Top Posts of 2012

It's always fascinating to learn which posts were the most frequently read among the hundreds we posted during the past year. They're typically not necessarily the top stories, but nevertheless they provide some insight into readers' interests.
To abruptly retract our earlier statement, this most frequently read post was in fact one of the biggest stories of the year. Tiny MCOR has signed a ground-breaking deal with Staples to provide 3D print services "Easy 3D" at (eventually) all Staples Copy Centers worldwide. Big, yes. 
A guest post by Chris Waldo gathered a great number of views, demonstrating that people continue to be fascinated by the amazing objects that can move from imagination to reality with a 3D printer.
The now-controversial Form 1 3D printer made a massive splash on Kickstarter, becoming one of the top tech projects of all time. This and subsequent posts on the printer indicate that readers seek a high-resolution and speedy personal 3D printer. However, as readers may recall, Formlabs was sued by 3D Systems later in the year for alleged patent violations. We'll find out the next steps for Formlabs in 2013. 
If you can't buy one from Formlabs as a result of the lawsuit, perhaps you'd like to build your own high-res 3D printer by using the Pwdr open source design, which uses a powder-based process. It seems that resin and powder 3D printing processes may be seen much more frequently in the future. 

Design of the Week: Fractal.MGX Table

This week's selection was encountered during our visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, specifically in the Modern Art section. The Fractal.MGX table is a stunning demonstration of the possibilities when one combines creativity, size, mathematics and of course, 3D printing. 
The Fractal.MGX table was designed in 2007 by three: Gernot Oberfell, Jan Wertel and Matthias Bar of Germany. In 2010 .MGX by Materialise donated the example shown above to The Met where it has been shown ever since alongside other ingenious and beautiful modern designs. According to The Met:
The designers of this limited-edition table are interested in new technologies and manufacturing processes employing stereolithography, a process that builds three-dimensional objects from CAD drawings. They employed this technology to produce the "Fractal" table, which combines organic forms with the logic and reality of product design. 
Three examples of the Fractal.MGX table are publicly shown aside from The Met; The Victoria & Albert Museum in London and Design Hub in Barcelona also display this interesting work. 
It appears that this item was produced as a limited edition, and thus getting your hands on your own copy could be tricky. Meanwhile, you can read more about the table and its designers at the link below. 
Via .MGX

A Year in Review: Top Ten Stories in 3D Printing

2012 has been an exciting year in the 3D printing world and we’re excited to share with you the top ten stories. 

Staples launching “Staples Easy 3D” in 2013

In partnership with Mcor Technologies, Staples will be offering a new service to their customers enabling them to upload their designs and pick up their model at a Staples Copy Center or have it shipped directly to them. This move by a large company into 3D printing is surely a measure of 3D printing’s success and viability for every day customer use. You can learn more by watching their promotional video

3D Printing Electronics

One of the things missing in 3D printing technology has been electronics. Although developing prototypes, cool artwork, and customizable products have been a great start, introducing electronics would allow 3D printed models to do so much more and it seems that we’ll be seeing it much sooner than previously thought. Britain’s Public Library of Science published a study on scientists at the University of Warwick who were able to print electronic circuits using silver and carbon nanotubes. Using the raw material, Carbomorph, they were able to print a simple but functional computer game controller. Although a few years off, 3D printers could be printing all of our gadgets and gizmos making them even more likely to be in households of the future. 

3D Printing Guns

Probably the most well-known 3D printing story outside of the DIY and hobbyist community was the issue of 3D printed guns. Defense Distributed released to the public plans to print a variety of different plastic guns. With large 3D printing providers like Stratasys repossessing Defense Distributed's 3D printer after hearing of their plans and Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) calling for a renewal of the 1998 Undetectable Firearms Act, this issue is surely just a preview how 3D printing will affect security and civil rights. 

3D Printing and Museums

Museums like the Lincoln Gallery, Harvard University’s Semitic Museum, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum are all getting involved with 3D printing. Either by reconstructing ancient artifacts, storing digital records of priceless artwork with 3D scanning, or offering the public the opportunity to print their most prized sculptures, these museums are looking ahead while bringing the past to life. Go ahead and print off that million dollar piece of artwork here you’ve always wanted! 

Sculpteo Raises $2.5 Million

The French 3D printing company Sculpteo raised $2.5 million in funding from XAnge Private Equity and other angel investors to expand their 3D print by mail service. Their plans include an increased focus on America, so it should be interesting to see the competition with the American-based 3D print service Shapeways. 

Shapeways Opens a New Office in Queens, New York

One of the most recognizable names in 3D printing, Shapeways, opened a second office in Queens further indicating their success in printing and delivering 3D models. You can check out their new facility through a slide show at Forbes

3D printing and Sex

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but MakerLove is the first on this scene and sells “interesting” 3D printed adult sex toys. Though it’s a niche market that’s buying his merchandise, it’s an early indicator of what other naughty things people may do with 3D printing. 

3D Printing Photo Booth

A great way for the wider world to get to know 3D printing is popping up all around the world in "photo" booths that print the subjects in 3D models. In Japan, Omote 3D set up a booth at the Eye of Gyre exhibition space that would scan the subject for 15 minutes and allows the customer to purchase the model at a price between $264 to $568. Although much slower than a conventional photo booth, we may start to see more of these at fairs, 
weddings, and other celebrations in the near future. 

3D Printing Arteries

Many of us heard about 3D printing human organs last year, but recently scientists have been working on printing veins and arteries. Using a RepRap printer, researchers at University of Pennsylvania and MIT printed a lattice of arteries that could transport nutrients and oxygen. A video explains more detail, but hopefully we’ll see more news in 2013 about the biomedical field exploring the potential of 3D printing. 

Stratasys and Objet Merge

The combining two companies, now Stratasys Ltd., will value at nearly $3 billion, creating a monster-sized 3D company with more diverse capabilities than either company had previously. The rising values of 3D printing companies are a great indication of the growing valuation of the technology and its bright future.


Three 3D Printing Trends in 2012

Many things happened in 2012 within the world of 3D printing, particularly for home users. But what overall trends emerged? We noticed three trends that seemed to flavor 2012. 

Me Too!

We actually lost track of the numerous plastic extrusion-based personal 3D printers that were announced in 2012. At one point they were appearing every other week on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, seeking funds to start up. 
While each venture offered something unique, it quickly became rather difficult to distinguish one from another, leaving a challenge for latecomers. In fact, one of the later projects, PandaBot, abruptly withdrew their project after controversy erupted. 

The Consumer is King!

There was a definite shift towards the general consumer during 2012, and somewhat less focus on personal 3D printing's traditional market, the kit-making hobbyists. MakerBot, for example, moved to assembled-only printers. An increasing number of offerings were pre-assembled, offered simplified interfaces or other functions and services specifically geared towards consumers having less knowledge of 3D printing. 

Faster, Better, Cheaper

All manufacturers produced better machines, from the lowest hobby machines to the largest commercial devices. Increased build volumes, build speeds and accuracy was a constant and incremental quest. Someday we'll look back at the 0.5mm-layer prints of the past year and giggle. Maybe that will be in 2013? 


A Plea for More 3D Printer Manufacturers

3D printing aficionado Joris Peels writes a long treatise begging major manufacturers to produce 3D printers. He specifically requests HP, Brother, Xerox, Seiko Epson, Ricoh, RolandDG, IBM, Texas Instruments, Konica Minolta, Fujifilm and Sony to make a line of 3D printers. 
Why make such a request when we have several decent manufacturers already in place, including Objet/Stratasys, 3D Systems, EOS, Arcam, Envisiontec and many others? Peels has a strong argument: many of the companies mentioned above hold valid patents on various 3D printing processes, yet they aren't visibly using them. This, at a time when 3D printing is about to take off - just the moment when true entrepreneurs should be piecing together products. 
It may be that one or more of the aforementioned companies has a secret black-ops project to develop a magical 3D printing technology never seen before, but we think that is unlikely. The reason? It's something called "The Innovator's Dilemma". 
The Innovator's Dilemma is a book by author Clayton M. Christensen, which codifies a very common scenario in big business: those with innovative ideas that clash with the existing product lines are rarely successful. 
In his theory, Christensen suggests that innovators inside a company try for years to gain acceptance but ultimately are more successful if they leave the company and start their own. The reason? Because a new product line within a big company simply doesn't affect the bottom line sufficiently to bother. Meanwhile, if the same idea is played out within a startup company, it produces massive gains as there are no competing larger product lines. 
So. Should the long list of companies above produce 3D printers?   
We think yes. 
We also think they won't, unless they buy an existing, large-sized 3D printing company. 

King’s Resting Place Recreated by 3D Printing

By all accounts, King Richard III’s reign was relatively unproductive.  Modern historians believe that this was mostly due to the dynastic struggle that we now know as the Wars of the Roses, of which Richard III’s house came out on the losing end.
As is always true, the victors are afforded the opportunity to write the history of the day, and Richard’s character, (not to mention physical appearance) was besmirched by historians across the centuries…Even the great bard, Shakespeare, had few kind words for the King.  It’s only in recent times that historians have begun to look more deeply into the life and times of Richard and begin rehabilitating his reputation.

Another Legal Tangle for 3D Printing

Dezeen interviewed writer Adrian Mars, who brings up an interesting legal complication that potentially could derail some 3D printing ventures. 
We've written in the past regarding the "copy" issue. The technology exists to digitally capture the external shape of almost any object using advanced 3D scanning equipment - and once a 3D model is available, it can be 3D printed, thus duplicating the object in a manner reminiscent of camcorder video piracy. 
The new twist proposed by Mars is that of insurance. Consider the following scenario: 
What if you 3D print a car and somebody and it causes an accident due to a design fault or a computer design fault? Thousands of people may have contributed bits of that car. Who regulates it? How do the insurance companies deal with it? Are you responsible because you put it together and printed it? It needs to be debated and thought about. It’s going to be the same for bikes and aircraft.
Sharing 3D models is not going to be as easy as many people may think. Things seem to work well now, but what will happen after the first mega-lawsuit? Will people be as free to share models? Will they insist on reading verbose disclaimers and ticking sign-offs before you download a model? Which models are most likely affected by insurance considerations? Parts? Artwork? 
Yes, things are just now getting interesting. 
Via Dezeen
Image Credit: Fotopedia

China 3D Printing Stocks Rising

According to a report on China Daily, the stock price of a number of Chinese 3D printing companies suddenly surged after a Chinese government official spoke of boosting the sector. 
The unnamed official evidently said, "China is likely to draw a long-term route map for 3D printing technology to boost development for the emerging sector." That announcement was sufficient to throw the Chinese stock market into a tizzy, apparently causing price rises exceeding 10% to at least three Chinese companies. 
Um, how do those in the West invest in these companies, again? 

Manufacturing in 3D Printing's Future?

We're reading a post by Joel Hans, managing editor of where he postulates the future of 3D printing in manufacturing plants. This got us thinking about manufacturing versus personal 3D printing. 
Fabbaloo readers are quite familiar with personal 3D printing and sometimes wonder why this amazing technology isn't used more by manufacturing plants. "Bring back jobs from Asia" is the standard cry. 
It turns out that 3D printing is in fact used in North American manufacturing - and it also isn't used. 
3D printing is used by manufacturing to produce rapid prototypes of complex or important items in an iterative manner. Test the function or look and feel of an object before you commit the huge expense of manufacturing. 
3D printing is also used to produce niche production parts, say a very complex and ultra-lightweight flange for a fighter jet, for example. It's also used to produce low-quantity (1 to 1,000, typically) production runs of unique items. 
It isn't used to produce mass quantities of any item. 
Why? Because it's just too slow and expensive. Personal 3D printer owners know this. While they are amazed at their ability to produce a terrific custom object at home, they are generally not pleased when the print takes 27.5 hours to complete. Considering the time to print, you simply can't get the efficiency out of your investment in the 3D printer as compared to mass manufacturing processes. 
Meanwhile, modern mass manufacturing techniques can rapidly produce high-quality objects at very low cost after you've invested dollars to set up the manufacturing line. 
There's a trade-off: uniqueness versus quantity. If you require a lot of anything, prototype it until it's right and then have it mass manufactured. If you need a small number of items, consider 3D printing them. 
Personal 3D printer owners usually require only one copy.
Image Credit: John Lloyd

More Thoughts on 3D Printed Weaponry

We've been reading two pieces on the topic of 3D printed guns, one by and the other from Design News. 
For those who somehow haven't yet heard of the controversy, it seems that more than one group has decided to test the feasibility of 3D printed guns. The technical feasibility has been proven; such printed guns have successfully shot bullets. What's at issue is the other feasibility: legality. 
There are many strong opinions on this story; some, like Thingiverse, prevent weapon designs from appearing in their 3D model repository, while Stratasys revoked the lease on the 3D printer used to perform a weapon experiment. Others believe in the right to bear arms and continue to pursue the project.
It may be shocking to some that it may be possible to "print" a weapon out of thin air at home, but we think this isn't as shocking as one might believe. Consider that present gun designs require various metal parts to operate - making the guns detectable. Even future all-plastic designs still require bullets, detectable by gunpowder residue. 
Meanwhile, metal guns are far more capable than anything printed in plastic. But many people already have equipment at home fully capable of making guns out of metal. 
How many? More than there are 3D printers in the world. 

3D Printed Christmas Cookies

It is Christmas today and courtesy of Ralf Holleis we have 3D printed cookies for readers. 
Holleis' team used an UNFOLD Plastruder to 3D print several styles of Rhino-modeled holiday cookies directly onto wax paper. The wax paper allowed the fragile extrusions to be easily moved into an oven for finishing, erm, cooking. 
Be sure to watch the video at the link below, as you can observe the entire process from installation of the plastuder, extrusion, cooking and of course, the eating. 

Co.Design Names 3D Printing a Trend

Design blog Co.Design (part of Fast Company) listed Frog Design's view of the "20 Tech Trends That Will Define 2013". Such lists are always interesting to examine, as they usually confirm suspicions and indications observed throughout the year.  But what did Frog believe were the trends? 
There are too many to mention, but some we thought particularly provocative were: 
  • We Lose Control Of Our Cars
  • Apps Become Invisible
  • Faces Become Interfaces
  • Sensors, Social Networks Change Health Behavior, On A Large Scale
We're not going to describe these or the several other fascinating predictions. You can read them yourself at the link below. But we are going to point out two relevant predictions. 
Rip, Mix Burn Gets Physical: Frog Design's Senior Strategist Annie Hsu suggests that the mashup concept will be taken beyond video, audio and image into the physical world: 
The notion of remixing is on the cusp of entering the realm of physical objects. One key driver is the precipitous decline in prices of 3-D printers. Six years ago, the cheapest machine was $30,000, and today you can find one for $550. A second driver is consumers’ ever-increasing expectations of fast shipping, as currently delivered by Amazon Prime and eBay, priming us for the next generation of instant gratification.
The killer app is going to put the power of ultimate customization in consumers’ hands in 2013, unleashing the new standard for creativity plus utility.
The second relevant trend is Virtual Manufacturing Starts Small:  Frog Design's AVP of Strategy Patrick Kalaher predicts small-run production will shift into the world of 3D print services such as Shapeways or RedEye Manufacturing: 
While 3-D modeling and 3-D printing have been with us for a while now, this year we’ll see the rise of virtual manufacturing. Services like Shapeways, Ponoko, Sculpteo and i.materialise, which operate as shared factories for hire, will become a common back end for small-scale (10-1,000) unit manufacturing. Think of this as analogous to the hosting of virtual servers in a distributed data center, except in this case, the virtual servers are CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) manufacturing equipment and the distributed data centers are virtual factories, spread around the world. Amateur as well as professional designers and makers will essentially be able to print objects to specification any time, without having to buy printers and factory space.
Do we agree with these predictions? Duh, what do you think! 

Ford Equips Engineers With MakerBots

It's no surprise that engineers at Ford make use of high-power commercial 3D printers; the technology has been in use at major industrial design operations for, well, decades. What is surprising is the revelation that Ford intends to "put the smaller Makerbot replicators at every engineer’s desk in the coming months", according to a report at GigaOM.
This is not a change but rather an increase of an existing approach. Many Ford engineers already have MakerBot Thing-O-Matics at their desk, but what do they do with them? The video below explains:
The car manufacturer evidently wishes to increase the productivity and more importantly the creativity of their industrial designers by providing direct access to making equipment. While it's not likely we'll see a sudden change in Ford design, this move will likely give Ford's designers a leap ahead in creative potential. 
Why MakerBots? With many different 3D printing manufacturers to choose from, Ford chose MakerBot. We suspect it's because the "prosumer level" Replicator 2 is a very capable machine available at a reasonable price per unit. We suspect Ford employs thousands of engineers, so price is obviously a prime concern. For MakerBot, this is probably their largest single order. Consider 1,000 machines would cost approximately USD$2,000,000 - and Ford could have many more than that. It's a massive boost to MakerBot's business. 
Via GigaOM (Hat tip to James)

Design of the Week: Chrysanthemum

This week's selection is the astonishingly beautiful Chrysanthemum by South African artist Michaelia Janse van Vuuren. A PhD in Electrical Engineering as well as an accomplished artist, van Vuuren focuses on designing artwork specifically for 3D printing from her studio outside of Pretoria. (Click image for larger view)
This 250x250x82mm piece is a centerpiece, but could be used in a variety of ways. van Vuuren says: 
The Chrysanthemum centrepiece is a multi functional design that can be used as either a bowl or a candle holder, depending on which side of the design faces upwards. When the Chrysanthemum is lit, a rhythmic, magical sequence of light and shade is brought to life The images show the Chrysanthemum lit with and LED tea light, unlit and the bowl side.
van Vuuren has produced many other striking works that you may peruse at her website below. But how does she come up with the ideas for these items? She says: 
I create my sculptures by first visualizing the object. This is then translated onto paper, and after a series of sketches transformed into a technical drawing. This drawing dictates the measurements and dimensions needed to translate the artwork into the computer. The scale of the sculpture, distances between parts and mechanical functionality have to be meticulously planned out before I move on to the computer. I use software programs to translate the idea into a printable digital design. 

What 3D Printing Books Are You Reading?

We've been taking a look at books that seem popular among Fabbaloo readers and found some interesting options. 
What does this list indicate? Consider that the knowledge within this set of books enables you to not only build a 3D printer, but design machines, cast parts and understand the new Maker world of the 21st century. 
And that's precisely what's happening. We're building the new century, one layer at a time. 

Fabbaloo Is In The Big Apple!

This week Fabbaloo happens to be visiting the island of Manhattan. We'll certainly check out the sights, including not only the usual museums, galleries and famous edifices, but also MakerBot's new retail store and the 3DEA event on 6th Avenue.
What other 3D print-related sights would New Yorkers suggest? Give us a shout if you have a tip or have something you think we should see. 

The Most Dangerous Person in 3D Printing

Wired has named their list of the "15 Most Dangerous People In The World". The list includes some certainly dangerous types, such as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Mexican drug kingpin of Ciudad Juarez, but also includes some persons of questionable dangerousness, such as the scandalous former Army intelligence officer Paula Broadwell. 
One name we were surprised to find was none other than Cody Wilson (above), leader of Defense Distributed, a non-profit group dedicated to developing 3D models of gun parts for free distribution. Their plan (from their site): 
  • Develop a fully printable firearm
  • Adapt the design down to cheaper 3D printers
  • Become the web's printable gun redoubt
Wilson and seven others make up Defense Distributed, which has encountered challenges in meeting their objectives. Their Stratasys 3D printer was reclaimed by the manufacturer after it was learned of their purpose. Recently Thingiverse moved to remove weapons from their popular 3D model repository. 
Nevertheless, Wilson and crew soldier on in their quest to develop printable firearms.  
But is Wilson truly the 14th most dangerous person in the world? 

3D Printing Design Contest – And the Winners are…

The 3D Printing Design Contest generated some pretty incredible designs. The imagination and ingenuity of our entrants impressed our judges.  The Grand Prize Winner of the 3D Printing Design Contest wins a $2000 cash prize, and all winners receive $100 and a 3D print of their model created on a Stratasys Mojo 3D Printer. 
Thanks again to everyone who  participated! Without further ado, here are the winners.
Read More at Engineering.COM


3D Bioprinting Software?

According to a press release from bioprinting startup Organovo, they've partnered with CAD software giant Autodesk to produce tools specifically designed for creating bioprints. 
Why this makes sense to us: 
  • Autodesk is one of, if not the, leader in 3D design software across the industry. If anyone was to tackle this problem, it would be Autodesk, who have the skills and size to experiment with an entirely new 3D modeling problem.
  • Organovo desperately needs this. As all 3D printer owners quickly realize, the problem is not the printer, it's what you print on it. Where do the 3D models come from? There is no Thingiverse for bioprints. This software, if successful, could enable the creation of many new bio-models that could increase Organovo's market.
There's one thing we're wondering about. In typical 3D printer control systems, there's usually a "BUILD" button to initiate the layer construction process. But when you're printing Living Tissue, should it really say "BUILD"? Or something else?  

A Donation and Your House in a Snowglobe

It's true: if you donate to the Home For Christmas online fundraiser, you could qualify for a rather amazing prize: your own home, 3D printed and placed within snow globe. 
According to Home For Christmas:
Every year around 75,000 young people in the UK risk spending the festive period on the streets. But it doesn't need to be this way. To help, donate as much as you can to help Barnardo's in their fight against homelessness. In return, we'll select an entrant's home address each day, remodel it, before using 3D printing to make a beautiful bespoke snow globe of their house or flat. A small reminder of the joy of being at home at Christmas.
There's more information at the links below, including a short video on the project in Creative Review's post. 
Amazing - but you'd best donate as soon as you can, as this program ends at midnight (UK time) on December 21st.