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The Washington Post: Lego Keeps an Eye on 3D Printing

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Last issue, we reported on a recent deal between 3D printing giant 3D Systems and famed toy company Hasbro. 

But as an interview between the Washington Post and Lego spokesperson Roar Rude Trangbaek reveals, not every toy company shares Hasbro’s enthusiasm for the industry. 

We won’t quote the whole article here, but it makes some interesting points: “you see the danger here for Lego.  3D printing may prove to be one of the biggest tests the company has ever faced.  Unlike the rise of PCs and tablets, which merely demanded that Lego invest in new digital products, 3D printing strikes at the heart of Lego’s core business.  Manufacturing small bits of plastic is, in fact, what 3D printers do best.”

For now Trangbaek isn’t worried, saying “it’s a lot harder than it looks to produce high-quality bricks…Lego doesn’t see rapid prototyping as a replacement for the ‘sophisticated molding process’ it currently uses to produce 55 billion Lego pieces a year…the result is a building block that snaps together and holds like glue yet can be easily dismantled by young hands.  ‘If you do it a little bit wrong, the bricks might not stick together, or maybe they’ll stick too well and the child won’t be able to pull them apart.’ said Trangbaek.”

However, as the article admits, Lego does use 3D printing technology to prototype their products, such as their brand new replica of the Simspons’ House.

Check out the whole Washington Post article here.

Image Courtesy of Lego

Quotes Courtesy of the Washington Post   

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Local Motors to 3D Print EV Car

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As reported by Autobloggreen, the public will be able to watch an EV Car being 3D printed at “this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, IL in September.”

“Two years ago, at the 2012 International Manufacturing Technology Show, Local Motors built [a] Rally Fighter [vehicle] on the grounds during the six-day event.” 

Local Motors says it will create the “direct digital manufactured vehicle based on the plans created by the company’s ‘global community’.”  Many of these advanced manufacturing techniques “came from the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and once any kinks have been worked out, the plans could be fairly easily adapted to make EVs that work exactly right for local conditions.”

Bonnie Gurney, the director of communications for AMT, added “Local Motors is undeniably the first disruptive entrant into the US automotive industry in decades.”

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of Autobloggreen

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“Print the Legend”: A Documentary About 3D Printing

                  

Print the Legend, a documentary about the 3D printing industry, particularly its startups, was launched at SXSW this year.  Gizmag spoke “to directors Luis Lopez and Clay Tweel, and one of the producers, Steven Klein.”

The filmmakers explained that their producers “Chad Troutwine, Walter Kortschak, Dan O’Meara, and Rafi Chaudry approached [the] team about making a film about Apple and Steve Jobs.  We proposed that we try and find the next Steve Jobs as a way of examining the archetype created around this mythic entrepreneur.”

As Gizmag points out, their creative process was occurring right around the time when “Bre Pettis, CEO of MakerBot, appeared on the cover of Wired.

The film premiered on Sunday, March 9th at SXSW and “Lopez, Tweel, and Klein stated for the record that they aren’t experts in 3D printing, though they can now craft educated opinions about the technology.  ‘Everyone on our team has become a believer in the potential of 3D printing.  In addition to plastic printing – which will allow exciting things in itself – the ability for bio-printing and metal printing seems likely to have a big impact on our lives in the not-too distant future.”

“In our amateur opinion,” they went on to say, “we think that there are three basic reasons for the 3D printing boom.  First, it’s simply the case that these machines used to be too big and too expensive for everyday folk, and the industrial manufacturers just didn’t see that normal folk would have interest in the tech if they made is smaller/cheaper.  So, the barrier to entry is lowering.  Second, now that consumer versions and wide scale competition are forcing innovation, we’re going to have home access to higher and higher quality printers.  And, third, people got much better at telling the story of 3D printing and its inspiring potential, and there is probably no single group more responsible for that than Bre Pettis and his MakerBot team.”

Update:  As reported by CNET, online video streaming provider Netflix has acquired the rights to ‘Print the Legend’.  “The movie will be available to all Netflix subscribers and will premier exclusively on the streaming service in 2014.”

Video Courtesy of SXSW

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Gizmag and CNET 

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BioPrinting Tissue for Blood Vessel Cells

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MedGadget reports on yet another breakthrough for 3D printing within the medical industry.

Harvard University researchers detailed a new method in the journal Advanced Materials.  This method involved “3D printing constructs made of three different cell types, including ones that line blood vessel walls.”  This method was developed in order to “integrate vasculature and [bring] together different cell types into a functional whole.”

Large chunks of tissue “require oxygen to penetrate into [their] interiors”, so this 3D printing construct will “allow for much larger pieces of printed tissue to be created.”

As the Harvard press release detailed, in order to 3D print these tissue constructs with a “predefined pattern, the researchers needed functional inks with useful biological properties, so they developed several ‘bio-inks’ – tissue-friendly inks containing key ingredients of living tissues.”  The team 3D printed, “constructs with a variety of architectures, culminating in an intricately patterned construct containing blood vessels and three different types of cells- a structure approaching the complexity of solid tissues.”

Once the team “injected human endothelial cells into the vascular network, those cells regrew the blood-vessel lining.”     

Image Courtesy of Turbosquid

Quotes Courtesy of MedGadget

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3D Printed Materials: Wood

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As reported by Design News, “you can 3D print with wood filaments right now, using a choice of filament colors and widths.”

“The materials are usually a combination of wood with some type of polymer binding ingredient, and there’s a range of price and quality.”

Design News has a slideshow detailing all of the different options: “Objects made from these materials also vary in aesthetic appeal, depending on design, materials, and finishing processes.  Some look like plastic, some resemble low-grade, rough-cut lumber.  Others are stunningly beautiful, high-end art objects made by architectural design firms that look just like the real thing.”

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of Design News

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Amazon Launches 3D Printing Storefront

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Tom’s Guide reports that Amazon recently “launched an online storefront for 3D printed objects and downloadable design files that can be printed on home machines.”

Amazon partnered with “four companies that offer 3D printing as a service, most notably Cincinnati-based 3D printing store 3DLT, a storefront that partners with designers to sell 3D printable files.  The company also sells finished 3D printed works, but customers have to buy the file first.”

3DLT CEO John Hauer was interviewed by Upstart Business Journal, saying “that Amazon approached the company when 3DLT started selling its products through Amazon’s site.  ‘They said, ‘that’s all well and good, but we don’t have a category called 3D printed products.’  We said, ‘We’d like to help you create one.’” 

Amazon’s new storefront for 3DLT “has only 43 products on the Amazon storefront, mostly jewelry, smartphone cases, and small decorations.  They all come printed in Nylon Polymide, and only the color is customizable.” 

For now.

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Tom’s Guide 

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3D Print Canal House

                      

DUS Architects developed the ‘KamerMaker’, which is Dutch for ‘room maker’ to build a canal house in Amsterdam room by room. 

According to Gizmodo, the “giant printer [was] custom built inside a shipping container.  Just a few weeks ago, KamerMaker began printing plastic furniture…smaller versions of the unusual honeycomb walls have been tested on normal desktop printers…and just needed to be scaled up…the first few printed blocks are meant to be test pieces as they improve the process.”

Right now, “it takes about a week to print a 3-meter high block…the project’s leaders hope to eventually get that down to two hours and finish the first of 12 rooms in a year, and the entire house in less than 3 years.”

The public can visit the 3D Print Canal House while it’s being constructed for 2.50 Euros.

Video Courtesy of 3D Print Canal House

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Gizmodo 

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Shenzhen: “From the World’s Factory to Its Incubator”

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The EE Times blog recently ran a story covering a significant shift in the economic culture of Shenzhen in China. 

Widely known as the ‘factory of the world’, Shenzhen is the “home of iPhone production, migrant workers, and the center of a huge electronics component bazaar.”  While this is still predominantly true, Shenzhen is rapidly changing.

This change has been brought about by “Chinese workers…driven to seek more knowledge and join movements like ‘chuang ke’ (translated as ‘makers’).”

“Yang Yang, founder of RPTechWorks, has been teaching how to build open-source 3D printers and selling 3D printers since he got first involved in their development at his alma mater, the University of Warwick in the UK.”

“Yang believes that ‘labor intensive’ Shenzhen will eventually become a city known for fast prototyping with ‘shortened development cycles’.”

“Qifeng Yan, ex-director of the Nokia Research Center in Shenzhen (closed last year), is also predicting Shenzhen’s shift from the world’s factory to its global incubator.”

Jingfeng Liu, founder of pcDuino, describes the burgeoning Chinese maker movement: “Unlike their counterparts in the United States who tend to be older, have real jobs, but are high-end hobbyists or aspiring innovators, Chinese makers tend to be much younger, often still university students.”

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of the EE Times    

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3D Printed Hip Implant: Teenager Walks Again

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Fanny Fellesen, a 15-year-old from Sweden, “suffered from a congenital disease [Von Recklinghausen’s Disease] which [caused] a neurofibroma, a benign tumor which grows on the peripheral nervous system, [resulting in] extensive damage to her pelvis.  When surgery to remove the neurofibroma was followed by complications and ultimately a severe skeletal deformation of her left hip, the treatment options were limited and her doctors were uncertain if she would ever walk again.”

However, as reported by Gizmag, Professor Rydholm of Skane University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, who was in charge of Fellesen’s case, contacted Mobelife, a Belgium-based implant design company, which describes itself as “a specialist in implant design and production for challenging bone and joint reconstruction surgery.” 

Mobelife was able to create a custom implant using “a tomography scan, which creates a picture of [Fellesen’s] unique bone anatomy.  The implant was then used to reconstruct the defect, with screws attaching the implant placed strategically, based on the quality of the surrounding bone.”

As for Fellesen, whose operation took “place in September 2012, she was pain free almost immediately afterwards.  By Christmas she was out of her wheelchair and walking with one crutch, and now some 18 months later, is walking entirely un-aided.” 

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of Gizmag

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WhiteClouds: Where Imagination Comes To Life

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In November of last year, Replicator World ran an article about a new company, WhiteClouds, which had just set up shop near Salt Lake City, Utah. 

WhiteClouds’ CEO, Jerry Ropelato, heard about Elon Musk’s proposal for the futuristic Hyperloop transport system and urged his team to create a (non-working) replica using the magic of 3D printing. 

As with many projects the WhiteClouds 3D design team tackles, they decided to print three different materials on three different printers.  It took less than 24 hours to complete!

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According to WhiteClouds’ website, “each designer took a component of the Hyperloop concept and designed digital 3D models based on images released by Musk.  The model consists of elevated tubes that are supported by pillars.  There are passenger transport capsules that run through the tubes and a station where people [could] load and unload.”  The WhiteClouds team used Autodesk Maya as their CAD software and then sent the designs to the printers. 

“The Connex 500 printed the pillars in an ABS-like plastic.  The tubes are made of a clear UV-cured resin and printed with the ProJet 3500 HDMax.  The ZPrinter 650 printed the station platform and the pods.”

Well, we just had to see it for ourselves. 

We got the chance to visit the WhiteClouds showroom and offices, located in the foothills of the Wasatch Front in Ogden.  Mr. Ropelato and WhiteClouds’ Print Production & 3D Designer Lead Jess Schenk showed us around.

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WhiteClouds’ showroom is vast.  A gigantic Stratasys Connex 500 sits on one side, “the largest 3D printer in Utah!” Mr. Ropelato beams.  On the other side of the room sits a 3D Systems ProJet 660 Pro.  And in between these heavyweights is a 3D printed wonderland. 

Resting on hexagonal shelves that wrap around the walls on every side is a cornucopia of 3D printed objects.  From architectural models, to incredibly detailed heads, to heroic figures like Thor and Merlin, to spiders designed with spine tingling accuracy, the WhiteClouds’ showroom has it all.  What is amazing is the diversity, both in color and materials, on display.

When we arrived, Mr. Ropelato explained that WhiteClouds is busy with many simultaneous projects for their various customers, but one of their main focuses is on their booth for Salt Lake City Comic Con’s Fan Xperience on April 17-19th, 2014 at the Salt Palace.   

WhiteClouds already displayed a similar project at CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, but Mr. Ropelato was keen on expanding it.  In keeping with the science fictional nature (still!) of 3D printing, WhiteClouds’ design team is creating and printing dioramas containing “cities of the future.”

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As with the Hyperloop model before them, these objects are printed using multiple 3D printers.  For example, many of the large bases for the project will be printed on the Connex 500.  But for more subtle, colorful, and intricate portions of the models, the team prefers to use the Z printers.  Even a spaceship that is six inches long could be printed on both.

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WhiteClouds is still a new company, so Ms. Schenk explained to us that designing and printing these projects can be a learning process.  However, WhiteClouds’ 3D designers have gained many skills through experience.  It takes about a year of courses to be fully trained in Maya, WhiteClouds’ preferred CAD program.  Even then, you must learn to keep in mind how an object will be printed, Kelly Root, one of their designers, added. 

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Mr. Root and his colleagues create designs, which allow for different materials and different printers.  Designs with large bases that can be built upon with more intricate parts later on or including material and support structures that will hold their models upright.

As Mr. Ropelato and Ms. Schenk showed us around, it became evident that one of WhiteClouds’ favorite mediums to print in is a sandstone-like material.  With these types of industrial 3D printers, many of the objects begin as powdered resin and are laid down layer by layer.  Once the print job is done, a designer can blow off the excess powder within the machine.  But even then, the process isn’t done. 

Ms. Schenk showed us objects that come straight out of the machine and they were extremely brittle.  This is particularly true if the models are made from this multi-colored sandstone substance.  Therefore, it is necessary to add superglue once the designs have been fully printed.  That way, the object won’t be brittle anymore and the vibrant colors will show even more brightly than they had before.      

Many of the 3D printed objects on display in their showroom are made out of this sandstone-like material.  Mr. Ropelato showed us a selection of miniature buildings, which architects use to help customers visualize blueprints.  Some of the models were hollowed out, while others, much heavier than their counterparts, had sandstone material all the way through them.  WhiteClouds, Mr. Ropelato estimated, could design the hollow buildings for around $400, whereas the solid ones would cost about eight or nine hundred dollars.

The main thrust of WhiteClouds’ business is to provide customers with 3D designs, which satisfy their needs.  According to their website, even if your design or blueprint is on the back of a napkin, just bring it in or email it to them and the process of bringing that dream to life can begin.  WhiteClouds can design 3D models from napkins, blueprints, pictures of people’s heads, and children’s drawings, among many other options. 

WhiteClouds is interested in bringing the potential of 3D printing to the masses.  To spark the light of imagination with people who have only just stumbled upon the 3D printing industry.  They are wowed by the variety of their customers.  From architects to artists to miniature builders to statue makers, there doesn’t seem to be an industry in need of personalization and customization that 3D printing can’t improve.

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One of the last projects Ms. Schenk showed us commemorated the hundredth anniversary of Henry Ford’s assembly line.  It was a miniature model T.  What was remarkable about this object was WhiteClouds’ use of so many different 3D printed materials.  Harder plastic on the chassis.  Gold coloring for the engine and headlights.  Rubber-like materials for the wheels.  It was truly a microcosmic example of what 3D printing can do. 

And this is only just the beginning. 

Back in WhiteClouds’ showroom, we notice that the Connex 500 and the ProJet 660 Pro are not the only 3D printers on display.  At the front end of the room, a 3D Systems Cube and a MakerBot Replicator 2 are busily printing away.  They are there to show people what 3D printing projects can be tackled from the comfort of their living rooms.  And these desktop 3D printers represent the future of this diverse industry. 

Mr. Ropelato points out that 3D printing has been around for quite a while now.  Ever since Chuck Hull invented stereolithography during the 70s.  Only in the last five years has an excitement been building for this technology, however.  Mr. Ropelato explains that this spike in interest is largely due to the rise in desktop 3D printers.  As with computers in previous decades, 3D printers are no longer these great ugly, clunky things that take up entire rooms, but sporty, brightly colored devices that fit on your desk.  Designs that were once daydreams in your head can quickly and cheaply become physical, tangible reality. 

The home is now the factory, and the imagination of personalized manufacturing is finally unleashed. 

showroom-2Photos and Quotes Courtesy of WhiteClouds  

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China Invests in Industrial 3D Printing

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Last summer, “a team of Chinese researchers led by Professor Yao Shan unveiled the world’s largest 3D printer with a maximum processing size of 1.8 meters.”

The Voice of Russia reports Professor Yao’s printer “uses a ‘contour scanning’ technology that shortens processing time by 35% and reduces manufacturing costs by 40%.”

With traditional 3D printing, processing time is “proportional to the volume of a part, while in Professor Yao’s printer, processing time is proportional to the unit area of a part, speeding print efficiency to 5-15 times that of traditional 3D printers.  The material for this printer is common coated sand less than 1,000 yuan ($163) per ton.”

However, the Chinese government’s ambition is still higher.  Soon, the country plans to unveil the largest 3D printer yet, “capable of printing metal objects up to 6 m in diameter.  If it works as it is supposed to, China will be able to print out the frame of virtually any automobile.” 

For now, though, China’s government “has several industrial 3D printers, which it has been using successfully to manufacture titanium alloy landing gear for jets, bearing frames of aircraft as well as parts used in satellites, rockets, and power plants.”

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of the Voice of Russia

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More Than Meets the Eye

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3D Systems is at it again!  This time, according to the Guardian, the 3D printing industry giant has hatched a deal with Hasbro, the famous toy company. 

In a joint press release, the two companies said they are working together in order to “co-develop and commercialize innovative play printers and platforms later this year.”  These plans refer to “the entirety of Hasbro’s world-renowned brands”.

Hasbro’s President and Chief Executive Brian Goldner said, “we believe 3D printing offers endless potential to bring incredible new play experiences for kids and we’re excited to work with 3D Systems, a recognized industry leader in this space.”

Though toy makers like Hasbro seem eager to join into the 3D printing melee, other toy companies are reluctant.  Lego press officer Roar Rude Trangbaek stated this in December 2013: “Currently we do not see 3D printing as a viable replacement for the molded LEGO elements of today due to the fact that we have very strict demands for the quality, durability, and safety of our products.  3D printing does not currently live up to these requirements.  In addition there is a high production cost involved, which currently does not make it commercially viable for us – except for prototyping purposes.”  Trangbaek failed to mention any concerns Lego (or any other toy manufacturer, for that matter) might have over 3D printed piracy of toy designs. 

Obviously, Hasbro does not agree with Lego’s assessment of the 3D printing industry.  I, for one, will be waiting with bated breath for my very own 3D printed Optimus Prime, in any case.    

Photo and Quotes Courtesy of Hasbro, the Guardian, and Lego

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