Seven 3D Printing Trends in 2017

As another year closes, it’s time to reflect on what’s happened in 3D printing. 

3D Hubs Makes One Million Parts?

3D print network 3D Hubs announced an impressive milestone: they’ve not produced over one million 3D prints. 

Profound Implication of That 3D Face Reconstruction Service

I realized something utterly fascinating about the 3D Face Reconstruction project we wrote on this week.

The Solarimpulse Has Been 3D’d

We were directed to a 3D model of the soon-to-be famous Solarimpulse.

Few Limits to 3D Print Size

A project by Poland’s Fucco Design created replicas of large church figurines in wood. 

Whoopass Drops 3D Printing

Whoopass is a bobble head manufacturer. You’d think they could make great use of 3D printing technology, but it didn’t work out for them. 

Five Years Ago In 3D Printing

We’ve been writing Fabbaloo for quite a few years now. So long that it’s time to take a look back to examine the prehistoric world of 3D printing of five years ago. 

Piranesi’s Visions Brought To Life

An exhibition at London’s Sir John Soane Museum demonstrates a new capability enabled by 3D printing. 

Eleven Important Events for 3D Printing in 2013

It’s the end of another year and time to reflect on what has transpired. In the world of 3D printing, it’s great deal. 2013 had to have been the most momentous year in the history of 3D printing. Let’s look at some of the big events of the year.
 
  1. The ongoing acquisitions of smaller 3D print-related companies by the giants, Stratasys (who acquired MakerBot) and 3D Systems, who acquired companies too numerous to mention in 2013, most recently Village Plastics.  
  2. The ongoing controversy of 3D printed weapons as triggered by Defense Distributed. Most recently the US government extended the ban on such weapons
  3. The explosion of 3D printing into the retail space, including new stores for MakerBot, a dedicated 3D printing store (iMakr) in London, sales at Staples, Harrods, Tesco and more. 
  4. Stratasys’ lawsuit against Afinia, in what could be the beginning of a series of legal actions that could fundamentally reshape the personal 3D printing industry. 
  5. The beginning of a release for intricate 3D scans previously held privately by major institutions
  6. New personal 3D scanning equipment, such as MakerBot’s digitizer and 3D Systems’ Sense handheld scanner
  7. The explosion of attendance at 3D printing conferences, including London’s 3D Printshow.
  8. The new focus on unusual 3D print materials, by both small hobby equipment makers and the big guys.
  9. The massive success of Kickstarter-based 3D printing companies, including Formlabs, who just raised USD$19M, Pirate 3D and the world’s first USD$100 3D printer.
  10. The rise of crowdsourced 3D print services from companies such as MakeXYZ and 3D Hubs.
  11. The incredible public interest and awareness of 3D printing, which even reached presidential levels
 

We. Touched. It.

The rather simple plastic item shown above happened to be in the possession of certain individuals at 3D Systems' booth at EuroMold 2013. 
 
What is it, exactly? We don't really know or care, because that's not its important characteristic. 
 
It is the very first 3D printed object. Ever. 
 
Made some 30 years ago by 3D Systems founder Chuck Hull, inventor of the SLA 3D printing process, the item still survives to this day and is closely guarded by 3D Systems, who keep the precious object in a special padded case. 
 
The awesome object reminds us that 3D printing is not new. The recent change has been that everyone can 3D print. 
 
Will you save your first 3D printed object? 
  

Be Your Own Souvenir!

It's not new but we just bumped into an interesting video of a project that took place in 2011 in Barcelona, Spain. The "Be Your Own Souvenir: A Take-Away Experience" project by blablabLAB won Honorary Mention in the Prix Electronica 2011.
 
 
As you'll see in the video, passers-by were enticed into posing for a 3D capture, which was then processed and 3D printed. Posers could then "take away" their experience as a printed figurine of themselves. 
 
It's crude by today's standards, as the capture device is a Kinect and the relatively coarse and stringy prints are done by a BFB RapMan. Today's scan-to-figurine tech is significantly better, but that's not our point here. 
 
What fascinates us about this project is the emotions of the people, who suddenly realize what is happening and then what is possible with this technology. Watch the video and look at their faces. Each is amazed. 
 
It's the personalization effect visualized. We're surrounded by an ocean of anonymous Asian-made objects, none of which has any connection to us directly. But when you see yourself as an object, it's quite different. It's a connection. 
 
Via Vimeo

3D Printer History: The Festo iFab 3D Printer

We ran across an experimental 3D printer developed years ago by Festo, a German industrial conglomerate. The iFab was designed in 2009 by Festo's Bionic Learning Network, but seems to have never been marketed publicly. 
 
The iFab is an early example of a non-cartesian 3D printer. "Cartesian" 3D printers use standard "X-Y-Z" movements as their method of transporting the extruder during printing. Non-cartesian 3D printers use alternative means and there are many different designs. One such non-cartesian design is the Delta Robot approach, also used by the DeltaMaker and Kossel Clear 3D printers - albeit years after the iFab's creation. 
  
 
The Delta approach offers several advantages, including higher accuracy, ability to scale easily and the moving apparatus can be less weighty. Plus it's totally fascinating to watch during printing. 
 
The iFab video shows a very well-constructed and attractively styled machine that although slow by today's standards, clearly would have been one of the industry leaders at the time of its creation. It even included exchangeable extruder modules, with the intention of 3D printing food. They say: 
 
Festo intends to use the iFab project to come closer to realising the future vision of personalised production. The success story of the PC is to be repeated with the iFab for individualised fabrication. Festo intends to play a leading role in attaining this technological leap brimming with unimagined opportunities.
 
Unfortunately, this did not come to pass. While Festo's corporate infrastructure permitted engineers the time and materials to create this amazing machine, their early lead was overtaken by more nimble startup companies such as MakerBot and BFB. 
 
Via Festo

The Cube Spotted At Staples

For the very first time, a personal 3D printer has been seen on display in a major retail chain. 3D Systems made a deal with Staples to resell the Cube some months ago, but until now the Cube has only been seen in Staples' online store. Now it's actually there in person, for real, no kidding. 
 
It's not clear exactly which Staples outlets have the Cube on display, as 3D Systems says: 
 
The Cube 3D printer has hit retail shelves at select Staples stores throughout the country. Select locations of Staples stores are offering consumers the opportunity to purchase a 3D printer for their at home use.
 
Does this mean you'll see it at your Staples? Probably not yet, but we suspect you'll see them there before too long. 
 
Via Cubify

Prehistoric 3D Printing Video

And now some 3D Printing history. This amazing historic TV clip originates with a show entitled, "Good Morning America" and is dated from 1989 - twenty-four years ago. 
 
It's so ancient they don't even refer to the process as "3D Printing", but use "Stereolithography", the name of the process just then invented by Chuck Hull, who is also interviewed in the piece. Who's Chuck Hull, you ask? He's the founder of 3D Systems. That Chuck Hull. 
 
The piece also features an early Apple Computer (as it was then known) using stereolithography to help design a modem case shown here. 
 
Finally we can confirm that this video was actually taken in the 1980s by this screen cap of GMA then-host, the very beautiful Joan Lunden. Definitely 1980s. She says, ominously: 
 
Boy, it will be really interesting to see how scientists take this now and apply it in the future. 
 
Welcome to The Future
 

3D Printed Weaponry Now Functional

Another first for 3D printing: A pistol constructed from 3D printed parts has been successfully fired. 
 
The gun design was an AR-15, a "a lightweight, 5.56 mm, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifle", according to Wikipedia. Gun enthusiast HaveBlue selected this configuration due to its small caliber and the uncertainty of whether the 3D printed parts would withstand any higher energies. The parts were printed on an older model Stratasys 3D printer in ABS plastic. 
 
We must tell you that the entire gun was not 3D printed. Instead, a key part called the "lower receiver" was 3D printed and installed with other traditional parts to make up the gun. While it's just a single part, the lower receiver houses the operating parts and evidently in the USA this part is legally defined as the "actual firearm" due to its mechanical importance. 
 
HaveBlue decided on performing the test and rigorously designed a lower receiver that would fit into AR-15 components. Once assembled, he took the experimental weapon out to farmland and after first testing the weapon with a conventional aluminum lower receiver: 
  
I switched out the lower for my printed version and double checked the operation.  Would it hold up?  Again, one round in the magazine, cock the gun, squeeze the trigger, and…  Wouldn’t you know it, I shot my eye out.  Just kidding – it functioned perfectly.  Testing again with 2 rounds, then 3 rounds, then a full magazine.  Everything ran just as it should, magazine after magazine.  To be honest, it was acting more reliably than a number of other .22 pistols I’ve shot.  I ran close to 100 rounds through the gun before getting annoyed with not actually being able to aim at anything, and decided to call the experiment an overwhelming success.
 
HaveBlue believes this could be the very first instance of someone successfully firing a 3D printed gun. 
 
Via HaveBlue (Hat tip to Marney)

3D Printing A Canadian Cabinet Minister

During an official visit to the AssentWorks Makerspace in Winnipeg, Canadian Federal Cabinet Minister Tony Clement had his picture taken numerous times, as typically happens on such public events - but one of those images was a 3D scan. 
 
Readers all know what happens when someone is 3D scanned: a 3D print emerges shortly thereafter. The folks at the makerspace did just that and produced this delightful bust of the Minister, which we understand will be delivered to him. Minister Clement (who is currently President of the Treasury Board of Canada, and arguably one of the most powerful politicians in Canada) could be the highest-ranked person ever scanned and 3D printed in Canada, and perhaps elsewhere. 
 
The scan software/hardware used was the popular and inexpensive ReconstructMe/Microsoft Kinect combination. During the scan Minister Clement was rotated slowly on a swivel chair to gradually capture the 3D model and he bravely managed to refrain from smiling until the scan was complete. 

Dinosaur Printing in Detail

There's a terrific article on The Verge describing all the details of actual Dinosaur printing. That's the science of 3D scanning dinosaur fossils and using 3D printing technology to produce accurate replicas of the bones. 
 
Why do this? Why not just use the original bones? It turns out there are a number of benefits. First, the original bones can be left undisturbed while the replicas may be studied. Secondly, you can print many copies of the bone when only one original exists. 
 
But there are deeper investigations that can be done. According to The Verge's article, the Paleontology Department at Drexel University has been scanning their entire collection of fossils to create what might be the world's largest digital dinosaur inventory. But then: 
 
The Engineering department would then take those scans and use a 3D printer to create 1/10 scale models of the most important bones. But, he reported, that wouldn't be the end of it: they intended, he said, to use those scale polymer "printouts" to model and then engineer fully working limbs, complete with musculature — to create, in effect, a fully accurate robotic dinosaur leg or arm, and eventually, a complete dinosaur.
 
You got that right: they're not just printing dinosaur bones; they are trying to actually print a dinosaur! 
 
Such interactive models would enable areas of study not easily done previously. When you can observe the entire limb moving, new conclusions can be drawn regarding the structure and position of the real animal. 
 
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