Insofar as digital fabrication hardware has evolved at a steady pace, we were excited to see several new developments in additive and subtractive fabrication, though it was the former that was increasingly making headlines in the world at large in 2012. While the fabled tipping point for 3D printing remains elusive yet, this year also saw a bit of backlash to the growing hype, as well as a couple potentially far-reaching IP controversies, inevitable speed bumps for emerging technologies. Digifab evangelists continue to herald a shift from the economics of supply-and-demand to that of supply-on-demand, but our latest pulse-reading indicates that the market for 3D printers remains more niche than mass.
Want to 3D print, but don't have the scratch for a 3D printer? A Polish company called Pixle has released a fun-looking iPad app called Foldify, which lets you print 3D designs out of a regular printer...sort of. Check it out:
Obviously the $1.99 app is not going to revolutionize your design firm's rapid prototyping capabilities, but at the very least, Pixle has just cut the homework time in half for every design student taking Package Design 101.
For the past ten years Randy Johnson has been Editor-in-Chief of American Woodworker magazine. Johnson, a longtime furniture builder who previously ran his own furniture business, is also a huge fan of CNC; so it's no surprise that as of last week, he came on board with ShopBot Tools as their Director of Education. Johnson was on hand at this year's AU to man his new post.
With his extensive experience in woodworking, furniture building and CNC, there's simply no better man to ask about what a ShopBot can do for a furniture designer. So we did:
Back in the '90s, Ted Hall was a professor of neuroscience at Duke University. As a hobby he built boats out of plywood in his barn, but found cutting the shapes he needed using conventional tools was tedious. Hall then looked into a CNC cutter, but the going rate at the time—$40,000—put him off. Following that he figured out how to build his own CNC machine for far less, and went on to found ShopBot Tools to share his creations with the market.
That was in 1996. Today ShopBot sells a multitude of affordable CNC routers and even a five-axis number, as well as a variety of accessories and production aids. (If you recall from a video we shot at last year's AU, it was ShopBot machinery that allowed the design-build firm Because We Can to launch.) We caught up with Hall at this year's AU, where he was displaying ShopBot's most affordable model (and one you can definitely fit in your shop, no matter how crowded), the ShopBot Desktop. Check it out:
Most of the recent buzz around 3D printers has been of the consumer variety, but of course it's companies like Objet that have the seriously bad-ass machines. At the Autodesk University 2012 Exhibition Hall, the company showed off their Objet 1000, which boasts multi-material printing and lays it down at an absurdly tight layer height of just 16 microns. Check out what they can make:
Jeff McGrew and Jillian Northrup, the founders of design-build firm Because We Can, are not academics or theorists; they're practicing architect-designer-builders and devout CNC users with the experience that comes from seven years of cranking out projects. They've also gleaned wisdom from interacting with friends and colleagues in parallel or adjacent fields, providing them with in-the-know information. Prior to McGrew's AU 2012 lecture on "The Five Myths of Digital Fabrication," we asked him to explain how the knowledge is won:
One of the reasons you'll want to attend the annual Autodesk University is because of the quality of science-dropping speakers they attract. This year Because We Can's Jeff McGrew gave a lecture on "The Five Myths of Digital Fabrication." We weren't allowed to simply broadcast it, of course—the sessions are the privilege of AU attendees—but we asked him to give us a teaser:
Those of you unenthusiastic about 3D printing might have had the same thought as Dr. Simon Leigh: "It's always great seeing the complex and intricate models of devices such as mobile phones or television remote controls that can be produced with 3D printing," he said, "but that's it, they are invariably models that don't really function."
With that in mind Dr. Leigh, a researcher at the University of Warwick's School of Engineering, decided to do something about it. He and his research team developed a material called carbomorph, which is basically an inexpensive, printable plastic. It can be loaded into any of the rash of low-cost 3D printers we see hitting the market. But here's the thing: it's conductive.
What this means is that owners of 3D printers can spec electronic tracks, sensors, and touch-sensitive areas into their designs, and print out things like functioning game controllers or sensor-embedded objects. (To prove the latter, the research team printed a mug that could detect how much liquid it was holding.) Of course you still need a connection point, but it's as simple as printing sockets into your object, and then you can connect things like Arduino controllers.
When I moved in my new apartment, the last owner had left [an IKEA] Rigolit lamp in the middle of the living room. An object that looks like a fishing rod holding a big paper cloud. The lampshade was ripped everywhere and Scotch tape was holding it together. This huge volume was always in the way and we kept bumping our heads into it. One day, I had enough and decided to buy a new lampshade to replace the paper one. Everything was either too expensive for me or extremely ugly. Also, the closest IKEA was an hour away... by bus.
What does a designer do in such a situation? He makes! A few hours later, thanks to affordable 3D printing, a unique lampshade was made. I couldn't stop there, so I designed 2, 3... 12 different ones, using always the same shape and changing only the color and the texture. They take between 4 and 12 hours to print, use absolutely no support material, weight between 50g and 100g and cost less than $5 to print.
As in his "Project RE_," Bernier's approach captures the spirit of the Fixer's Manifesto to a tee, revitalizing a superficially damaged object with ingenuity, a bit of elbow grease (and a spool of ABS, of course).
Lady Justice, ironically 3D-printed on a Cubify by Trompevenio
Well folks, it was just a matter of time: Kickstarter is being sued.
The plaintiff isn't a disgruntled pledger who didn't get what they paid for, but none other than 3D Systems, the company behind the Cubify 3D printer.
The first target in 3D Systems' crosshairs is Formlabs, the company behind the FORM 1 3D printer, which created quite the Kickstarter stir by garnering nearly $3 million in pledges. Says the press release of the lawsuit,
"3D Systems invented and pioneered the 3D printing technology of stereolithography and has many active patents covering various aspects of the stereolithography process," said Andrew Johnson, General Counsel of 3D Systems. "Although Formlabs has publicly stated that certain patents have expired, 3D Systems believes the Form 1 3D printer infringes at least one of our patents, and we intend to enforce our patent rights."
Okay, so why the hell are they suing Kickstarter? The full 12-page legalese-filled text of their complaint (which Wired has posted here) deems Kickstarter a "funds raiser and selling agent of Formlabs," thus putting them in the crosshairs. Here's a relevant excerpt from the complaint:
Upon information and belief, Kickstarter knowingly or with willful blindness induced and continues to induce infringement and possessed specific intent to encourage another's infringement by, or was willfully blind as to the '520 Patent and with respect to, its activities and Formlabs' activities described above.
...The foregoing acts of patent infringement by Kickstarter has caused, and unless enjoined by this Court, will continue to cause, immediate and irreparable injury and damage to 3D Systems, and 3D Systems has no adequate remedy at law.
It's going to take a good lawyer (and maybe a psychic) to tell us what this may mean for Kickstarter, but the prognosis is probably not good.
No sooner do we finish covering Tokyo's Eye of Gyre 3D-printing photo booth, billed as the first in the world, when another company swoops in with a similar product and timing. At today's official Grand Opening of MakerBot's physical storefront, located in Manhattan's NoHo district, company founder Bre Pettis pulled the sheets off of the MakerBot 3D Photo Booth.
It's different than Eye of Gyre's, to be sure; MakerBot's is head-only and monochrome, versus the Harajuku gallery's painted (we assume) full-body shot. But for $5 to sit and $20 to print—or just the fiver if all you need is the scan, to bring home and print yourself—you can have your head immortalized in plastic in "smaller than golf-ball size, golf-ball size, and larger-than-golf-ball size."
The MakerBot Photo Booth's camera rig and attendant software is provided by ShapeShot, a Baltimore-based company that's developed a 123D-Catch-like way of converting 2D photos to 3D data. Click here to manipulate a model of a baby captured using their method.
"This is beyond digital photography—it is the future—and to be able to create a 3D image of yourself is just amazing," said Pettis. "We've had celebrities and musicians come in and get a 3D Portrait made. It's fun, it's inexpensive, and it's totally cool."
A couple weeks ago, I was curious to read yet another article about the much-heralded 3D printer revolution, "Crystal Ball Gazing: Amazon and 3D Printing." Only later did I realize that my skepticism from the outset betrayed my own confirmation bias that any remotely bibliocentric 3D printing story is based on the fallacious premise that ABS extruders will someday be as commonplace as inkjet printers. I happen to share TechCrunch columnist Jon Evans' opinion that additive manufacturing will not reprise the rise of 2D printing:
3D printing is not just 2D printing with another dimension added on. Yes, the names are very similar, but their uses are not even remotely analogous. We may reasonably conclude, therefore, that 1) 3D printing will not recapitulate the history of 2D printing, 2) as soon as you make an argument along those lines you lose all credibility and look like an idiot.
Evans' rant is a fair assessment to be sure, but it has little to do with the gist of the opinion piece, which postulated that Amazon is uniquely positioned to pioneer an on-demand 3D printing business model. VC Theodore F. di Stefano writes:
I'm not sure if Amazon would venture into manufacturing, but we do have a new industrial revolution on our hands today... Why would Amazon be interested in 3D printing? My guess that Amazon might be interested is because it is currently adding warehouses throughout the United States with a not-so-long-term goal of being able to offer same-day delivery to its customers. With warehouses strategically located throughout the country, it would be able to set up 3D printing facilities within them, thus making three-dimensional products (manufactured products) conveniently available to major population centers.
From the outset, di Stefano clearly states that he admires Amazon not for selling boatloads of books but for extending its business model to include virtually every consumer product imaginable, and for investing in physical infrastructure in kind, citing their network of warehouses as a viable spaces for local fabrication. Jeff Bezos' billion-dollar idea, after all, has far surpassed its original domain of books, and as a web company that deals in physical inventory, Amazon's economy of scale marks a unique opportunity for distributing 3D-printed white label products... assuming, of course, it's profitable. This, of course, is di Stefano's hypothesis, where Amazon is less a bastion for publishing (2D or three) and more a massive online marketplace.
And to bring the argument full circle, design veteran Kevin Quigley actually made a similar point in an excellent essay contra blind optimism regarding 3D printing for the masses (which I've referred to before). Quigley recapitulates a personal history of digital fabrication to arrive at the conclusion that 3D printing will never be efficient (read: inexpensive) enough to come anywhere near the adoption rates of 2D printers. Rather, he speculates that the technology might be best suited for a megaretailer like IKEA... reaffirming di Stefano's case for Amazon.
Yet Evans' point stands:
...use cases, adoption rates, economic impact, etc., will be nothing like those of the 2D printers you know and love (or, more likely, hate). Yes, even though the names are so similar... please stop using that ridiculous and thoroughly inaccurate analogy.
In this sense, Amazon's unmatched scale is precisely why it doesn't make sense for them to pursue 3D printing—the technology is best suited to small batches of niche or otherwise custom production runs. A far-reaching distribution network is not perquisite; rather, accessibility is paramount.
Which leads us back to Phillip Torrone's suggestion that we ought to "rebuild and retool public libraries and make 'TechShops,'" per the title of a March 2011 blogpost on Make. "To me, public libraries—the availability of free education for all—represent the collective commitment of a community to their future... a commitment to educating the next generation. [As such,] the role of a public library should also adapt over time, and that time is finally here." While reality has been slow to catch on—Make subsequently noted that Cleveland listened, as did Reno; we recently reported on Adelaide following suit—it's worth reading, as Torrone certainly makes a very thorough argument for repurposing the public stronghold of the printed word.
In the 1870s you needed to be a big shot to have your portrait taken, and in the 1970s you needed to star in something made by 20th Century Fox to have an action figure of yourself. But here in 2012, technology has advanced to combine those things for the average consumer.
On November 24th, Eye of Gyre, an art exhibition space in Tokyo's Harajuku neighborhood, is pulling the sheets off of their 3D Shashin-kan. Literally translated as "3D Picture Space," it's what they're calling the world's first 3D-printing photo booth. Visitors can have their "portraits" taken in the form of whole-body scanning, and end up with a detailed figurine of them in 10-, 15- or 20-centimeter heights, depending on how much they'd like to pay.
Instant gratification this ain't, as the figurines will take a month or more for fulfillment and delivery. (We're guessing that they need to clean up the scan, and that an artisan paints the colors on after printing.) There's also a capturing restriction similar to when daguerrotypes were first developed: The subject must remain completely still during the scanning process, which is six minutes in this case, meaning Fido-san and small children are not ideal capture subjects. Beyond that, reflective clothes, wire-rim eyeglasses, hoop earings, fine patterns, and fur are all no-nos, because these either muck with the scanning process or are impossible to faithfully reproduce under their system.
Visitors will need to sign up in advance here, but you'd better hurry: The exhibition closes on January 14th, and the slots are filling up quickly.
Previously, if you wanted to make an object out of plastic you had to get an absurd amount of people involved. Investors in the tooling, plastics suppliers, moldmakers, people to work the machinery, et cetera. Only corporations could muster that kind of scratch and manpower, leaving a huge gulf between themselves and the independent designer.
Inexpensive 3D printers have narrowed that gulf, enabling individuals to make plastic parts without leaving the house or picking up the phone. But they've been limited to working with mostly ABS-like plastic. So now we see a new gulf opening up between individual maker and corporation, one of materials science. Large chemical companies and their deep-pocketed patrons will have access to materials currently impossible for the lone maker to afford.
A good example of this is the glass-fiber-reinforced polyamide we saw BASF use to create plastic automotive rims. A similar material, this time produced by an automotive parts collective patronized by Ford, has popped up as an award winner in this week's sexily-named 42nd annual Society of Plastics Engineers Innovation Awards Gala. This is a bit convoluted, but bear with us: Ford designed the bracket you see above, which is made out of a material called LGF PP—that's Long Glass Fiber Polypropylene Resin—developed in collaboration between global materials company Styron, system supplier and molder Magna Exterior, and toolmaker Advantage Mold. In other words, yeah, there were a lot of people on that e-mail chain.
So what does the thing even do, and why is it noteworthy? That little bracket is used in the Ford Fusion for mounting bumpers and headlights to cars. This almost beggars belief, but because the glass fibers add an unusual amount of "stiffness, strength and impact-resistance" to the part, they reduce the Head Injury Criterion of motorists involved in an accident by some 30%, which helped Ford take home that trophy.
Individual makers still have plenty of wiggle room with the limited plastics available for 3D printers, as seen by ArtizanWork's "Sweater" Case. If advanced materials like Styron's ever trickle down to us, it will be a while yet. We still hope that it will happen, of course, and charitably assume Styron isn't taunting us by re-naming their material—while its scientific name is LGF PP, the company is calling it INSPIRE™.
Something we haven't seen a lot of yet in 3D printing, but which we're sure will become common, is people rocking a single material in such a way that it changes characteristics within a single object. Up above is the "Sweater" Case, which beat out 70 other designs to win Shapeways' recent Design for iPhone 5 contest. Designed by ArtizanWork, a Maryland-based collective of independent artisans focusing primarily on jewelry, the case goes from rigid at the edges to flexible on the larger surface as the material changes thicknesses. Looks pretty cool in the vid:
"Handwoven by robots," the company cheekily writes, "the cross stitching can move separately from each other creating an awesome tactile feel while acting like mini shock absorbers that protects your phone." It's available both on Shapeways' website in white, or you can buy directly from ArtizanWork with a few more color choices and a protective anti-stain coating.
Wearable electronics still aren't ready for primetime, but until they are, here's a clever bridge product: Shapeways user Egant's Button 2.0, which features a precisely-dimensioned groove in one side, providing handy cable-clipping capability for your headphones.
It's totally one of those why-didn't-I-think-of-this head-smackers, but I have a feeling that as more and more of us get 3D printers, it won't matter....
In 2010 TechShop, the DIY workshop/fabrication studio, announced they'd be opening an NYC outpost in 2011. That got pushed to summer 2012, with Brooklyn announced as the specific location; but summer's come and gone with no news.
3D fabrication company Shapeways, however, has good news for us Gothamites: Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg cut the ribbon (using 3D-printed scissors, it seems) for the groundbreaking of Shapeways' new "Factory of the Future" in Long Island City, Queens.
When construction on the 25,000-square-foot facility is complete, it will hum with 30 to 50 industrial-size 3D printers from EOS, Projet and ZCorp.
When its fully up and running, our Factory of the Future will become the largest consumer facing 3D Printing manufacturing facility in the world. It will have the capacity to 3D Print 3 to 5 million objects annually.
It will house state of the art 3D Printers just hitting the market. Our focus will be on Selective Laser Sintering (used for Strong & Flexible nylon) and UV Acrylic Resin Printing (for Frosted Ultra Detail)....
We will have over 50 engineers, craftsmen, 3D printing specialists, and industrial designers fine-tuning and tweaking a Willy Wonka esque system in which pixels go in and objects come out. We will not only work to keep the promises we have made, but to improve upon them.
....We are bringing the future of manufacturing to NYC, and there will be sparks.
At first blush, industrial designer Sam Thompson's gently-arched 45-Degree Bowl, above, looks like it might be made from veneers that were steam-bent and laminated together in a form. But flip it over and you'll see it was CNC-milled out of a solid block. If the protruding feet aren't a dead giveaway, Thompson's intentionally had the bit leave kerf marks to remove all doubt:
"The smooth sanded top of the tray contrasts with the exaggerated kerf on the bottom," he writes, "showing the process of CNC routing in an intuitive and surprising manner."
The awesome video below shows an earlier wooden bowl, the Big Square, that Thompson designed and produced via CNC—his tagline is "I make things by hand, with digital tools"—and while it lacks any explanatory narrative, you don't need it. It shows him performing every step of the process, going from prepping the rough-cut lumber to drawing the 3D files to running the CNC mill and the laser engraver:
Speaking of 3D printing, this is pretty amazing: a team of designers and engineers at Disney Research have recently published a remarkable paper entitled "Printed Optics: 3D Printing of Embedded Optical Elements for Interactive Devices." (Just as their amusement parks are located in the family-friendly tourist destinations of Florida and Southern California, the entertainment company's research division is strategically located in close proximity to Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich.) Karl D.D. Willis, Eric Brockmeyer, Scott Hudson and Ivan Poupyrev are based in the Pittsburgh lab, and the highly technical 10-page paper [PDF] is as dense as one might expect. From the Printed Optics project page:
Printed Optics is a new approach to creating custom optical elements for interactive devices using 3D printing. Printed Optics enable sensing, display, and illumination elements to be directly embedded in the body of an interactive device. Using these elements, unique display surfaces, novel illumination techniques, custom optical sensors, and robust embedded components can be digitally fabricated for rapid, high fidelity, customized interactive devices.
Printed Optics is part of our long term vision for the production of interactive devices that are 3D printed in their entirety. Future devices will be fabricated on demand with user-specific form and functionality. Printed Optics explores the possibilities for this vision afforded by today's 3D printing technology.
"A 3D printed mobile projector accessory with embedded light pipes. Projected imagery is mapped onto the character's eyes. The character responds to user interaction such as sound or physical movement."
For those of us who don't know DSM Somos' Watershed XC11122 from 3D Systems' Accura ClearVue, they've produced a brilliant, semi-viral video for our edification:
Besides the interactive applications of 3D printed optics, the Disney Researchers have also developed a handful of lightbulbs, an easy metaphor for their insight.
Desktop 3D printing is becoming more and more important. With a breakthrough new printing arm XEOS 3D changes the design and size of a desktop 3D printer radically and creates an new archetype. The clean interior and transparent two window design, a 66% smaller enclosure volume compared to the smallest professional FDM 3D printer available and the thoroughgoing easy and intuitive controls—in its software and at the device—elevate XEOS 3D to a whole new category of 3D printers.
Unlike the vast majority of desktop 3D printers currently on the market, the print arm of the XEOS 3D has a single point of attachment, along the (correct me if I'm mistaken) x- and z-axes. The hinge allows for movement along the x/y axis.
Additional features, verbatim from this slide:
- The uplifting door gives easy access to the printed parts and the cartridge bays
- The integrated fisheye camera helps to control the printing process from everywhere
- Over 80% of design firm print jobs fit into the 5”times;5”×5” build envelope
- Two material cartridge bays hold the ABS filament and water-resolvable support
- The LED status bar displays the printjob progress and is easy to see even across the room
- At 19” wide, 17.5” high and 11” deep, its volume is 66% (100 L / 26.5 gal) smaller than the smallest FDM 3D printer with the same build envelope (Stratsys Mojo)
- The Stop/Open button is the only hardware button on the outside to stop and open the door
The Cambridge, MA-based crew behind the latter may have the engineering degrees and the pedigree, but a lone gunman from the you-couldn't-have-made-it-up locale of Deadwood, South Dakota, quietly raised half a mil with his own homebrewed SLA machine earlier this year. Although we missed out on the Kickstarter campaign, we had the chance to catch up with self-taught maker Michael Joyce, the brains behind the B9Creator at Maker Faire this past weekend.
Core77: Let's start with a bit of background...
Mike Joyce: Sure. So I've always been a little bit of a tinkerer as I grew up—I ended up with a math degree out of college, [then I] joined the Air Force, flew as an air force pilot for about 12 years, got out and did a few little things in software. I started making these $25,000 Lost in Space robot replicas and selling those all over the place...
Last fall, I got interested in 3D Printing, mainly in applications for space exploration and things like that. But then I started looking at what was out there and I didn't think that the resolution was real great, I wanted to start doing something with higher resolution.
[Digital Light Processing] caught my attention and that's how I got interested in doing this DLP-based printer.
Do you think your background in math gives you a different take on it than some of the designers who are doing 3D printing?
There's a lot of math in working with 3D objects—rotating them, slicing them, that sort of thing—so that definitely helped. I don't have an engineering degree but I've always built things—I've used CAD software extensively over the past twenty years on my own personal projects. I overengineer things because I'm not an engineer, but I feel like I'm really comfortable with CAD and designing something that I think will work without actually having to have a prototype in my hands.
All of those factors probably helped me quickly come up with this design, and the fact that I've been building those Lost in Space robots gave me a lot of good contacts, as far as my manufacturers, to get things built quickly. So I already had a good relationship with a metal company and an acrylic company—all those U.S. companies that are pretty much mom and pop shops, but they can produce stuff pretty quick if you need them to.
[Unfortunately,] there's really not a lot of manufacturers like that in South Dakota; we've got some folks in the West Coast, down in the Boulder area that supply our components.
You said you got interested in this starting last fall, and you were able to realize your vision by this spring, when you launched the project on Kickstarter?
Yeah. So by last Christmas, I'd looked at ABS, or extrusion, and DLP and decided I wanted to work on something based on DLP and photosensitive resins. Of course, there was some stuff already going on online, so I looked at that; I built several different prototype versions in January, but then I learned that some things I was trying to do had already been patented, so I didn't want to infringe on anyone's patents.
The actual SLA patent is expired so we're basically doing a form of SLA—we're irradiating a chemical that's sensitive to the radiation to form solid layer, that's SLA. But the details of how you release that part from the cured surface, there are different ways to do that and most of them are patented. So we've come up with a new way to release the part, which we feel is effective and in some ways has advantages over some of the existing mechanisms.
Ben Chapman is a denizen of the Thingiverse, and his 3D-printed knife-sharpener is both inventive and ingenious. Obviously printed plastic won't yield a sharpening element, so Chapman designed the thing to fit onto the bottom of a standard coffee mug.
Why a coffee mug? Because as it turns out, the bottom of every mug has an unglazed ring of exposed ceramic, the part of the mug that's contacting the surface it's sitting on during the glazing process. Chapman's design allows a knife blade to contact that ceramic edge at the proper angle, honing the edge with a few quick swipes:
My only suggestion for a version 2.0 would be to create some sort of handle that keeps your non-sharpening hand above the blade, towards the dull side.
In any case, if you've got a 3D printer of your own, or access to a TechShop (which is where Chapman made his), the design can be downloaded here.
This past weekend was the occasion for MAKE Magazine's annual celebration of DIY and maker culture, Maker Faire, at the New York Hall of Science. Billed as the "Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth," the family-friendly venue hosted the two-day perennial geek-out for homebrewed or otherwise ad hoc art and design... and, thanks to MakerBot, increasingly for digital fabrication upstarts from near and far. As our friends at Maker Faire note on their Facebook page,
The World Maker Faire is over! Official numbers are in and the Faire was a resounding success—thanks to all of you! Over 650 Makers and 55,000 attended. We composted over 2000 pounds of food waste and recycled throughout the event (stats to follow). Mayor Bloomberg declared it "Maker Week" and The New York State Assembly Legislative Commission on Science and Technology issued a citation in support of World Maker Faire, praising the Faire's mission of unlocking the potential of science and technology and putting it in the hands of anyone who has curiosity, creativity, and a desire to make something. I think we can safely say this was an incredible event! Thank you New York!!!
Indeed, the questionable weather didn't seem to affect attendance figures as visitors braved the gray skies to engage the myriad makers, take in performances and presentations, and participate in the hands-on festivities. Considering the largely technical nature of the event, I was surprised to discover that the crowd (at my first Maker Faire) skewed young: grade schoolers interacted with grad schoolers as parents and peers indulged their companions; I couldn't help but smile when I overheard a couple teenage tinkerers debating the merits of the Replicator 2 compared to its predecessor.
Since I hadn't anticipated the scale of the event—the contained sprawl was difficult to navigate without a game plan—I found the breadth and depth of exhibitors paralyzing: I spent half a day wandering between the tents and booths only to realize that I completely missed the Molecule Synth (perhaps it was a good thing, then, that I had the chance to interview maker Travis Feldman before the Faire).
In fact, it almost seems unfair to compile highlights when I realistically only saw about 10% of the event—it's best described as a canonical case of "you had to be there." Still photos scarcely capture the spirit of the Faire: contrary to the ambivalent skies, the atmosphere was characterized by the focused creativity of play as an exploratory process that might eventually benefit society as work.
In the 1993 movie In the Line of Fire John Malkovich played Mitch Leary, an ex-CIA assassin hiding out as, get this, a design professor at Art Center in Pasadena. In the film Leary's said to be quite the modelmaker, and the plot has him cobbling together the plastic gun you see above (presumably in Art Center's ID shop?), in order to attack the President.
The movie's prop master, Frank Rousseau, designed the dummy gun so that it could actually fire blanks. According to an auction site selling the prop off, "It required 96 hours of machine work and 72 hours of construction to manufacture."
That was in 1993; today, with a good 3D printer, that 96 plus 72 hours of work would be greatly reduced. Which is frightening. And here's the bad news: Cody Wilson, a law student at UT Austin, is on a mission "to disseminate a printable gun design online."
Wilson spearheads the Wiki Weapon movement, which raised $20,000 and used it to lease a Stratasys 3D printer last month. He made no secret of the project's aims, which are to create a 3D-printed pistol capable of getting off a single shot (the plastic ABS used in 3D printing would melt after that). Stratasys was not amused, and after some contentious correspondence, they sent repo men to strip Wilson of their printer, citing U.S. firearms laws.
While Wilson has been questioned by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the legality of 3D-printing a firearm is currently a legal grey area. But lawmakers had better figure this thing out soon; Wilson is determined to move forward with his project, and the prospect of anyone with a 3D printer being able to secretly manufacture their own deadly weapons, with no practical way for authorities to apply oversight, is a potential powderkeg of trouble.
Although our friends at Teague tipped us off about their Labs' latest project prior to Tad Toulis's unveiling of 13:30 at Maker Faire this past weekend, his presentation was our first time seeing the 3D-printed headphones. It's both a thought experiment and a case study for personal fabrication, challenging the convention of "the current consumer electronics paradigm," which is "all about mass production and distribution." "Using 3D printing technology and consumer-sourceable components, 13:30 creates an equivalent product at an equivalent price, but made on demand—just for you."
And while we've been admiring (and using) the prefab pair they sent us over the weekend—complete with custom packaging—they've also posted the plans on none other than Thingiverse.
With 3D printers becoming more accessible we decided to have a think around the concept "life in beta" as a future scenario. What if printed prototypes could become actual products? Meaning, once off the print bed an object could be assembled without any tools and be made functional by readily attainable components. Electronically simple yet functionally complex, headphones seemed like a good fit to stress test the premise.
Our first go resulted in a good-looking functional model created on a professional ABS FDM machine (Dimension 1200ES: print time 13 hours and 30 minutes, hence the name). It worked out well, but the machine we used isn't accessible to the average maker, and two of the critical parts relied heavily on soluble support printing—a non-issue for professional 3D printers, a major issue for desktop 3D printers.
Debate and implications about Kickstarter's recent policy changes aside, it's still the de facto platform for crowdfunding projects of all stripes, and the FORM 1 3D Printer is the latest launch to receive the sort of viral fanfare typically reserved for a certain Cupertino-based computing concern. Since the Technology project went live this morning, it's surpassed its $100,000 goal by nearly 100% as of press time (and possibly record time).
Hot on the heels of MakerBot's hot new Replicator 2—having seen it in person at their new retail space in Lower Manhattan, I must say it's a handsome piece of hardware—Formlabs have most definitely taken the personal 3D printing game to the next level. In contrast to MakerBot's less expensive, less open or otherwise dubious competitors, the team of MIT grads and current grad students sought to lower the cost of a higher resolution—and traditionally, higher-priced—process.
For most designers, the extruded plastic (i.e. FDM) of low-end printers is simply not capable of the high resolution and quality surface finish necessary for professional work. So, we decided to go straight for the real deal: a stereolithography printer we call the Form 1.
Stereolithography (SL) is the gold standard for accuracy and resolution in the 3D printing world, reaching layer thicknesses and feature sizes that are worlds ahead of what is possible with FDM. The process is pretty straightforward - a laser is used to draw on the surface of a liquid plastic resin that hardens when exposed to a certain wavelength of light. The laser draws and hardens a layer at a time until the entire model is built. It's simple, reliable, and quiet.
Unfortunately, SL is traditionally one of the most expensive 3D printing processes. With pricey lasers and high-precision optical components, SL 3D printers can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Until now.