For the story of digital fabrication in 2013, it hasn't just been the rise of the machines; we've also seen developments in materials, processes and business.
For starters, Belgian digital fabrication company Materialise released TPU 92A-1, a new material for laser sintering. Durable yet elastic, the new stuff is a counterintuitive blend of flexible, durable, abrasion- and tear-resistant, and when sintered into a matrix-like form, has impressive shape memory. A certain fashion designer has taken to the material with a vengeance, but we'll get around to actual applications in the next entry.
Shapeways' Brass and Gold
On a more conventional front, Materialise competitor Shapeways brings two classic elements into their materials stable: gold and brass, now available through a combination of 3D printing, casting and old-fashioned hand polishing (and electroplating, in the case of gold). And unlike TPU 92A-1, which seems to be available only to industrial customers, anyone using Shapeways' services can order the stuff.
LAYWOO-D3 Wooden 3D Printing Filament
From Germany came LAYWOO-D3, a 3D-printing filament made from 40% recycled wood bound together by polymer. Advertised as "cherry," the stuff reportedly looks like wood, smells like wood, and can be sanded, worked and painted like wood once it's out of the printer.
Modern Meadow 3D Printed Meat
A material for 3D printing that none of you may be clamoring for is... meat. Andras Forgacs and his Modern Meadow company are seeking to produce meat-based protein for human consumption by bioengineering the stuff and having it spit out of a printer; for the sake of—I dunno, authenticity?—they'll reportedly keep the meat animal-specific, "Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc." to "ensure purity." Mmmmmmm. [retch]
Unsurprisingly, 2013 was a big year for digital fabrication, as the technology continues to trickle down into the affordable consumer category. So before we even get into what designers have done with the new technologies available to us, let's take a look at what the companies responsible for those technologies have gifted us with this year.
ShopBot Tools Handibot
The runaway Kickstarter digital fabrication success of the year was the HandiBot. North-Carolina-based ShopBot Tools' unusual concept—a portable CNC mill whose man-handle-ability gives it an infinite work area footprint--was a smashing success, hitting and more than doubling its funding target within days of going live (the first 150 units have since been delivered). "We really love the idea of a highly portable and affordable little CNC," says ShopBot founder Ted Hall. "The fact that you 'take the tool to the material' creates all sorts of new options for CNC... but the real aspiration for Handibot is to break the ease-of-use barrier for CNC-style, subtractive, digital fabrication." To that end, Hall and team are working on creating an app environment for the Handibot; in the company's vision of the Handibot's future, users will download apps for specific operations they want to perform, call them up on a paired smartphone, tablet or computer, then "click 'Start' and have the tool get to work right in front of you."
Inventables Shapeoko 2
On the open-source front, Inventables launched their Shapeoko 2 CNC mill, a small-footprint (12×12×2.5) desktop machine going for $650–685 depending on configuration. Some five years in the making, the Shapeoko 2 can also be ordered in a $300 kit form for those tinkerers willing to supply the electronics, belts, pulleys, etc. and assemble it themselves.
MATAERIAL Anti-Gravity Object Modeling 3D Printer
If there's a 3D-printing version of the Handibot—which is to say, a machine independent of a build platform—it's the MATAERIAL Anti-Gravity Object Modeling 3D Printer. The machine's articulating, robotic arm extrudes material in 3D space, rather than depositing it layer-by-layer, and the thing is so radical we expect it will take a little time for designers' imagination can catch up to what the machine is capable of.
Another piece of software we got a good look at at this year's Autodesk University is Autodesk 360. The company has created a Facebook-like interface for projects and design teams; collaborators log on to a cleanly-designed dashboard page containing "all of the data, projects, people, tasks, discussions, activities, issues and alerts that are associated with design or architecture projects that they are working on."
Clicking on a project, for instance, is like clicking on someone's Facebook wall; you get a linear view of all developments concerning that project, with your fellow collaborators' updates taking the place of comments. People can upload relevant files as updates, and anyone with access can view any file, regardless of whether it's an Autodesk format or not. (This includes non-design data, like spreadsheets and such.) And yes, Autodesk 360 can also be used from your phone or tablet, just as with Facebook.
While we were treated to an on-stage, well-explained visual presentation of how it all works, we realize text is not the best way to drive home how this software would impact your workflow. Thankfully, Autodesk has made available the videos they used for their presentation. These are hot off the presses so they haven't added the voiceover yet, but we'll provide the relevant text:
Projects at the Center
In Autodesk 360 users can see all the projects they are working on in one place. Because customers work on lots of projects, they can pin or unpin them, to indicate which ones are most important.
So you've designed your product, run simulations on the model, figured out the PLM and rendered countless iterations. Now it's time to actually machine the thing. Autodesk is now addressing this final step, taking advantage of Autodesk University's packed attendance (10,000-plus people this year!) to announce their new CAM 360 software, which they're billing as the world's first cloud-based CAM solution.
CAM 360 is seen as the final puzzle piece in their cloud-based digital manufacturing software suite, following on the heels of PLM 360 (product lifecycle management), Sim 360 (analysis) and Fusion 360 (design). By finally integrating the thing that actually generates the toolpaths for CNC, the company reckons manufacturers will enjoy a huge time savings. And the cloud-based approach confers three distinct benefits: 1) Customers no longer need worry which version of the software they and their collaborators are on; 2) Files can be accessed anywhere, anytime; and 3) they've got virtually limitless cloud-based computing power available to quickly crunch those monster files.
In the context of design, fabrication is essentially a fancy term for making, and insofar as the term is refers to the process of producing a physical thing, the word transcends its alternate meaning: to contrive or devise, without justification—in short, to lie. Negative connotation aside, it's loosely synonymous with invention, such that 'digital fabrication'—term of art notwithstanding—might also refer to algorithmically generated designs. If the concept is the frontier of new media art (Phillips de Pury's recent "Paddles On!" auction made art-world headlines for unprecedented sales of GIFs and Tumblogs), it is at once more and less apropos design. On one hand, there is a sense in which design is intrinsically algorithmic, where function serves as an overarching constraint—to say nothing of manufacturing considerations—yet there is also a sense in which the premise of creating a bit of code to dictate an aesthetic seems more like art than design.
Which is a long way of introducing Zhang Zhoujie's current project on Indiegogo, his first—and the first international crowdfunding campaign by a bona fide Chinese designer. Over the past few years, we've encountered Zhang's work at various design festivals around the world, starting in 2011 at London Design Festival (he studied with Ben Hughes at Central St. Martins) to the Salone and Shanghai last year (he's based in the latter city). Between the design concept and the fact that he's turned to Indiegogo, there are a lot of angles to the Digital Vessel (pun intended). He notes that "I believe that Indiegogo is the right platform to find the support needed to launch an entire digital revolution, a generation of backers that understand and can identify with my vision."
As he says in the pitch video above, that vision "is not about designing something... it's about finding something." And while Zhang only mentions it in passing in, his ultimate goal is to approximate nature itself—arguably the original designer—with algorithms for objects that grow or evolve of their own accord. (I struggled to grasp the concept when he explained it to me during Beijing Design Week, but he elaborated at length about his ongoing research and is clearly fixated on emulating nature through software.)
If 2012 was a big year for Pensa, 2013 has been even bigger: Both Street Charge and the Core77 Design Awards Runner UpDIWire Bender, both of which they introduced about 18 months ago, have come to fruition this year. We would have been impressed if they'd brought just one of them to market, especially since the two projects could not be more different—besides, of course, the fact that they're both novel, useful products.
Which is a long way of saying that today sees the official Kickstarter launch of the consumer-ready DIWire Bender. Seeing as it's already at $40,000, we imagine they'd tipped off the interested parties who were duly impressed by the production version, which Pensa! has exhibited at Maker Faires in San Mateo and New York City and most recently at Engadget Expand over the weekend.
Clockwise from top left: One of their booths at World Maker Faire; rocking the glasses in San Mateo; and in NYC; a model of the Brooklyn Bridge
Besides the plug-and-play device itself—which has the matte black box aesthetic of MakerBot's Replicator 2—Pensa! has developed an ecosystem for hobbyist and practitioner alike: The custom software is intended to be straightforward enough for users of any skill level and they've even devised a system of plastic clips to facilitate assembly of multi-part projects. If one were inclined to make bad puns, one might say that the lowest radius of the DIWire Bender is its learning curve.
That's the hook gear for a Singer 111w155, an industrial sewing machine much-beloved by (and cloned for) those who produce upholstery and heavy-duty sewn goods. It was originally produced in the 1950s and virtually built to last forever, so a well-tuned machine like this will run you over $500. I bought mine for $5, because that hook gear was worn out; the owner deemed it junk and was planning to give it to a scrap metal guy.
That a useful 100-lb. machine could be rendered worthless for want of a part that weighs 0.875 ounces is an absurd but common reality. And never mind sewing machines: How many vintage motorcycles, vehicles, power tools and industrial machines suffer the same fate from stripped or worn parts that are no longer produced? To 3D print that hook gear, which must mate precisely with another gear on the shaft, would require a complicated 3D file. But GE's emerging "cold spray" technology can offer a second lease on life for machines by digitally repairing worn parts rather than fabricating them whole.
Developed at the GE Research Center's Coating and Surface Technologies Lab, cold spraying, an additive technology, is more akin to painting than 3D printing. Metal powders are sprayed onto a worn part at high speeds to build elements of that part back up. GE is mum on the formula, the surface prep required and the precision with which the material can be deposited, but they refer to the nascent technology as "a potential 'fountain of youth' for metal."
They've also mentioned that cold spray can be used to create parts from scratch, but again, have not elaborated on how that can be done. And the technology's killer app is thought to be large structures, where it is more practical to repair on-site rather than disassemble and replace.
While "We Are Makers" was the first documentary looking at the burgeoning Maker Movement, it certainly won't be the last. As of this week, we know what the next one will be: The team behind 2011's Design & Thinking doc are gearing up for their next effort, Maker, whose successful Kickstarting period ends today.
The paltry $15,000 budget belies what we're hoping will be a meaty flick on the movement, this one feature-length and interviewing more than two dozen folks ranging from Chris Anderson to Autodesk CEO Carl Bass to Local Motors designer Jacob Ferguson.
"Maker" delves deep into [the] ecosystem of design and manufacturing in the Internet era. The film explores the ideas, tools, and personalities that are driving the Maker Movement - and returns with a timely snapshot of one of the transforming influences of the current age.
Due to budget constraints the doc will only examine the Maker Movement in America, though the finished film will screen in over 40 countries worldwide. And while most of the shooting has already been completed, postproduction is expected to be time-consuming, with a projected launch of sometime "before May of 2014." In the meantime, you'll have to sate yourself with the trailer:
Hit the jump for the rather impressive list of subjects they've already managed to lense:
The jersey T is classic, but a bit boring. The T-Shirt Issue has once again upped the traditional T's drama with a touch of 3D rendering and design. We chatted with the T-Shirt Issue back in 2011 when they were looking to fund a Kickstarter campaign to launch a line of clothing basics that broke all rules when it came to seams. Following the successfully-funded crowdfunding campaign, the group has a series titled "Muybridge Pt_2," on view now at "Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital" exhibition in NYC, alongside some 120 other pieces that illustrate the role of digital fabrication in contemporary art, architecture and design.
The name of the collection, of course, refers to the seminal photographer; Hande Akcayli, Creative Director at the T-Shirt Issue elaborates:
We were fascinated by the idea of translating movements into garments. The study leans on Eadweard Muybdridge's photography work in the late 1800s, with which he pioneered in the field of capturing animal and human motion. The Muybridge series is a digital approach to transporting classic dynamics onto standalone jersey garments and capturing temporal change in 3D.
Well, turns out Apple has put together their own video showing the actual Mac Pro as it goes from an aluminum puck into the Ive-envisioned final cylinder. Attendees of Apple's media event earlier this week were the first members of the public to see it, but thankfully it's now been posted to YouTube. Have a watch:
As you saw, the video also treats us to a rare look inside Apple's actual production facility. (Is it me, or has it become weird to see a factory filled with American workers?) And speaking of that factory: For the true production methods geeks among you, Oregon-based product designer Greg Koenig has gone and listed what he believes are the actual machines Apple's using.
Last February, Bertier [Luyt], founder of le FabShop, was stuck in a traffic jam in Paris. He was driving an Autolib, one of these small electric cars you can rent directly from an automated station on the street (similar to bicycle-sharing). Since le FabShop is a booming company, Bertier is always traveling. Looking at "cigarette plug" inside the car, he realized that he could optimize his time on the road to be more productive (phone excluded).
People had already plugged in a objects such as TV, espresso machines, game consoles... why not a 3D printer? Bertier could build prototypes and samples for our clients while driving and save some trips to the office—he often stops by our studio just to pick some of my printed models.
The idea was on our very long To-Do list until we met some very nice people from Renault's Creative lab who told us about their brand new electric car, Zoe. We made some tests with our own company car. It worked perfectly.
It went very fast from there. When the team came back from the NY MakerFaire, we moved our material close to Château de Versaille and filmed a little story while experimenting 3D printing in an electric car.
Our intern Tatiana created a number of storyboards—a plumber missing a "not so standard part"; a young man printing a gift for his girlfriend on the way home; a dad building sand tools for his children at the beach—but the architect and the last-minute model stood out.
The first version of the open-source CNC kit was Kickstarted in July 2011 and we took note when it was subsequently picked up by Inventables in the spring of the following year; the 'Designer's Hardware Store' launched the Shapeoko 2 this morning.
Designer Edward Ford worked for four years to design a machine that anyone could build in order to turn their ideas into physical objects with precision. The Shapeoko 1 was used to fabricate machine parts, carve works of art, and start businesses by a worldwide community of users.
Shapeoko 2 is Edward's response to the enthusiasm and bold experiments of the open-source community. Numerous design changes and improvements have been implemented to improve the user experience, but the cost remains the same. Dead simple. No frills. Supported by a community. Powerful enough for real work.
The community, of course, "is the reason for the Shapeoko 2." Ford expresses his gratitude and debt to his fellow CNC enthusiasts:
The Shapeoko community has grown from an email list (with four people), to a google group (with 50 people), to a full blown forum (with 1,000+ members!) in under two years... The design of the machine is a collection of community-suggested improvements that were designed, tested, debated, and iterated throughout the course of the last two years. If it weren't for the community, there wouldn't be a Shapeoko 2.
Last week, we took a look at the story behind the bespoke baton that Glasgow's 4c Design, Ltd., created for the XX Commonwealth Games in 2014. The baton was unveiled at a special ceremony on October 9, the occasion for remarks from Prince Imran of Malaysia (President of the CGF), Lord Smith of Kelvin (Chair of the 2014 Games) and of course Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself.
The BBC's Mark Beaumont filed his latest report, from Sri Lanka, yesterday afternoon; the Baton is about halfway through it's tour of Southeast Asia and will be in Australia by Halloween (view the full 70-country, 288-day route here).
We're pleased to present a series of exclusive photos documenting the making-of the baton, courtesy of 4c Design.
Testing ithe durability of the handle.
The "Birdmouthing" join comes from 1,000+ years of shipbuilding tradition
The form was 3D-printed with Direct Metal Laser Sintering, but the rough titanium requires quite a bit of manual polishing...
Everyone knows that widespread 3D printing is supposed to enable hordes of designers, DIYers and manufacturers. But if IT research and advisory company Gartner, Inc. is correct, there's another batch of folks it will benefit: Lawyers.
By 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion per year in intellectual property globally.
Near Term Flag: At least one major western manufacturer will claim to have had intellectual property (IP) stolen for a mainstream product by thieves using 3D printers who will likely reside in those same western markets rather than in Asia by 2015.
The plummeting costs of 3D printers, scanners and 3D modeling technology, combined with improving capabilities, makes the technology for IP theft more accessible to would-be criminals. Importantly, 3D printers do not have to produce a finished good in order to enable IP theft. The ability to make a wax mold from a scanned object, for instance, can enable the thief to produce large quantities of items that exactly replicate the original.
In other words, get ready to lawyer up.
The entire report, available at the link above, is well worth a read. And it's not all about 3D printing: Another depressing prediction they're making concerns "the labor reduction effect of digitization" and how that will blow back on our lovely little society, perhaps as early as next year. "A larger scale version of an 'Occupy Wall Street'-type movement," the report states, "will begin by the end of 2014, indicating that social unrest will start to foster political debate." With any luck the demonstrations will remain peacefully absent of 3D-printed guns...
The 3D-printing community is abuzz with news of an interesting development for the 4D printing movement: The U.S. Army Research Office has taken a keen interest in the possibilities of 4D printing. How keen? US $855,000 worth. That's the size of the grant the USARO has awarded to researchers at three schools—Harvard's School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, the University of Illinois, and the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering—to further their research into 3D-printed objects that can transform themselves over time.
The selected grantee universities will not be working completely independently, but are instead expected to collaborate. And the research isn't pie-in-the-sky, but intended to produce fairly focused results:
"Rather than construct a static material or one that simply changes its shape, we're proposing the development of adaptive, biomimetic composites that reprogram their shape, properties or functionality on demand, based upon external stimuli," says Anna C. Balazs, a professor of Chemical Engineering at UPSSE. "By integrating our abilities to print precise, three-dimensional, hierarchically-structured materials, synthesize stimuli-responsive components, and predict the temporal behavior of the system, we expect to build the foundation for the new field of 4D printing."
Due to the source of the funding, initial applications will presumably be military in nature; a press release teases the notion of vehicle coatings that change structure in response to the immediate environment and soldiers' uniforms that visually adjust their camouflage or physically adjust their protective measures against projectiles.
You're undoubtedly wondering, as we were: Why was 4D printing pioneer Skylar Tibbits not among the grantees? We can only speculate that the USARO reckons Tibbits is already on track to make breakthroughs, with or without their money. Strange as it sounds, in the world of financed researched, perhaps it's a silent vote of confidence.
Architect and computer scientist Skylar Tibbits heads up MIT's Self-Assembly Lab, a sort of cross-disciplinary skunkworks that is completely re-thinking how objects are manufactured and assembled. By combining digital manufacturing techniques with the study of how particular materials react to particular types of energy, Tibbits' team seeks to create things that, well, put themselves together—whether large or small—when the appropriate energy is introduced as a catalyst.
Self-Assembly is a process by which disordered parts build an ordered structure through local interaction. We have demonstrated that this phenomenon is scale-independent and can be utilized for self-constructing and manufacturing systems at nearly every scale. We have also identified the key ingredients for self-assembly as a simple set of responsive building blocks, energy and interactions that can be designed within nearly every material and machining process available. Self-assembly promises to enable breakthroughs across every applications of biology, material science, software, robotics, manufacturing, transportation, infrastructure, construction, the arts, and even space exploration. The Self-Assembly Lab is working with academic, commercial, nonprofit, and government partners, collaborators, and sponsors to make our self-assembling future a reality.
The concept sounds difficult to wrap your head around, until you see the video:
Here's a TED Talk Tibbits gave earlier this year going into more detail:
When you think about digitally fabricating metal, you probably picture steel powder or something unusual like Alumide, which is nylon laced with aluminum dust. But now Shapeways has added a simultaneously new and old-school flavor to their mix: Brass.
They're offering the stuff in three finishes: Gold-Plated, for when bling is the thing; Polished, which has a slightly more-subdued-than-gold yellowish tint; and Raw, for that classy, rustic look. While Shapeways will actually have your Gold-Plated and Polished finishes hand-rubbed for smoothness, the Raw will be left alone, providing a rough-surfaced matte finish for those looking to create antique effects.
Unsurprisingly, this stuff doesn't come out of the machine in one go:
[Our] Brass models are fabricated using a complex five-step process. First, the model is printed in wax using a specialized high-resolution 3D Printer. It is then put in a container where liquid plaster is poured in around it. Once the plaster sets, the wax is melted out in a furnace, and the remaining plaster becomes the mold. Molten brass is poured into this mold and set to harden. The plaster is broken away, revealing your new product. Raw Brass is briefly tumbled. Polished and Gold Plated Brass are carefully cleaned and hand polished. Gold Plated Brass goes through a final electroplating process for an outside coat of 22k gold. Please be aware that polishing and plating can wear down or fill in very fine details and edges.
Thanks to this tip from 3Ders.org, would-be brass orderers can enter the code "oc3mv" on Shapeways' site to get a 10% discount on the Polished and Raw stuff. But hurry—the offer expires at 9pm (EST) on October 2nd.
Over 100 designers from all over the world submitted cars. It was difficult to narrow it down, but Paul Hatch, founder of TEAMS Design and conference chair, and I narrowed it down to the ten cars we thought would be most likely to win in each of these three categories. The cars were then printed by Stratasys, Computer Aided Technologies, Kalidescope and The 3D Printer Experience. Finally, Models Plus built the track that the cars would race down to their destruction.
With the ten cars printed and on display before the 1,000 designers who attended the conference, the excitement for the race was building. For those of you who missed it or attendees who want to relive the experience, we had six cameras capturing the action, including a slow motion camera to grab the crashes. Check it out:
Core77 has had the pleasure of chronicling New Skins, a workshop led by designer Francis Bitonti, which took place from July 22 to August 8 at Pratt's Digital Arts and Humanities Research Center in Brooklyn, NY. As a pioneer in the digital fashion design space, Bitonti's practice is primarily concerned with the wearable applications of computationally-based design methodologies and cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. His efforts in the classroom are an extension of his work in the studio, a fast-paced, process-centric approach to new and emerging technologies and their potential to yield never-before-scene results.
We've previously published coverage of weeks one and two of the summer intensive, which was sponsored by the Pratt DAHRC, Makerbot and 3D NYC Lab. In addition to the report on the third week and final project, Bitonti has graciously allowed us to present the video documentation of the course as it unfolded this past summer.
The students created the geometry for the dress using 3D anatomical models of the human body, then abstracted hidden lines and vectors of the human body (muscles, veins and arteries) into curves that could be manipulated in a 3D modeling environment. The inspiration for turning the body inside out, projecting the interior to the exterior of the body, creating a second skin from what lies underneath led to the name Verlan dress; the French slang word refers to reversing the first and last syllables, turning the word inside out.
Throughout the design process, the students focused on developing a unique formal language that would conform to the body through a procedural algorithm; finding a voice through a new emerging manufacturing paradigm. "We do not want to be teaching technology for the sake of technology," explains Bitonti. "This isn't about training technicians or draftsmen. We are trying to teach students to think through the computer as a medium and develop sensibilities for these new virtual materials."
This little 85-cent white plastic thing you see below is called an Upper Sash Slide Latch, and it has caused me no end of trouble. It holds the top part of a tilt-for-cleaning window in place, and when this chintzy little part breaks, the window can swing down like a drawbridge—as an acquaintance of mine found out the hard way (he required stitches). After two of these latches failed in my studio and I looked to replace the part, I found it nearly impossible to search for online, as there were no manufacturer's marks anywhere on the part or the window.
If I had a MakerBot, I would've broken out the calipers, created a CAD file of an unbroken example of the latch taken from another window, 3D-printed the thing and been done with it. But if the part was exceedingly complicated or organically shaped, I'd have been SOL. So MakerBot's newly-announced Digitizer, a desktop 3D scanner, is sounding pretty cool.
The sleek-looking device has a small turntable on which you place your object, which then gets hit by a laser. Provided your object isn't shiny, reflective or fuzzy, the software then spits out a "clean, watertight 3D model" ready for printing or tweaking. Here's company founder Bre Pettis pitching the thing:
The jury's still out on the growth of 3D printing this year, but recent reporting suggests that the industry will extruding, fusing and sintering way towards the proverbial tipping point yet. A new "Low-Cost Desktop Personal Fabrication Device" (LCDPFD, anyone?) strikes a nice balance between price, practicality, and sheer versatility for the maker on a budget.
It's not quite as slick as the previously-seen PopFab, but if its success thus far on Indiegogo is any indication, the FABtotum is a few steps closer to becoming a reality. Competitively priced at $1099 for the fully assembled machine, the personal fabricator was nearing its $50K funding goal as of press time, with nearly six weeks to go in its 50-day campaign (a build-it-yourself kit comes in at just under a G; a $699 conversion kit allows a savvy DIYer to convert their old 3D printer into a FABtotum).
Where the likes of FormLabs and Mike Joyce offer higher-end stereolithography machines at prosumer prices, we're also seeing several interesting new developments in low-cost 3D printers (i.e. the $300 Printrbots used in the SAIC summer intensive) to multi-functional solutions such as the FABtotum:
Finding the right conditions where you can have both decent subtractive and additive manufacturing in one small envelope is no easy task. we think we reached a good compromise between speed precision and strength thanks to unconventional movement transmission methods and structural solutions.
In order to ensure that all incoming students are comfortable (at comparable levels of proficiency) with the skills, processes, and facilities they'll be engaging from day one of their first semester, the Designed Objects program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) recently created the first classroom in the world equipped with a class-count of individual 3D printers with support from Printrbot, Taulman 3D and Simplify 3D. The 11 students were encouraged to 3D print output by proposing textiles, printing intelligence and a future that celebrates the immediate, provisional, and transient. The course is action-oriented and exhibition-driven, and is more about experiencing fast and complete cycles of realization (with idea development de-emphasized in favor of range of exposure).
Although the incoming class participates in the summer intensive every year, this was the first year that 3D printing was part of the curriculum. Instructor Brian Anderson was in conversation with Printrbot for a personal project early in the summer and our exchanges expanded into the possibility of pulling together the first classroom with so many accessible printers, and the desktop 3D printing component ended up taking the final quarter of the six-week course. Here he shares the story behind "Immediate Objects: Explorations in 3D printing."
Text & Images courtesy of Brian Anderson
Each year, SAIC's incoming Master of Design students spends six weeks in a pre-term boot camp exploring the how and when of rough and refined design visualization and prototyping. Through daily and weekly projects the class advances digital design skills and gains comprehensive exposure to the fabrication and production capabilities across the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Using these capabilities and tools, students in the course explore approaches to visualization and construction ranging from simple to sophisticated and exhibit drawings and objects developed through integrated approaches. This summer, the Designed Objects boot camp culminated in a week-long 3D printing intensive, a low- to medium-fidelity laboratory that explored the idea of ubiquitous 3D printing.
Because of the relatively high price of equipping classrooms with ten or more semi-pro 3D printers, courses focusing on digital output often can only afford to provide students access to one or two machines. Responding to this impasse, I conceived of a collaboration intended to marry accessible, low-cost 3D printing (the Printrbot Simple is the world's least expensive 3D printer) with a print material that is readily optimized in terms of print volume and strength (it takes less nylon to achieve high structural integrity and Taulman 3D is actively involved in developing this and other aspects of print output) and lastly a simplified and robust software interface and workflow (Simplify 3D's Creator software).
Maybe I'm just bitter that my hopes for immediate 3D-sculpting artistic genius were dashed (see above), but there is something really strange about sculpting through a computer, even more so than just about any other method of 3D modeling. In an attempt not to delve too far into the pencil-vs-mouse debate (although really how can we avoid it?), the new 3D-sculpting web apps SculptGL and counterpart Sculptfab (essentially updated with a nicer UI) have the faint scent of nostalgia for a generations of hand crafters given the ol' middle finger by technology.
The SculptGL app was developed by French student Stephane Ginier, drawing inspiration from the research on self-adaptive topologies done by Lician Stanculescu. With no word on the availability of Stanculescu's 3D sculpting app 'Freestyle' for general consumption, we've been playing around with Grinier's version. The application—while super fun—is perhaps more interesting in concept than in actual use.
User Interface of SculptGL (top) and Sculptfab (bottom)
Fight commentator, podcaster and comedian Joe Rogan has referred to the Ultimate Fighting Championship as two guys climbing into the octagon "and essentially throwing their bones at each other." One could argue that the damage each fighter tries to inflict on the other is much more incisive than it is in American football, and one needn't go further than YouTube to see examples of those bones being broken in the ring; what's miraculous, given the forces every fighter's bones are subjected to, is how often they don't break.
Why don't they break more often, given the impacts they're sustaining? And what could an industrial designer learn from this? Dr. Markus Buehler, a civil engineer and materials scientist at MIT, may have the answer. Buehler's research specialty is as odd and focused as a Chuck Liddell overhand right:
...Our goal is to understand the mechanics of deformation and failure of biology's construction materials at a fundamental level. The deformation and failure of engineering materials has been studied extensively, and the results have impacted our world by enabling the design of advanced materials, structures and devices. However, the mechanisms of materials failure in biological systems are not well understood and thus present an opportunity to institute a new paradigm of materials science at the interface of engineering and biology.
In weight and external texture, a human bone might seem very similar to ceramics. But as Buehler noted in a 2010 research paper [PDF], "Catastrophic breakage of brittle materials such as ceramics is usually triggered by the rapid spreading of cracks." Bones don't shatter this way, at least not commonly. And this year, Buehler began to understand why. After exhaustive laboratory experimentation and analysis via supercomputer, Buehler "finally unraveled the structure of bone... with almost atom-by-atom precision."
Collagen party up top, hydroxyapatite business on the bottom
Buehler and his team have been investigating how two key constituents of bone—soft, flexible collagen and hard, rigid hydroxyapatite—work together, on a molecular level, to make bones extraordinarily resilient. Because of the specific way that the latter material is embedded within the former, "Hydroxyapatite takes most of the forces in the material, whereas collagen takes most of the stretching."
This was printed with the Mcor Iris; video after the jump...
Findings from a paper by a handful of intrepid engineers at Michigan Technical University have been making headlines this week, concluding that "the typical family can already save a great deal of money by making things with a 3D printer instead of buying them off the shelf." Per Michigan Tech News:
In the study, [Associate Professor Joshua] Pearce and his team chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. Then they used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online, shipping charges not included.
Next, they calculated the cost of making them with 3D printers. The conclusion: it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in a weekend.
Open-source 3D printers for home use have price tags ranging from about $350 to $2,000. Making the very conservative assumption a family would only make 20 items a year, Pearce's group calculated that the printers would pay for themselves quickly, in a few months to a few years.
Cory Doctorow notes (H/T to BoingBoing) that "I suspect that the real value of 3D printers isn't simply replacing household objects, but rather, in ushering in new ways of relating to objects—the same way that email and VoIP don't simple substitute for phone calls, but rather enable entirely different kinds of communications." Similarly, commenters also note that the value of 3D printing is in creating custom sculptures, toys and other things that cannot be found on Amazon and the like. (Other critics cite the fact that most household items have rubber or metal components that remain unprintable, at least for your average DIYer.)
Having conducted my own cost-benefit analysis that I could probably glean the takeaway messages of the primary source through a bit of Internet research, I opted not to put up the $31.50 for the full text of "Life-cycle economic analysis of distributed manufacturing with open-source 3-D printers."
In other news, the UPS Store is launching a pilot program for on-demand 3D printing at six of their U.S. locations, starting with San Diego. It's the first major news item for Stratasys following its blockbuster acquisition of Makerbot earlier this summer, though it's worth mentioning that the merger has no bearing on the UPS partnership—in keeping with their strategy to keep Stratasys and Makerbot relatively independent. Customers will have access to $15,900 Stratasys uPrint SE Plus machines for their rapid prototyping needs.
Ford research engineer Zach Nelson hacked up an Xbox 360 controller, and used an out-of-date MakerBot Thing-O-Matic, to make a rather interesting mod to a Shelby GT500: A haptic shift knob. When the RPMs hit a mere 3,000—god that car must have some awesome low-end torque—Nelson's 3D-printed custom knob vibrates, telling you it's time to shift (rather than informing you that you just ate a grenade in Call of Duty).
It might sound gimmicky, but Nelson's experiment provides a glimpse of the future. OpenXC is Ford's program to make vehicle data available to the user in realtime, with the diagnostic system beaming it to a tablet or smartphone over Bluetooth. By tapping that info, installing an Arduino controller, and programming in some simple values, Nelson was able to go from concept to execution in a matter of weeks.
While some tech blogs have breathlessly been reporting that Nelson's device "will teach people how to drive a stick," that's obviously incorrect, and not the real point of the experiment; nor is the LED indicator going to be a gamechanger, as few of us who drive stick have ever been driving around going "Gee, what gear am I in?" Rather, Nelson is demonstrating that by simply opening the floodgates of a vehicle's information, Ford is enabling you customize your driving experience in a manner of your choosing. And it points towards the future: Open-source vehicle telematics, combined with digital manufacturing devices and Arduino, should open up a world of interesting possibilities.
Nelson has posted the technical details of how he did it here.