost. 

Matrix 300 

Their first foray into the 3D printing world was the Matrix 300.  As Dr. MacCormack says, “the problem in the market (as we [saw] it) [was] high costing and inaccessible consumables.  The Matrix 300 operates using sheets of regular letter sized office paper and a water based adhesive to produce tough, durable, and eco-friendly parts.”

Mcor wanted to build upon the path trail blazed by the Matrix 300 while maintaining their extremely low cost and eco-friendly “ethos”.  They knew that their customers desired full color 3D prints, so they began developing the IRIS.  The IRIS is indeed a full 3D color 3D printer.  “We see color as an essential offering to our customers- we think in color so our 3D parts should be in color.” 

“It operates on the same principal as the Matrix 300 – in that it uses sheets of letter sized paper and water based adhesives, however it deviates from the Matrix 300 in that now full color 3D images are printed onto the models as the models are being made with specialized Mcor inks.” adds Dr. MacCormack, “The printer improves on the Matrix by creating full 3D color photo realistic models…the IRIS produces sharp vibrant prints: printing to a pure white media produces better color authenticity and reproduction when compared with other color 3D technologies.”

However, if your company has a cheaper budget, you may still want to consider the Matrix:  “The Mcor Matrix 300 achieved some level of color or ‘ply-color’ as we call it, by introducing colored paper into the paper feed tray to produce layered color parts.  Obviously, this isn’t the full 3D color experience, but is a great alternative for those who do not need the full color IRIS, as by placing any range of color sheets into the paper feed can achieve a level of colorization.”

But the Mcor IRIS is designed with a large variety of customer in mind.  It targets anyone requiring high quality, tough, robust, colorful, and eco-friendly parts.  “In general [the Mcor IRIS] will address current needs in GIS, Entertainment, AEC, product design, and consumer markets…The color resolution will be 300dpi with over 1 million color with the best color fidelity in the industry.”   With the IRIS you can even take a recognizable face of a loved one from a photo and print it in 3D! 

Dr. MacCormack describes the printer best: “Misconceptions of what a paper part might be like are thrown out the window when smooth, tough, precise, and eco-friendly parts are placed into the hand for the first time.  The addition of the color IRIS machine brings this experience to the next level, producing photo-realistic 3D parts for the first time.”

Photos Courtesy of Mcor

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3D Printing: The Future of Chocolate

Dr. Liang Hao, who works at the University of Exeter, has been developing the process of ChocALM for a few years now.  This process involves the use of chocolate as a material in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, in other words.  He and his colleagues began work on what became the Choc Creator in October of 2011.  Choc Creator 1 

The Choc Creator is a simple, precise, and versatile desktop 3D chocolate printer.  Its innovative design allows users to conveniently refill the printing head with fresh tempered or decorative chocolates.  A fully stocked printing head can continuously print chocolates or decorative patterns for 15-30 minutes. 

The printer was created in order to serve as a cost-effective solution for individuals, chocolatiers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to make artistic, decorative, and seasonal chocolate products.  The only thing it is unable to do, at least for now, is print support structures.  Therefore overhangs can’t currently be built.  However, Choc Edge is aiming to develop a future printer, which will have that kind of support structure capability.    

Chocolate!

The ChocALM printing process begins when a user melts chocolate buttons, chips, or bars in a heating or tempering unit.  Then the user sets up the printing software and moves the printer into a suitable printing location.  After that, the user uploads and sets up the design and generates the printing code.  (G-code)  The user then fills the now melted chocolate into a syringe and fits the syringe into the printer, so that its tip is positioned on top of the printing substrate.  The user presses the ‘print’ button and the chocolate is automatically printed until completion.  When it’s done, the user can take the printed chocolates away and refill the syringe with chocolate for the next build.  (Or they could just discharge the remaining chocolate out from the syringe to keep as a back up)

More Chocolate! 

The team at the University of Exeter chose chocolate as their medium for spreading the message of 3D printing technology for a number of reasons.  As Dr. Hao says, “chocolate is an appealing material and many 3D printing hobbyists will find it a fun and low cost material to work with.  In addition, 3D printed chocolates have great commercial potential as personalized gifts.  At the moment, we target chocolatiers, retailing shops, and 3D printing hobbyists…”

However, in the future, Dr. Hao envisions something more ambitious: “the Choc Creator will become an appealing tool for people who want to…gain 3D creation skills.  It will encourage people to create chocolate designs for themselves while also sharing them with other people.  This collaborative, democratized chocolate creation will be empowered by emerging social networking and mobile technologies.  In the future, people will design their chocolates on their iPhones and iPads and send them to their printers or printers in various places such as shops, restaurants, and homes.”

Diamond Jubilee Chocolate

Indeed, this sort of social sharing of 3D chocolate designs is already emerging.  As with other 3D printing communities, Choc Edge’s has begun blossoming.  Nowhere is this more evident than with Dr. Hao’s favorite chocolate creation he’s seen so far.  A chocolate designer transferred a jubilee diamond queen profile (in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee this year) into a chocolate. 

This sort of design illustrates a great strength of 3D printing: the ability to communicate.  Dr. Hao would agree.  “Chocolate is a great social product and we want people to co-create pleasurable social experiences from 3D chocolate design and printing.”    

Images courtesy of Choc Edge

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The Dark Side of 3D Printing

Here at Replicator World, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the many, varied applications of 3D printing.  From broken faucets to iPhone cases to chocolate to jet engines, the possibilities are staggering and exciting. 

But what about frightening?

After all, with these machines becoming more and more capable of printing everything and anything you can imagine, it was only a matter of time before 3D printing got used in a criminal capacity. 

The three largest black markets of the world are the drug trade, the exotic species trade, and the arms trade.  Indeed, the drug trade accounts for just below 1% of the global economy.  That’s roughly $321.6 billion a year!  It makes sense that those profiting from these trades would use 3D printing in order to get a leg up on their competitors. 

Lee Cronin, a chemist at Glasgow University, recently created a 3D printing “chemputer”.  His vision is to create a directory of downloadable prescription drugs.  With his new machine, he has basically converted a 3D printer into a chemistry set. 

“Nearly all drugs are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as readily available agents such as vegetable oils and paraffin.  With [this] printer it should be possible that with a relatively small number of inks you can make any organic molecule.”  Cronin says. 

While his vision for readily available drugs is noble, the machine could be hacked.  It could be modified so that it prints out illegal, harmful drugs, in whatever quantity desired.  The same could be said for bioprinters currently in various stages of development.  Exotic species could become print-on-demand commodities.

But it doesn’t stop at just drugs or biological products.  More mundane, everyday objects could be 3D printed with criminal intent.  Home, office, or car keys.  Credit cards.  Indeed, as demonstrated by a hobbyist lock-picking group in Germany called Sportsfreunde Der Sperrtechnik – Deutschland e.V., you can even print a key, which will unlock police handcuffs.  As reported by PC World, “[they were] able to measure and reproduce the key accurately by using nothing more than a photograph of the key hanging from the belt of a police officer plus some basic math to gauge its size.  Afterwards, [they] not only printed out a copy of the key to test, but also put the model up online for anyone to print.” 

3D Printed Handcuff Key 

Though this was just a hobbyist group demonstrating the capabilities of 3D printing, this technology has been used in actual crimes as well.  A gang of robbers was prosecuted in September 2011 for stealing more than $400,000 dollars using ATM skimmers.  (Skimmers are devices, which fit over ATM machines and steal debit and credit card information from ATM users.)  These skimmers were printed on high-tech machines. 

This sort of crime isn’t new, however, as Michael Weinberg says.  Weinberg is the senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge, a public-interest group.  He’s written a legal white paper on the future of 3D printing and intellectual property called “It Will Be Awesome If They Don’t Screw It Up”.  In it he states, “one of the challenges the 3D printing community is going to have is going to be to remind people that just because it involves 3D printing, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be new.  The ability for people to manufacture these…pieces for instance has existed for as long as those pieces have existed, thanks to metalworking and milling machines.”  It is still probably cheaper to create these illegal objects using these older, more traditional fabrication technologies.  However, this is changing.  Once 3D printers start showing up in every house and business, this type of criminal activity is likely to become easier.

Just look at the weapons trade, for example.  Marc Goodman, a global security expert and futurist, in the above TED talk (skip to the 9th minute), predicted that 3D printed weapons were just around the corner. 

3D Printed Gun

Well, that prediction has already come true.  Have Blue, a blogging website, printed the above .22 pistol.  The blogger even fired 200 rounds to prove that it worked.  And if you can print a pistol, it’s no great leap of the imagination to go from that to larger, much more destructive weaponry. 

3D Printed Gun Magazine

Perhaps even more frightening, however, isn’t when people print out whole guns.  It’s when they modify them.  Look no further than MakerBot’s Thingiverse, a directory of 3D printed designs.  A user there posted the designs for an AR-15 magazine.  (A fully automatic AR-15 has the ability to fire 800 bullets a minute.)  This design can only hold five rounds of ammunition, and is therefore completely legal.  But whose stopping someone from modifying that design?  Extending the ammunition capacity of the gun?  Someone could easily print out a working, unregistered assault weapon. 

Moderating this sort of technology may not be all that easy, either.  As Weinberg says: “anybody who thinks they know what the world looks like with this is probably deluding themselves.  There’s a real danger from a policy standpoint that you’ll start worrying about this before you even know what it is.”  Indeed, adds Goodman, we may not even know what’s in store for the future of crime with the added dimension of 3D printing: “organized crime has benefited from the scarcity of illicit goods and by trafficking in black market products.  Their near monopolies have allowed them to control the nearly $2 trillion annualized trade in illicit goods.  But what happens to their business model when guns, drugs and animals are democratized?  How will they respond?”

The same question could be asked of law enforcement as well.  If the criminal underworlds are about to be spun on their heads by this technology, how could law enforcement possibly predict the specific outcome?  Weinberg illustrated the problem clearly: “It’s not time to ignore 3D printing, but it’s probably too early to start constructing the policy framework.  It’d be like trying to regulate the Internet in 1992.”

Video Courtesy of TEDtalks

Quotes/Photos Courtesy of Forbes and PC World.        

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We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Printer: 3D Printers for the Office or Workshop

Now that we’ve gone over the different “classes” of 3D printers and dived into an exploration of the top desktop 3D printers on the market, the next logical step would be to introduce the most popular ranges of Office, Professional Grade, and Production 3D printers.  These printers are more expensive, high-powered and (usually) much larger than their smaller counterparts. 

We will begin this overview with Objet-Stratasys.  A few months ago, Objet and Stratasys were two separate companies.  But in April 2012, they merged, while retaining two separate headquarters in Israel (Objet) and Minnesota (Stratasys).  The newly merged company is now estimated to be worth $1.4 billion, with Stratasys shareholders owning 55% and Objet shareholders owning 45%.  While Objet-Stratasys may streamline both their product lines so that they’re not competing with each other in the future, for now at least, Objet and Stratasys have distinct lines of 3D printers. 

                             Objet Connex 350                                                    Stratasys Mojo

Stratasys is known for its patented Fused Deposition Modeling technology, which allows their printers to produce parts made from highly durable thermoplastics, which are used in digital manufacturing and prototyping.  Objet printers, on the other hand, produce products with very high-surface finish and feature detail, but they have a lower durability.  (This means they are great for companies that need visual verification of concept models and prototypes) 

As Shane Glenn, Stratasys’ investor relations director says, “when we combine the two companies, we can go to the customer and offer them the best of both worlds.  We can offer them platforms that will enable them to do visual verification and at the same time offer them a commercial product that allows them to conduct fit and functional testing of their designs.”   

Objet, in recent years, has come out with three separate families of 3D printers.  These lines of printers have helped Fortune 500 companies such as Adidas, P&G, and Michelin create their various product prototypes.  The first line of Objet 3D printers, which they have dubbed “Desktop”, is a high-powered 3D printer line for the office. 

objet-launches-two-new-desktop-3d-printers-and-demonstrates-new-advanced-materials-at-euromold-P345283Objet24

This is not to be confused with the DIY desktop 3D printers many hobbyists are familiar with.  These are much more expensive printers, designed for companies with additive manufacturing in mind.  Though the Desktop line does not need full-time technicians in order to run them, as is the case with their larger counterparts, companies do need employees who are somewhat familiar with the technology.         

Objet’s next family of printers, Eden, is also used for professional rapid prototyping applications.  Unlike the Objet Desktop line, though, these are quite large machines.  They do still fit in the office, but as seen below, they obviously wouldn’t fit on a desk.

Eden260_Office

Objet Eden 260 

Objet Eden printers have high accuracy, printing objects with “ultra-thin” 0.0006” layers.  Additionally, the Eden line also offers high resolution, particularly in the y-axis of up to 600 dpi.  With four 3.6kg jumbo cartridges of material, the Eden line have two cartridges for Model material and two cartridges for Support, which allows for at least 72 hours of continuous unattended printing! 

Objet’s third and final family of 3D printers is the Connex line.  These are the largest and most expensive of the Objet printer lines.  (That’s not to say the other Objet printers are cheap)  Like the Eden line, the Connex line uses model and support materials to print 3D prototype objects with PolyJet printing technology.  However, unlike the other lines of Objet printers, the Connex line uses its model and support materials in order to create over 60 different materials (with up to 51 Digital Materials).  These materials range from “rubber to rigid, opaque to transparent, and standard to ABS-grade engineering plastics.”  The user (in other words, you) can adjust all these materials, so that you can arrive at the perfect material for the job at hand.  In order to be more efficient, the Connex 350 can even print multiple small objects during the same printing cycle along with its multi-material printing capabilities.

Objet Connex 350

These machines produced by Objet would all fall under the “Office” class of 3D printers.  The same can be said of their partner’s (Stratasys) printers, among them the Mojo.  A recent addition to the Stratasys pantheon, the Mojo costs $9,990.  A replacement for the waning uPrint 3D printer, Mojo requires no training, and the company expects it won’t just be of interest to engineers and educators, but designers and entrepreneurs as well.

Stratasys’ Mojo

The Mojo’s build envelope is only 5 x 5 x 5”, but Stratasys claims that 80% of all prototyping jobs fit into that volume.  They also claim that it takes just 30 minutes to set this printer up and have it printing.  Using their “intuitive” CAD software program, Print Wizard, which comes with the Mojo, the user can specify exactly what they want it to print.  The Mojo is supposedly a quiet printer, and support removal is included in the bundle, in the WaveWash 55.  The Mojo’s biggest selling point, however, is its Print Engine.  “For the same price as a comparable amount of Dimension material, the Print Engine gives you material and a disposable print head.  In making the print head a consumable, Stratasys has removed the most common cause of poor part quality.”  All in all, the Mojo is a good option for small shops (or smaller groups within larger corporations).  A separate line of Stratasys printers is Soldiscape printers, which, according to the company, “are primarily used to produce ‘wax-like’ patterns for lost-wax casting/investment casting and mold making applications.”

While Objet and Stratasys, at least for now, are focused on Office 3D Printers, 3D Systems (producers of the brand new Home 3D Printer, the Cube) are heavily involved with the “Industrial Grade” class of 3D printers.  We’ve touched on 3D Systems before.  They are the largest player in the 3D printing industry, and have been buying up many companies (large and small) in the market at a rapid pace.  Among their larger acquisitions has been Zcorp, makers of Industrial Grade 3D printers.  These printers are capable of printing parts with many different colors, prototyping machines and 3D scanners.  Zcorp (3D Systems) printers are much more powerful, giving the objects they create much greater detail and durability. 

3D Systems’ ZPrinter 850

The most recent Zcorp printer, the ZPrinter 850 (which came out at the end of April, 2012), is “5 to 10 times faster than other systems, enabling parts production in hours, not days.”  With 600 X 540 dpi, ZPrinters are capable of printing in full, vibrant color simultaneously.  The 850 includes clear, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black print heads, which allow it to create objects in “390,000 unique colors plus hundreds of thousands of possible color combinations.”  Even if you don’t think you need or can afford the ZPrinter 850, there’s a whole line of printers in the ZPrinter family, which you could choose from. 

Among 3D Systems other “Professional Grade” 3D printers are the ProJet line, which are smaller and less expensive, and Desktop Factory, which “uses powder, [which] is applied to a roller and a halogen lamp etches the pattern for a single layer onto this coating.  When the layer is complete, it’s rolled off into a build area, the roller is cleaned, and the process begins again for the next layer.  Layers are joined in the build area using heat and pressure.” 

                      ProJet 5000                                                       Desktop Factory

Not only are 3D Systems involved with Home, Office, and Professional Grade 3D printers, but they are also involved with the “Production” class of 3D printers as well.  Owning the North American distribution rights to Voxeljet (a German company’s) 3D printers, 3D Systems have their hands in a little bit of everything.  Voxeljet’s vision is the future of digital production.  These printers aren’t just meant for prototyping, but for printing and producing final products.  They are “ultra high-speed large format” 3D printers, meaning they can print a massive amount of material, very accurately, for a long period of time.  These are not Home or Office or even Professional Grade 3D printers.  You need a whole warehouse or workshop and a full time technician to store and run one of these babies!

Voxeljet VX4000

Indeed, Dr. Ingo Ederer, CEO of Voxeljet, says: “the past few years have seen veritable quantum leaps with respect to printing quality as well as printing speed.  The high-performance print heads of the new machines achieve excellent resolutions and printing speeds that are five times higher than even just a few years ago.  In addition, with our VX4000 we are now able to generate moulds of the size of a sports car – something that would have been unthinkable not long ago.” 

The VX4000 can even produce sand moulds with an eight cubic meter volume with dimensions of 4 X 2 X 1 meters.  Not only does this print space allow for the production of very large moulds, it also gives users the capability “for the efficient production” of large amounts of smaller objects.  It’s even printed designer furniture! 

The Voxeljet and other Production and Professional Grade printers aren’t the only wave of future 3D printing technologies.  The possibilities are endless.  Just ask Dr. Ederer.  “For us, as the pioneers of 3D printing technology, it is nice to see how this trend-setting method is establishing itself in more and more industries.  And it appears that the sky is the limit with respect to potential application areas.  Sometimes even we are surprised by the creativity of our customers.  From exclusive birthday gifts and reconstructed temple models to complete vehicle models and components for racing, designer furniture and architectural models – we are discovering new application areas for 3D printing every day.”

Photos Courtesy of Objet/Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Voxeljet

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Home, Office, Professional Grade: 3D Printer “Classes”

In our last issue, Replicator World reviewed the newest and most popular desktop 3D printers.  Whether they were DIY, as is the case with most Reprap machines, or they were pre-packaged printers such as the MakerBot Replicator and 3D Systems’ Cube, most of those printers fall into the range of $500-2,000 and print in the medium of plastics such as ABS.

But what if they just don’t cut it?

What if you work for a company that needs a printer with a bigger build area or higher quality prints?  Or if you want to print something using a mix of different materials?  What if your company, like Rolls Royce, wants to 3D print jet engines?  You’re not going to be able to print jet engines with your Reprap Mendel.  At least not yet.     

 

 

 3D Printed Jet Engine (Stratasys)

 In order to understand which types of 3D printers have these high-powered capabilities, first it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different “classes” of 3D printers on the market.  That way, you will be able to get the right printer for the tasks you need it to do. 

However, this process is a bit trickier than you might initially think.  While some 3D printers fall within the boundaries of these “classes”, many could arguably fall into more than one.  On top of this, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus (at least right now) of what exactly to call each “class”.  What one person may call a desktop 3D printer, another calls a consumer 3D printer.  This is cause for some confusion. 

But have no fear!  We at Replicator World are here to help. 

We’ve already written extensively about one of the “classes” of 3D printers.  Though this class is still in its infancy, it is blooming larger nearly every day.  These printers are designed for home use.  For right now, this means that mostly hobbyist, geek-techy types have them. 

But the potential is startling. 

Just think of a 3D printer, not much bigger than a regular paper printer, sitting on a desk or counter in your home.  Say one of your pipes breaks.  Or a kitchen appliance.  Or even your shoelace.  You could just go to your printer, design a replacement, and in twenty minutes (or probably less), voila!  There it is in your hand! 

A proto-form of this technology is available even as we write this.  For now, many of these printers come in open source kit packages, mainly from DIY places such as Reprap.  Some, such as MakerBot’s Replicator and 3D Systems’ Cube, come pre-assembled and ready to go right out of the box.  Their current price range runs from about $500 to about $2,500.

 

                         

3D Systems’ Cube                                    Reprap Mendel                              MakerBot Replicator

Home 3D Printers 

These “Home” 3D printers currently have their limitations however.  As we’ve stated before, they have much smaller build areas for 3D printed parts than their larger counterparts.  They also have limitations concerning the different materials they can use in order to create those 3D objects.  As you would expect with cheaper machines, for now Home 3D printers produce lower quality parts as well.  Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this class of 3D printer is the software (mostly open source) used to run them.  Though this is changing, and more user-friendly interfaces are arriving, the majority uses either really simple programs that don’t have many modification capabilities or very complex, technical programs that have high modification ability, but you would need at least some engineering skills to understand how to operate it.             

Which brings us to “Office” 3D printers.  These printers are targeted at businesses using additive manufacturing for commercial purposes, such as creating models, prototypes, and in certain circumstances, finished products.  These objects will rival the quality of parts created by larger, more advanced 3D printers, with slight differences in accuracy, material properties, and resolution. 

 

Objet Connex 350                                                                  Stratasys Mojo
Office 3D Printers

Due to the fact that Office 3D printers are intended for engineers who don’t have the time or interest in learning unnecessary systems operations, this class of machines usually have simple (virtually pushbutton) operation.  Though, they do lack more advanced features like the ability to control build parameters, build processes and part characteristics.  With a $7,000-40,000 price tag and a build envelope of 200 in3  – 800 in3  (compared with the Home printers’ wide variety of envelope sizes (8 in3 – 800 in3)), Office 3D printers are a good option for smaller companies with varying 3D printer needs with engineers and designers in need of a quick, pain free pushbutton experience. 

A step above Office 3D printers sits the “Professional Grade” 3D printers.  Twenty years ago, these were the only 3D printers around.  At $30,000-750,000 and with a build envelope range of 800 in3 – 18 ft3, this class contains most 3D printing technologies and advanced features available.  Professional Grade 3D printers are designed for heavy use.  They are suitable for any application, from concept modeling to full production, which allows them to be used as a service bureau fixture as well as an in-warehouse resource.  In order to take full advantage of the advanced capabilities, operators have a large amount of control over the process.  However, because of this, unlike the smaller printers on this list who only need a casual user, these machines demand a skilled, fully trained technician.  Another thing to keep in mind is that these machines are big, loud, and messy, so they usually require a lab or shop-environment with high voltage, HVAC controls or compressed-gas lines. 

            

3D Systems’ Zcorp 3D Printers

But compared with Home and Office 3D printers, Professional Grade machines have a much higher level of control, quality of products, throughput, and capacity.  Much of this is due to the material options.  Unlike their smaller counterparts, with Professional Grade, you get a wide selection of available materials, from plastics to metals.  All in all, these machines are perfect for companies with a daily need for models, prototypes, tools, and high quality production parts with a centralized, shared system.  

And beyond Professional Grade are “Production” 3D printers.  Production machines take the idea behind Professional Grade machines and add greater automation, larger capacity, and improve the operational monitoring in order to ensure consistent part quality.  Even though some Office and Professional Grade 3D printers are capable of producing end-use parts, the Production class is far more capable of high-volume, series production applications.  With a build envelope of 8 ft3– 285 ft3 and costing a whopping $300,000 – 1,000,000 (or more) Production 3D printers are not for your average DIY hobbyist working out of his or her basement. 

Voxeljet VX4000

A company, which invests in a machine like this will want skilled operators to maintain it and keep it running.  Additionally, you will need to supply power, gases and HVAC.  Plan installation as you would any conventional manufacturing line.  Object quality will match or exceed Professional Grade quality, as will the range of materials available.  To sum up the fact, Production 3D printers would work well for companies with a need for extremely large objects and/or very high throughput and can be used for part manufacturing, mold production or functional prototypes.         

And there you have it: an overview of the current “classes” of 3D printers.

Photos Courtesy of 3D Systems, MakerBot, Reprap, Objet/Stratasys, and Voxeljet

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“Imagine it and Make it Real”

For fifteen years, Sarah Stocker and Mark Danks worked in the video game industry.  They had experience in all kinds of genres and with all sorts of platforms.  “We learned from making games that everyone is creative.  Everyone can create.  We all just need a fun and easy way to start.” 

So when they discovered 3D Systems’ ZPrinting technology and saw its color and quality capabilities, they knew that “3D printing was ready to jump out of the domain of rapid prototyping and engineers and be a true consumer experience.  Imagine it and make it real – how futuristic is that?” 

Equipped with this revelation, Ms. Stocker and Mr. Danks founded My Robot Nation.  “It’s been amazing to see how quickly the creative community of MRN has grown!  We launched My Robot Nation in the end of October 2011, and were acquired by 3D Systems in April of this year.”

Basically, My Robot Nation allows users to create their own unique robots straight on their browsers.  This is done by mixing and matching parts, placing attachments and stamps, and choosing colors and poses.  “…then when you’ve got him or her JUST the way you want, we’ll make him real using the magic of full-color 3D printing and send him to your door!” 

When asked why they chose robots, Ms. Stocker explains simply: “we knew it had to start with robots – cute, mischievous, infinitely variable robots.”

My Robot Nation uses 3D Systems’ ZPrinting technology to make these robots.  Each of them is unique and in full color, made from a material much like plaster of Paris, which feels quite like a ceramic object.  As Ms. Stocker says, “we took those years of game design and interactive technology expertise to build the engine and creative experience that drives My Robot Nation.”  They’ve even integrated social features into an online site, which allows robot creators to share their designs with each other, called The Nation. 

This portion of their website fosters a rich and active community of master creators.  These include creators such as Chilong, Bfryman, Darwin, Chienhow, and Cygnes, to name a few.  These creators (and others like them) have designed hundreds of robots that look like skyscrapers, samurai warriors, knights in shining armor and even tentacled aliens.

“We knew from the start it would be vital to let people show off their creations and be inspired by what others create.  When you put your heart into something, you love to share it, and it’s incredibly validating and encouraging when another person appreciates what you do.  In the Nation we have a photo of every robot ever created, and a page where anyone can ‘Like” that robot and promote him in the Nation.  It’s exciting to see how completely the Nation has adopted that and how proud people are of their creations.  We also made it possible for people to share them on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ so that everyone can see the awesome creations of the My Robot Nation citizens.  Our favorite part is when people send us photos of their robots in the real world – we love to see robots in the wild!”

So what made Ms. Stocker and Mr. Danks create My Robot Nation?  “We wanted to empower people’s creativity in a new and amazing way – by letting you create something on your computer, then hold the real life object you created in your hand.  We wanted to take that experience directly to consumers and build a platform that lets anyone, anywhere be creative in 3D.”

Ms. Stocker is so enthusiastic about 3D printing that she went on to say: “3D printing is this decade’s greatest technological game changer and we wanted to bring it directly to the public and let people play with it!  Our target customer is anyone who wants to express and share their creativity.  Robots are just the beginning.”

My Robot Nation teamed up with 3D Systems for this reason.  “[It was] natural to us – they share our excitement about unleashing creativity with the coolest technologies.  They’re the company that founded the original 3D printing technology over 25 years ago and they are deeply committed to empowering consumers with the ability to create and make in 3D.  3D Systems lets us take that goal farther and faster, creating a future where we all don’t just buy objects someone else created any more – we make our own!” 

You don’t have to look too far to see a perfect example of this shift to a more personalized product.  The robots are showing the way.  One of Ms. Stocker’s favorite stories coming out of ‘The Nation’ concerned a robot created during the holidays last year.  “One of our Citizens used a robot she created to propose to her boyfriend!  The robot had ‘Will You Marry Me?’ written on it.  He opened the package Christmas day and said ‘Yes!’  We were so touched that they chose My Robot Nation to be part of their love story.”  Indeed, that is how Ms. Stocker envisions the future of 3D printing.  “We are democratizing creativity and putting it within reach of everyone!”

Video and images courtesy of My Robot Nation

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3D Printed Globe

Now What?: Your First 3D Project

You’re sitting at your desktop ready to go.  You’ve got whatever design software you’ve chosen all fired up on your computer and your gleaming new 3D printer is tingling beside you.  Now the question becomes, what do you print with all this?

Well, the simple answer would be anything you can imagine. 

But that’s not entirely true.  Especially not while using the current state of technology in the desktop branch of the 3D printing industry.  That isn’t to say it’s primitive or even poorly engineered, (well, for the most part, in any case), just that currently it’s slightly limited. 

This is particularly true if you decide to build your own printer from sites such as Reprap.  Even though these printers still have a lot of options for what you can print with them, they usually have small print areas and you can clearly make out the layers in the printed plastic or any material you choose to use after printing is completed.

Although, if you know what you’re doing, your objects will come out looking great, like this plastic statue (the white one to the right) scanned from the original (on the left) and printed on a Reprap printer.

But currently, what sorts of objects can people print using these machines?

Well, for starters there’s the Chocolate Creator from ChocEdge.  Yes, you read that right: chocolate!  You can 3D print chocolate.  A team of scientists (that became the company ChocEdge) from the University of Exeter have developed a process they dubbed ‘Chocolate Additive Layer Manufacturing”, or ChocALM for short.

Choc Creator by ChocEdge  

This process uses molten chocolate as many other 3D printers use plastic; pumping it through carefully temperature regulated nozzles and layer-by-layer the chocolate hardens.  They have used this process to create their Chocolate Creator printer, which has just gone on the market. 

Or, if chocolate isn’t your thing, you can print robots!  My Robot Nation, which has just been acquired by 3D systems, is a mail-order customizable plastic robot creator. You can go on their website and create a unique little robot with different options for heads, arms, decorations, body types, etc… using a web GL application inspired by video game user interfaces.  (The founders of My Robot Nation came out of the video game industry.)  There are literally 9 billion different combinations of robot features you can add on, which is great for individualized gifts. 

The robots are then 3D printed and made out of gypsum powder, which is quite similar to plaster of Paris.  Then My Robot Nation puts your robot through the mail for delivery.  Now, because My Robot Nation has been acquired by 3D Systems, makers of the new Cube 3D printer, it seems quite likely that very soon you will be able to print these robots or something like them straight onto your own desktop 3D printer.  

Speaking of the Cube, when customers order this new printer (which prints plastic), twenty-five pre-made designs come with it free.  These include designs such as a platform shoe (complete with a space to hold your iPhone), cups, buttons, a bracelet which holds an itouch, even a chain-link glove ala Michael Jackson. 

Cube Highheel with iPhone case

On top of all these nifty designs, 3D systems has built Cubify, a space where cube “artists” can share and monetize their custom-made designs in an online market place.  This is not a new idea.  There are several online market places for 3D printed objects.  These include Shapeways, where, among a myriad of other objects, a user can either download designs for or order through the mail custom-made iPhone cases.  Some even have 3D print words (that you can design yourself) onto them!  MakerBot’s Thingiverse provides a similar interface for sharing 3D designs among owners of MakerBot printers.     

Indeed, with MakerBot’s Replicator, you can make a wide variety of 3D objects.  Due to its double extruder capabilities, you can even print in two colors!  (Like the blue and green globe at the top of the article.) 

Botmobile

You can even order a small motor and rubber wheels from MakerBot, and download design files that can be used to build your very own, customizable remote control car. (The Botmobile)  And if you’re really ambitious you can print a Reprap printer out of your MakerBot printer.

All of these online marketplaces for 3D designs point to the future of consumer items.  Really, they won’t be “consumer items” anymore.  Consumers will be participants in the creation of the objects they make and buy.  (see the above video, 2:20 on)  Even now, when people need a new doorknob or other such household item, they can scan and print it, while making their own unique modifications or adding the modifications from a fellow creator in the marketplace.  The era of mass production is truly over.  The era of democratized design in community has begun.

Video courtesy of Explainingthefuture.com

Images courtesy of Reprap, ChocEdge, My Robot Nation, Cubify, MakerBot

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