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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.