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

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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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Green Printing and the Filabot

Plastic extrusion printing, or squeezing hot plastic out of a toothpaste tube until you’ve drawn a 3D object is one of the oldest and most disseminated technologies in the diverse field of additive manufacturing. Because the thermoplastic filament can be melted down many times over, it is one of the printing processes in which materials are recyclable. This type of new technology should excite both the environmentalist and actuary inside all of us. Recycling plastic makes one feel good about his or her environmental impact, but also a pound of waste plastic costs less than the price for which many companies sell even a cubic inch of filament. Can the newly announced Filabot change the current dynamic for filament supply to extrusion printing?Image

I would love to see widespread on-site filament production, and encourage all who would further the cause, but there are currently some very serious hurdles for the plastic extrusion technology to overcome before this becomes mainstream.

1. With the old 2D paper printing business model of low margin hardware and high margin “ink” as the standard for many 3D printing technologies, most plastic extrusion manufacturers make it near impossible for the end user to add his or her own filament to a machine. People have always found ways around the barriers the OEMs put in place, but then are almost immediately countered with new fail-safes on the filament cartridge.

2. The range of available materials for extrusion printers is still too narrow. Although manufacturers are making huge strides in this area, most recycled plastics are not yet compatible with extrusion printers. Granted, turning old ABS cell phone housings into filament is pretty revolutionary, there is not a printer on the market that could use the PET filament made from most water bottles or other common materials used in packaging. If my next cell phone upgrade comes in two years, I could use up to 700 water bottles in that time.

3. Quality control always adds a harsh dose of reality which all the warts on any new, unproven idea. If my print fails currently, I can either blame the “ink” or the printer, but in either case the same company supports my issue (if I use a manufacturer that offers support at all.) With that responsibility, manufacturers put thousands of hours making sure their filament works in their machines. When we look to mix and match with homemade material, these issues compound while the responsibility for error disappears, not to mention the voided warranties. Most computer users understand the frustration when their software company technical support blames the hardware for an issue and calling the hardware vendor only leads to shifting the blame back to the original party. Separating printer and filament vendors creates the exact same circumstance as software hardware compatibilty. Until filament production can be proven consistent from machine to machine, user to user, waste material to waste material, and even batch to batch, then that standardized filament can be used interchangeably in the same model of printer, then those final parts can be subject to tests and proven to have similar properties and failure points, this technology will still be unreliable.

With all that accounted for, the prognosis looks pretty grim for widespread use of low-cost recycled material changing the landscape of filament printing any time soon. The most likely scenarios where green printing comes into effect in the near future would be either a new brand of extrusion machines released which couples recycled filament creation with the printer as a single, tested product or centralized recycled filament manufacturers working with printers to offer new cartridges of proven material. In the latter case, the environmental benefits are clear, but the cost savings are not likely to be passed on to the consumer given the very lucrative current market rate of between $1 – $5 per cubic inch for plastic filament.

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Modern Machine Shop Additive Manufacturing Quarterly Magazine

Hey All,

Since you read this blog, you probably are as interested in reading up on the newest innovations in 3D printing, like me.  Lucky for us, Modern Machine Shop has put their whole first year of their Additive Manufacturing magazine online for your perusing pleasure.

Follow the above link to check out all 4 (short) issues from 2012 and learn a little about the wide-ranging applications gaining acceptance within many new industries and markets.

Cheers, and have a happy New Year.

-Micah

Design to Part Show at the Portland Expo Center.

Design to Part Show at the Portland Expo Center.

RapidMade had a fantastic time at the Design to Part Show at the Portland Expo Center. The room was filled with innovative companies that were helpful and outstanding.

3D Printing Applications in Animation

We have seen animation studios like LAIKA use 3D printing technology to create their characters, even the weapons on Men in Black 3 were created using Objet printers.

The link below will bring you to a video that illustrates how a Dutch company uses 3D printing for their animation shorts. This was commissioned by advertising agency Kesselskramer, produced at Nexus Productions, and was made in collaboration with model maker / sculptor Jethro Haynes. The apples and core models were built using 3D printing technology in order to maintain the logo shape.

Follow this link to view their amazing video

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The Weapons Of Men In Black 3 Were Made With 3D Printers

I remember when Men in Black came out in theaters in 1997. Agent K & J had the most awesome fire power in the universe! Their weapons struck fear in the hearts of all alien foes and had the ability to bring down space crafts. Since then, advancements in 3D printing have allowed model makers to create more detailed props and character costumes that make science fiction enthusiasts jump out of their seats. Moddler, a 3D modeling studio based in San Francisco, created the weapons on Men in Black 3 using the Objet printer.

Check out Moddler’s gallery here!


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SBIR/STTR National Conference

The Micro-enterprise Inventors Program of Oregon (MIPO) and the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network (OSBDC) will host the SBIR/STTR 2012 National Conference Oregon at the Doubletree Hotel Lloyd Center in Portland from November 13-15th  2012.   This conference will provide critical information to small businesses competing for SBIR/STTR grants and contracts, which amount to approximately $2.5 billion in funding annually.  SBIR and STTR are competitive federal government programs that fund small businesses to develop innovative, high-risk technologies.  The 2012 National SBIR/STTR Conference is expected to draw nearly one thousand high technology entrepreneurs from across the U.S., along with federal and state agencies, business development executives and university researchers. Registration is now open for the event, to learn more about the conference visit the site at http://www.oregonsbir.com.

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