Monthly Archives: February 2013

3D Laser Scanner Phone App

I have not checked out the accuracy of a scanner like this, but compared to the multiple thousand dollar price point of most 3D scanners out there, this could make many more reverse engineer-to-print jobs economical where upfront scanning costs ruined the profitability of the product.

Click here to read more about the 3D laser scanner with the 10”x10”x4” scan volume and only requires a tripod and lazy susan.

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NASA and 3D Printing

NASA and 3D Printing

Though not an original equipment manufacturer, NASA has been one of the foremost innovators for 3D printing design and application.  Using Selective Laser Sintering or SLS on metals NASA is able to more quickly make more optimally designed and mechanically robust components, while cutting out the majority of the weight. They feel that their, “team’s innovative work here at Marshall and the NASA National Center for Advanced Manufacturing is just one example of how NASA is helping to reinvigorate America’s manufacturing sector.”

The goal is for these parts to help us reach a familiar goal:

The emerging technology will build parts for America’s next flagship rocket, the Space Launch System or SLS, which is designed to take humans, equipment and experiments beyond low Earth orbit to nearby asteroids and eventually to Mars.

The main reasons NASA sees an advantage in Additive Manufacturing are pretty simple:

There are two major benefits to this process, which are major considerations for the Space Launch System Program: savings and safety.

“This process significantly reduces the manufacturing time required to produce parts from months to weeks or even days in some cases,” said Andy Hardin, the integration hardware lead for the Engines Office in SLS. “It’s a significant improvement in affordability, saving both time and money. Also, since we’re not welding parts together, the parts are structurally stronger and more reliable, which creates an overall safer vehicle.” It turns out these 3D printed parts can handle more stress from the launch than any other welded part.

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3Doodler

3Doodler

This is the 3Doodler. Even though it would take hundreds or thousands of hours to master quality-made objects (and I’m sure some hobbyist will impress us all soon,) this device should provide for great fun. It is nice to see innovators take an interesting spin on already existing products.

Click the photo to see a video and the kickstarter page.

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Huge and Obstructive Patents in 3D Printing

LINK

This article covers the main reason why we are still quite far from inexpensive AND quality consumer level machines for hundreds instead of tens of thousands of dollars: Intellectual Property and Patent Law.

Companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys have thrown millions into RnD and have patented many of their ideas.  Though some of the patents do seem to be as reasonable as patenting the rectangle, while others make a little more sense, they all prevent outsiders from coming in and producing the same great machine for much less until the patents expire, which in some cases are as late as the mid 2020’s.  In the meantime, expect the most affordable printers with any quality to cost thousands while Stratasys and 3D Systems make very high margins on equipment and “ink” that is not terribly expensive to produce, because they really have no incentive to lower their prices.

One serious competitor to the two giants is Formlabs and their $3200 dollar SLA machine.  They created a system based on an expired 3D Systems patent, but patent law is so murkey they are being sued anyways for violating some other patent, the specifics of which I have been unable to locate.

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GE Agrees with Me

GE Agrees with Me

Just as I was posting the below article, I found out I have some like-minded company.  Jeffery Immelt went into less detail because, well, as head of GE his reputation carries a little more weight than an unknown blogger.

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Additive Manufacturing: The Hype and the Haters

There are many well written articles floating around discrediting the promise of Additive Manufacturing and its “print anything” hype.  Because expectations are so high, they feel the industry and its development will be analogous to failed technologies like virtual reality where outsiders jump in to try to avoid missing the next big thing only to lose big.

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Though there are certainly large issues with the hype and the absurd idea that within 5 to 10 years every consumer will be printing everything they previously purchased, 3D printing does not immediately have to be the next personal computing sized revolution to help entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes quickly create new ideas, tackle new approaches to design, reduce tooling time and investments, and maintain a nimbler, more flexible supply chain.

Though some may be disappointed and therefore turned off to Additive Manufacturing when it does not live up to the promise of becoming a low cost, all purpose Star Trek Replicator for household use, the hype is still quite a positive thing, because many more savvy entrepreneurs easily recognize the benefits to their personal businesses that they had not seen when they had never heard of the technologies.

So what if 3D printing will likely not live up to the hype?  Firms involved in 3D printing don’t care.  We are just happy for the exposure.  If these machines never reach every household, there is still room for ample growth.  Just ask the museum curators who can now replicate priceless artifacts, the automobile and airline executives who are working to create components that weigh up to 90% less and therefore create vehicles that have amazing fuel economy, the medical and dental professionals who can now make inexpensive and ultra-customized implants with lower rejection rates, the aspiring entrepreneur who knows a quick, inexpensive and functional prototype will likely garner him much more attention than just a pitch and napkin sketch, the car restoration enthusiast who is able to inexpensively replicate parts that are the last of their kind, or even the large scale fabricator able to quickly create custom fixtures to meet the demands of any job.  The applications are endlessly growing and not just because of technological innovation.

Thanks to the hype, my sales force tells me that since this time last year, they get half as many blank stares when speaking with potential clients about Additive Manufacturing.  That means in just one year twice as many people are able to look at the same hundred year old engineering problems and find new solutions through tools previously unknown to them.  There is the heart of the growth and it is more than enough to get excited about, especially considering that five to ten years ago most of the types of users listed in the previous paragraph did not even exist.

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