MCOR's 3D Christmas Cards

MCOR's 3D paper printer created a rather unique design for a Christmas card: a 3D object emerges from the (thick) card when you open it. As you can see in the image, the sheet-built Christmas tree is surrounded by the excess material, which is normally removed and disposed of. However, in this case the "excess" actually forms part of the final design. 
The card was designed in the UK by the Royal College of Art, who showcase the works of their alumni by commissioning a special card each Christmas. This one, as far as we know, is the only one produced by a 3D printer.  
We've seen this approach before, where support material becomes part of the art. Could this be a design trend in 3D printing? 

3D Prints Hit The Apple Store

If it's in the Apple Store it's got to be good, right? That might be debated, but regardless Freshfiber has landed their custom-printed iPhone covers in US and Canadian Apple Stores. 
At this point only two models are offered (the "Weave" and the digital-like "Double Mesh"), but you can check out large quantities of alternative designs at Freshfiber's web site. There are as of this writing dozens of spectacular designs for not only iPhones but also cases for iPads, Galaxy Tabs, iPods and even Blackberrys. 
Some of the designs are totally abstract, while others incorporate realistic shapes, transforming your phone into say, an old-time camera or a boom-box. Prices for phone cases range from €35-40 (USD$46-52, while the much larger iPad cases range from €35-60 (USD$46-78). 
Beyond the beauty of the designs there is a major story here: a 3D printed item has now appeared in a major retailer. It won't be the last. 
Via FOC and Freshfiber

MakerBot Reaches Retail

New York City-based retailer AC Gears now sells MakerBot's Thing-O-Matic personal 3D printer, in another step by growing Brooklyn-based manufacturer MakerBot's strategy to get more MakerBots in the hands of more people. 
AC Gears is "New York's Gadget Emporium", selling a quite amazing selection of cool stuff such as a Breath Tester, LED lantern or Solar backpacks. The Thing-O-Matic joins this list as of December 2011 in both AC Gears' physical store on E 8th Avenue in NYC as well as their online store. At the NYC store they've been using a MakerBot to produce objects for shoppers to take a close look at during their shopping excursion. 
Is this a good strategy? We think so, as our mentors used to say, "have as many people selling your product as possible!" 

The SUMPOD 3D Printer And Router

Time to look at another inexpensive 3D printer kit seeking funding. This one is called the SUMPOD and it's not just a 3D printer - it's a router as well. 
Designed by Richard Sum of the United Kingdom, the project now appears on IndieGoGo looking for USD$5,000 from sponsors until the close date of February 12. As is typical in this type of funding, sponsors can select from several levels ranging from a straight donation of USD$1 to a complete, fully assembled and painted (red, green, blue and white) SUMPOD for USD$1,000. 
What makes the SUMPOD unique? Here's what we noticed:
  • The machine's case is made of MDF, much stronger than typical wood or acrylic
  • Linear bearings and steel belts ensure smooth, reliable operation
  • An LCD panel displays useful statistics such as current temperature
  • A Dremel attachment permits "light routing"
We think this approach typifies what's needed going forward on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter: make your project very unique, otherwise it likely won't meet funding goals. Just putting together a basic 3D printer kit isn't going to cut it anymore. 

The RepRap Food

Among the numerous successful and unsuccessful 3D printer kits seeking funding on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter is a rather unusual project: The RepRap Food Printer. 
The project goals are to develop a rudimentary food printer based on the trusted RepRap platform. While many food printing experiments have taken place on previous RepRaps and you can even purchase a food extruder attachment from MakerBot, this project will "create a 3D printer which is solely to create edibles." This is unprecedented, as far as we know. 
What will make this device a dedicated food printer? How about these features:
  • Agitator for stirring the print media
  • Heated bed for "basic cooking functions"
  • Ability to extrude food substances
We're hoping project leader Jordan Fry will include some food safe features as well, not the least of which is cleanability. He's seeking USD$2300 to develop the design by February 2nd. For a USD$199 contribution you'll be able to purchase the parts for the food printer at cost when the project completes. 
We're also hoping this project survives, since the single most asked question about 3D printing we encounter is "can I print food". Let's make it happen!

T-Splines Eaten by Autodesk

If you use Rhino3D or Solidworks for preparing your 3D models you might have heard of T-Splines. It's a special plug-in that permits easy creation of organic shapes and thus greatly extends the usefulness of Rhino3D and Solidworks, at least for some designers. But that may change abruptly. The other week 3D software giant Autodesk acquired all the assets of T-Splines.
But you say, Autodesk makes software that competes against Rhino3D and Solidworks. Yes, we thought the same thing. Now if you go to the T-Spline website and check out the products, you'll see this: 
T-Splines for Rhino is not available to buy or try at this time while our company transitions. Thank you for your patience.
tsElements for SolidWorks is not available to try or buy at this time while our company transitions. Thank you for your patience.
This may mean the product is being absorbed into Autodesk's product line, or it could be just a delay during corporate switchover. According to Autodesk's press release: 
The technology acquisition will strengthen our Digital Prototyping portfolio with more flexible free-form modeling
T-Splines technology will benefit designers and engineers that require watertight surfaces for downstream analysis and manufacturing
Sounds to us like they may be discontinuing support for Rhino3D and Solidworks, choosing to bolster their own products. Not so good for Rhino3D and Solidworks. 

Unfold Imagines Streetside 3D Printing

Several design firms specialize in doing amazing things with 3D printing and one of them is Belgium-based Unfold. Their new concept is streetside 3D printing. What? Yeah, it's exactly that - a street vendor that prints arbitrary stuff on demand. Not hot dogs, but objects.  
Possible? Technically yes, but we suspect the clientele might get a little impatient while awaiting their Winged Unicorns as current 3D printers don't produce objects quite fast enough. 

3D Printing Hot Stuff

We've been reading a post from BFB in which they've offered another christmas 3D model free for download as part of their Advent Calendar program. It's a tea light holder. The item holds one of those standard-sized metal candle holders, which of course, you ignite and enjoy.
But this got us thinking. Should 3D prints be subjected to heat? Forged in heat themselves, applying heat could have some slightly negative effects: 
  • Plastic objects may distort under heat
  • Portions of the object may be destroyed
  • Some plastics may actually ignite if exposed to sufficient heat (+416C for ABS)
And there's another possible issue: some plastics, like the ABS commonly used in 3D printers, may in fact be toxic. Heat may release some nasty compounds. 
Back to the candle holder. Safe or not? We say safe, as the heat of the candle is somewhat distant from the plastic, insulated by wax and metal. 
Our advice? Be very careful with any 3D prints exposed to heat, especially ABS. 

Dozens of MakerBot Jobs!

Popular 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot is hiring. And boy, are they ever! A recent check of their jobs list revealed a startling number of required positions in wildly different roles. It's almost as if MakerBot suddenly gained a ton of money and started recruiting for every job they felt they needed. But then, that's exactly what happened - we now know how MakerBot is using that massive USD$10M investment they received earlier this year. 
So you'd like to apply? Here are is rather impressive list of roles we saw on their site:
  • 3D Modeler
  • writerbot
  • designerbot
  • Workshop Tech
  • Marketing Department Intern
  • Assistant for MakerBot TV (Part-time)
  • printerbot intern
  • C++/Java Software Engineer
  • Web Developer
  • Project Manager
  • 3D Design Rapid Prototyper
  • docbot
  • qualitybot
  • Head of Sales
  • salesbot
  • bizdevbot
  • Support Secret Agent
  • Head of Operations
  • Staff Accountant
  • Purchasing Agent
  • netadminbot
  • Productors!
  • Executive Administrator
  • adminbot
  • researchbot
With all these ultracool job names, they've obviously already hired someone for the titlebot position. 

Bodyworks Human Models

Want to 3D print a person? Need a 3D body model to put your head on? Go no further than Bodyworks - an online store specializing in sales of 3D models of people. 
All of their products are SolidWorks models, suitable for modification for your own purposes. Prices range from USD$99-149 for body models and USD$249 for human hand models. According to Bodyworks:
BodyWorks is a SolidWorks native, adjustable human body model, for use in product design and ergonomic simulation. The BodyWorks model uses a unique joint system that allows for easy and precise adjustment of limbs into the position you desire.
If you want bodies, you might check them out. 

A Tour of Buildatron

PC Magazine took a tour of a Brooklyn, NY-based 3D printer manufacturer, and it wasn't MakerBot. It was Buildatron, an up and coming personal 3D printer operation whose signature feature is a stunning metal case. 
What did they find? They found a tiny manufacturing space, likely very similar to most other personal 3D printer manufacturers these days - but that's the point - this is early days in the technology of 3D printing. PC Mag reckons it's similar to personal computers in the 1970s and we agree. We like to call this time the "Dot Matrix Era" of 3D printing, much like the bad old days of horrible 2D printer output that everyone suffered through decades ago.
Today we find amazing 2D paper printers in almost every home, capable of producing output equivalent to big-time operations in the 1970s. We think the same evolution will take place with 3D printers over the next decade. Or maybe sooner. 
Via PCMag

Printrbot Hits The Jackpot

Projects appearing on the Kickstarter public venture funding service sometimes surprise everyone with their success, but Printrbot's results seem to make all others look bad. Their concept for a personal 3D printer was presented on Kickstarter in hopes of raising enough cash to produce a number of units and launch their business. But get this - their original goal of USD$25,000 was easily reached, and in fact they exceeded it by a staggering thirty-three times, yielding a massive total of US$830,827! 
To put this in perspective, long-established 3D printer maker MakerBot recently received venture funding of USD$10M. Printrbot has received close to ten percent of that from the public. Mind you, much of that money will be spent producing goods for the subscribers. 
In any case it appears that Printrbot has found themselves a viable business. 

Stratasys Drifting Away from HP?

In early 2010 big-time 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys signed an agreement with even-bigger-time 2D printer manufacturer HP to market 3D printers. The deal involved Stratasys producing HP-labeled printers that would be marketed through HP's massive reseller networks. They started sales in Europe later that year.  
Now we see this arrangement may not be proceeding as originally intended, at least according to a report on investment blog Seeking Alpha. Here's what they say:
The company originally had high hopes for its H-P relationship (which was aimed at the engineering segment) but the larger company dragged its feet, holding back performance. Last summer Stratasys essentially threw in the towel and reinstituted its own marketing efforts in lieu of H-P. 
Ouch! This move was at first thought to be a potential major breakthrough, taking 3D printing from its current niches into a much wider and possibly more mainstream market. But apparently it has not come to pass, in spite of relatively recent statements from HP to the contrary, at least according to the report. 
Does this imply a setback for the progress of 3D printing? We think not. Stratasys and its competitors, as well as the multitude of smaller manufacturers are all growing at steady or even record rates. Progress will happen, HP or not. 

The List of Personal 3D Printers, 2011

There's been a rash of low-cost 3D printers emerge recently, so many that it prompted us to write on what we called the "Cambrian Explosion of 3D printers". But what are these printers? We took the time to zip through our previous posts and came up with what we think might be the definitive list of commercial, low-cost personal 3D printers - at least as of this writing. If you know of more (and we're certain you do), please let us know!
What's the difference between them? They're all priced within a similar range, but have somewhat different features, be they build size, number of extruders, case, mechanicals, etc. Another factor that should always be considered is the level of support you can expect. Do they have a community of users? 
Which one should you buy? The one that best suits your needs, obviously! 

BotMill Holiday Discounts

BotMill announced some serious discounts on their personal 3D printers just in time for holiday shopping. 
The discounts apply to both their Axis kit and assembled Glider 3D printer. The kit is discounted USD$100 to USD$990 and the Glider is discounted USD$175 to only USD$1,320. Not only that, but they've also now include a heated bed and interchangeable nozzle for more than USD$195 in discount equivalents. 
How can you get these discounts? Just place an order before December 25th and they'll apply. 

3D Systems For Investors

We managed to get a peek at a 3D Systems investors presentation. This is a rather large slide deck with plenty of investor-related data as most investor presentations tend to be, but there were also lots of very interesting statistics and information. We read through the entire piece and found the interesting tidbits for Fabbaloo readers who may be following 3D Systems' transformation and expansion during the past couple of years:
  • ~700 Employees worldwide
  • ~900 Patents (!)
  • Most of their revenue now originates from outside of the USA
  • Six different kinds of 3D printing engines
  • 90 different print materials
  • Eight locations in the USA; Six in Europe; Six in Asia-Pacific
  • From August 2009 to September 2011 (two years), they added 98 new resellers and 14 new service facilities
  • Revenue breakdown: 41% from Services; 31% from Materials and only 28% from 3D printers
  • Three divisions of printers: Personal, Professional and Production, ranging from a mere USD$1300 up to USD$950K
  • Software products include content creation and digital 3D models
  • 3D printer unit sales grew 273% in 2011 over 2010
  • Nineteen companies acquired in the past 2 years (wait a sec, that's a lot more than we thought!)
  • The Huntsman materials business acquisition brought in 25 materials and 373 patents! 
We knew 3D Systems was growing, but wow! There's not many major companies left for them to acquire at this point, but it appears from the above that they likely have almost all they need to grow organically from this point onwards as the market expands. 

Another 3D Printed ATM Skimmer

This isn't the first time a crime was committed with 3D printing technology, and it won't be the last. Curiously, it's exactly the same kind of crime: ATM skimming!
Krebs on Security details the plot, in which perps carefully replaced the "card reader" portion of a California Chase Bank ATM with their own compromised version. Not only would this component record the card's mag stripe contents, but also included a pinhole camera (see image above) to visually capture the customer's PIN code entry. The precision of 3D printing allowed them to create this amazing replica, sufficiently accurate to fool most customers. But not all, alas. 
The compromised components included much more than just the 3D printed part, as there were electronics and communications systems involved, too. 
When one worries about the crime of copying 3D objects, we think this is even more insidious: copying objects so that they seem identical but are in fact not. As always, be careful when you use ATMs or other card reader devices. If you see anything that doesn't look right (e.g. pinholes) best report it to the appropriate authorities. 
Be sure to read all the deets at Krebs' post below. 

The New Buildatron

Buildatron has released a new version of their attractive personal 3D printer, the Buildatron Series 2. Like its predecessor, the Series 2 includes that very cool wedge-shaped metal case we believe is unique among personal 3D printers. But what's different about this version as compared to the Series 1? Here's what we found:
  • Series 2 includes 12 LM8UU bearings which should ensure very smooth and accurate head movements, leading to higher quality prints
  • Build envelope of 200mm x 200mm x140mm, as compared to Series 1's 140mm x 140mm x 110mm, a  2.6x volume increase
  • Based on the RepRap Prusa design, whereas the Series 1 is a Huxley
  • Improved hot end and plastic extrusion system
  • Heated print bed to reduce warping
  • Optional smaller nozzles of 0.4 and 0.35mm in addition to the standard 0.5mm
  • Finally, it's a touch heavier: 7.0Kg vs 6.8Kg
Of course, both models use 1.75mm filament and have a great metal case, which by the way includes a magnetic hatch to quickly access the filament spools. 
The Buildatron Series 2 looks pretty good - not only compared to its predecessor, but also to the competition, which is getting fierce these days. Available now as a kit for USD$1600 or fully assembled at USD$2500. 

3D Printed Fractal Cube Originated in Second Life

In December 2007 Henry Segerman, a.k.a. Second Life avatar Seifert Surface, designed a "Hilbert Cube" using Second Life's then simplistic 3D model creation tools and some tricky Python software. While this interesting object was for years used only within Second Life's virtual world, there's been a recent change: you can now 3D print this item and make the virtual object real. Wagner James Au reports on his New World Notes blog the Hilbert's transformation from a virtual to real and recommends buying it as a holiday gift. 
Segerman evidently used the same algorithm to generate a printable 3D model and uploaded it to Shapeways where anyone can buy their own Hilbert Cube. But unlike Second Life, where objects are mere pixels, this one can be made of plastic, stainless steel or even gold! But we think you might choose flexible plastic, in which case the cube could be used as a hair accessory. See, higher level mathematics is useful after all. 
Via New World Notes and Shapeways (Hat tip to Hamlet)

Think You Have A Big 3D Printer?

We were contacted by Kalispell, Montana-based The Future Is 3-D after our recent post on build sizes. The post discussed the ultimately not useful statistic of cost per build size. Nevertheless, this small company has been making RepRap Mendel-based 3D printers for over a year and specializes in large build sizes. They're not kidding, either, as these are the largest build envelopes we've seen on anything you could actually buy. 
But how big exactly are the build envelopes on The Future Is 3-D's machines? According to  TFI3D chief Jeff Christiana: 
We specialize in very large build areas. We have printers shipping that can print an object up to 16 x 16 x 11.5 for a fraction of the price that others are selling. We believe that we are the largest 3D printer with the largest build area available. Our Platforms are all heated, and can print very large parts.
For metric readers, that is equivalent to an astonishing 406mm x 406mm x 292mm. Apparently they've been requested to build a 4x4 FOOT (gasp!) build envelope 3D printer as a custom build. 
Of course, you may be thinking, the prints must take forever because when you double the axis size, the print volume goes up by a factor of eight. We asked Christiana: 
Most of the items are 8+hrs.. It does take time. I have not had a failure of a slip. Right now we are just using standard stepper motors. We might move to servos so they always know where they are in a 3-dimensional space during the print.
As we suspected, they recommend printing in PLA to not only avoid warping at that scale, but also because PLA is a lot more eco-friendly.
Giant 3D printers, available now for pretty decent prices: a 16x16x11.5 inch model with heated platform, 5 pounds of PLA and a possibly industry unique one-year warranty for only USD$2100! And it's fully assembled! 
There's only one problem: they have an 8-10 week lead time due to the stream of orders. But we suspect it might be worth the wait.