3D Printing Trends in 2009


While polishing off the last of the holiday eggnog, we've opened the Fabbaloo filing cabinet and dusted off our posts and reflected on what's transpired over these past twelve months.


Much has happened this year, but we observe some overall trends. Some continue from earlier, but a few are new:


  • Maker culture has exploded, particularly with the rise of new inexpensive 3D printing options such as MakerBot and Rap-Man, crisply defining two different market spaces: hobbyist and commercial
  • Commercial 3D printers continue to be reduced in price, some even breaking the magic USD$5,000 barrier. Some have achieved this by incremental innovations in their existing product lines, but others have chosen more radical methods: MCOR's 3D paper printer, for example
  • The mathematical integration of real life and 3D modelling is growing, and it's yielded many truly astonishing designs
  • The gradual enhancements to 3D printing services such as Shapeways, Ponoko and others. They continue to innovate by adding new materials, services and other unique twists.

It's been a great year, and next year promises to be even better!


Ponoko Mystery?

New Zealand-based personal manufacturing service Ponoko has posed a mystery with an obscure post on their blog. The entire text of the post is:

Hello Europe

It may be snowing…. but some bright rays are on their way.

We know that Ponoko has already set up a satellite manufacturing hubs in the USA (San Francisco area), but this is the first we've heard about Ponoko setting up a European manufacturing hub.

Or do we?

Perhaps the summer-soaked New Zealanders are merely having pity on the wintery Europeans in the northern hemisphere.

Via Ponoko

Material of the Year!


Last month blog Material ConneXion announcement the winners in their new MEDIUM Award for Material of the Year. This is the first annual presentation of this award, and it was given to Concrete Canvas's Concrete Cloth material. This innovative material mixes fabric with concrete that "allows it to be quickly and easily molded and set into shapes" when you add water. That's the cloth in the image here. Very cool indeed!


But what does this have to do with 3D printing?

Among the eleven Honorable Mentions for the award was Objet Geometries, manufacturers of the Eden, Alaris30 and Connex printer families. Specifically the award was directed to Objet's PolyJet tech, which permits multiple materials to be jetted during the printing process. We believe this is the only commercially marketed technology to do so.

You'll be able to see all twelve award winners at a special exhibition in January-February 2010 in New York City.

Via Material ConneXion and Objet (Hat tip to Rachel)
Image credit: Material ConneXion

Nervous Jewelry


Actually it's not the jewelry that's nervous, it's the creators. Or their company: Nervous System. They produce a line of jewelry (bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings and brooches) that were generated by sophisticated algorithms in software. The designs are then either 3D printed, or in some cases 3D printed moulds are used to create the final objects.


Nervous System uses three different algorithms for much of their product lines: diffusion limited aggregation (which produces eerie coral-ish branching structures); Distortion meshes using a physics simulator (which produces weird twisty meshes that look strangely natural) and Catmull-Clark subdivision surfaces (which produce similar stretchy meshes, but they're a lot smoother).

Here's the best part: you can actually play with these algorithms yourself using three handy applets on their Tools page.


We're very pleased to see a few things going on here:


  • 3D Printing technology is being used to create highly unique objects for a new business that might not have existed otherwise
  • Advanced mathematical algorithms that emulate natural designs join 3D printing technology to produce something fantastic

Will small designers who employ these advanced techniques demonstrate the future of 21st century businesses? Will this approach grow and overtake conventional techniques? We're watching closely.


Via Nervous System (Hat tip to Jessica)

Print Your Guitar


Every one of us is a specialist in something, and our belief is that great things happen when different specialists intersect to combine the expertise from different disciplines. One such collision recently took place at RedEyeOnDemand, a popular 3D print service.


It turns out that Tim Thellin and several co-workers at RedEye are hobby musicians, and they decided to put the two skills together. They experimented with different guitar styles and build materials, and eventually came up with a variety of interesting instruments:

It started out as a gimmick to build something really different that would stand out for use at tradeshows. So, we made our first two telecaster style guitars out of PC-ISO and ABSi red materials. The sleek, translucent look of the PC-ISO only added to its rigidness and durability. Then, we chose ABSi red to build something in a different color that we could send to Stratasys' European sales office for use as samples and at their tradeshows. We quickly learned how easy it was to create custom designs with intricate geometries using the FDM technology.

We couldn't stop with single color projects, so we worked on a truly custom design and build a double S-shaped guitar for Stratasys using ABS black and blue. We further enhanced the complexity using PolyJet Clear and Vero White for the knobs.

To accomplish this, Tim first purchased an actual guitar so that he could reuse the non-printable bits as well as get some hints about dimensions and layouts. The video shows some of the process undertaken and the resulting rather unconventional guitar. Future designs are limited only by their imagination.


Amazing stuff, but we're wondering whether this opens up a legal question: what happens if someone buys an object and then precisely copies it? Could that be considered "personal use" by means of making a "backup copy" of the object? Whose Stratocaster is that?

Via YouTube and RedEye On Demand

Shrunken Heads at Opend3DP!

The folks at Open3DP continue to investigate ways to produce 3D glass printing, and they've been quite successful so far. A recent post shows their work, but as one can clearly see in their image, a problem is shrinkage during the post-printing firing phase. Yes, that's right - the image on the right shows the degree of shrinkage by firing the original glass-printed object on the left.

This poses an interesting dilemma for future software makers: they'll have to include features that account for post-printing shrinkage. In the shrunken-head example above there's not much issue, but one can imagine the complexities that might occur with supports, tightly-fitting designs, multi-part assembly and designs dependent on precise dimensions.

Via Open3DP

Merry Christmas to 3D Printing!

We haven't believed in Santa for, well, a while now. But for the moment we wondered what gifts Santa might bring to the world of 3D printing….

Best of the season to everyone!

O'Reilly Names 3D Printing Best Tech of The Decade, Sorta

That's correct: James Turner at O'Reilly Radar has produced a list of what they believe to be the best (and worst) technologies of the past decade. Among the storied items on the list, "The Maker Culture" is prominently mentioned:

There's always been a DIY underground, covering everything from Ham radio to photography to model railroading. But the level of cool has taken a noticeable uptick this decade, as cheap digital technology has given DIY a kick in the pants. The Arduino lets anyone embed control capabilities into just about anything you can imagine, amateur PCB board fabrication has gone from a messy kitchen sink operation to a click-and-upload-your-design purchase, and the 3D printer is turning the Star Trek replicator into a reality.

We agree with that completely. And we agree with this even more:

Manufacturers cringe in fear as enterprising geeks dig out their screwdrivers. The conventional wisdom was that as electronics got more complex, the "no user serviceable parts" mentality would spell the end of consumer experimentation. But instead, the fact that everything is turning into a computer meant that you could take a device meant for one thing, and reprogram it to do something else.

For reference, O'Reilly's complete list of best tech includes:

  • AJAX
  • Twitter
  • Ubiquitous WiFi (except where we seem to be, for some reason)
  • Smartphones
  • Open Source
  • Hardware and Network availability

And their worst list includes:

  • SOAP
  • Intellectual Property shenanigans
  • Scrum Cults
  • The Ubiquitous Workplace (we ESPECIALLY agree with this last one)

A great list by James and the others at O'Reilly. But what might happen during the next decade? Remember, the 21st Century is now 10% over.

Via O'Reilly Radar

3D Ping Pong by Materialise

Materialise, one of the larger 3D print services recently did an experiment using their new "Extreme" stereolithography material. They call it extreme because it's quite robust, with an impact strength of 0.45J/cm.

How robust, you might ask? Apparently strong enough to make ping pong paddles from the material and play a real game with them: "Even smashing is possible!" Don't believe us? Watch the video.

The material would be great for snap-lock parts or extra-durable cases. We're wondering when this robustness will make its way from stereolithography into 3D printers.

Via Materialise

Bios in San Jose!

The ZER01 Art and Technology Network is preparing for what promises to be a spectacular event in September 2010 in San Jose, California. The event is an art exhibition held every two years, and this year's theme is "Build Your Own World". Now that's the a theme Fabbaloo readers would like to hear more about.

One of the exhibitors will be the BIOS Collective: "BIOS collective is a working group of academic and professional designers exploring the application of biological patterns to architecture."

We've written about their interesting work before.

According to Charles Lee, Co-Founder & President of the Bios Design Collective:

We are hoping for a close relationship with the 3d community to try to help realize our project. The installation is entitled Coloniatechne and it is our hope that when complete it would be the largest collection of 3d printed panels yet assembled. We have budgeted for the purchase of at least three Reprap machines and hope to have them continuously run in a musuem or gallery setting for most of the next year for the final installation in September. Since we have only won the concept design phase of the project the specifics of the where has not been resolved yet. We want to make the production of the panels open to the whole 3d community in the hopes we can achieve the production of all the "Polyps" we need.

The ColoniaTechne project is uses the principles of agent-based self organization to form the structures. While these principles are found in many places within not only nature but also human society, Bios have chosen Coral as the inspiration of the ColoniaTechne project.

Our project proposes an interpretation of the qualities shared between complex biological systems – like coral – and the collaborative distributed networks found in 21st century human electronic culture. To create our project, we will draw from two open-source communities: one centered around the development of the “Replicating Rapid Prototyper” (RepRap) and one centered around the development of software for an open-source microcontroller (Arduino). With the help of these two communities, and SJ Zero-One, we will create a self-organized, interactive sculpture who’s behavior runs on crowd-sourced algorithms.

Bios plans to build a "Pavilion" at a point of high traffic and waiting area for convention commuters, where they will be astonished by the displays. Inside the pavilion unique "polyps" will use genetic algorithm-equipped "Grasshopper" software to develop the objects. However:

Grasshopper, and its companion program Rhino, are both down-loadable as fully functional trial versions, and so are available to anybody with a computer to run them. We will post a base algorithm on our blog, asking people to download and modify it to create their own versions. We will print their designs on our machines, or encourage them to print their own when possible, and drop them off. As our collection of polyps grows throughout the summer, we will add them to the base structure.

They're still in the early stages of this enormous project, but we thought there are many willing participants in the Fabbaloo sphere that might want to contact Bios to participate. "The project is still in concept design and will definitely develop in the coming months. We are looking for new members to help participate on the project so please feel free to contact Charles, Chris or Jess about possible opportunities and contributions."

Via Bios and ZER01

MakerBot Hall of Fame

The MakerBot guys are not just hardware and software geniuses. They are marketing genuises, too. They've set up a "Hall of Fame" for MakerBot users, in the best use of Game Theory we've yet seen in the 3D printing space. This is a terrific approach that we think will definitely make more things happen in the MakerBot world. We thought the Fame Categories were pretty interesting:

  • Tallest Print
  • Biggest Volume
  • Longest Print
  • Most Complex
  • Best Replication
  • Biggest Overhang
  • Highest Resolution
  • Most Awesome Print Ever

With the exception of the last category, all of them are specifically challenging MakerBot users to Make the Machine Better. Building on their previous approach of convincing their customers to build MakerBot for them, they've now set up a framework for customers to improve the product. Well Done, MakerBot!

We can't wait to see the Most Awesome Print Ever, too.

Another thought: Should there be a Hall of Shame? Maybe not, because it'd probably end up being an array of badly colored lumps. Ugh.

Via MakerBot

The Spatter

We bumped into this intriguing 3D design on Flickr, produced by Phil Renato. According to the Flickr notes, the item was printed by Mike Gayk at 3D Systems University in "Projet thermophotopolymer", for which we can't locate any more data.

The fine details are interesting, and evidently some work was done to accomplish this:

I sanded and polished it using my standard series of auto paint finishing steps - and it got bluer and smoother and more translucent. As I progressed through, however, to wax etc the build texture started reappearing. Then I drilled out and set the studs with epoxy (as the material is not a thermoformable once photoset) - and I used a 250W halogen bulb about 12" away to kick the glue (60min glue, let sit 9 hours with lamp on). When I went to get it, it was this crazy pastel/white blue with all of the build texture coming through - even while the surface remained "polished." Crazy.

Via Flickr

Definitive Guide Complete?

Make Magazine has produced a complete list of open source hardware projects, ranging in categories from 3D Printing, Arduino, Clocks, Development Platforms, Green Energy, Games, Medical, Robotics and many other areas. The category of interest to us, is of course, 3D printing. There we find the major open projects listed:

  • Contraptor
  • Fab@Home
  • MakerBeam
  • MakerBot
  • RepRap

And that is indeed the list of the major projects, but we wonder whether there are other smaller projects that might be considered for such a list? Over the past two years we've written on several independent projects attempting various angles on 3D printing. But at least so far, none have reached the heights these five have made.

Via Make

Designing Interface Architecture

FABberz and the Live Architecture Network are collaborating on a new venture to bring design tools to students in Brazil. Their idea: produce collaborative designs with residents and students to improve housing conditions in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.

They'll be holding a series of workshops leading up to the 2016 Olympics, which are being held in Rio in that year. The first workshop will be held with local architects soon. Students will be introduced to "cutting edge parametric design tools", and their goal will be housing that is not only affordable, but also sustainable. Hopefully issues with housing, crime and drugs will be reduced.

The project needs funding, as all projects do. They've chosen to use Kickstarter as their fundraising platform. The project requires USD$7,000, but has only $1,000 as of this writing. Deadline: January 9, 2010. If you would like to support this worthy venture, please proceed directly to the link below!

And you thought there were few good spin-offs from the Olympics!

Via KickStarter

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Let's Download Some Hardware!

Bryan Bishop and Ben Lipkowitz talk about their new open source venture: SKDB. What is it? It's a open source hardware distribution framework that takes cues from the highly successful software world.

The software world was held back for decades by centrally controlled proprietary paradigms, but blossomed when open source principles took hold. Today we see open source software dominating almost all aspects of software, and software designers often spend their time designing higher-level systems by using open source software as building blocks.

That success was most visibly demonstrated by Debian, a project to produce a specific distribution of the Linux operating system. One of Debian's key features was a means to quickly obtain software or software upgrades very easily by using the APT-GET command. The command pulls down not only the software you requested, but all related items it depends on. This approach was used by Ubuntu, who produce one of the most popular operating systems on the planet.

Bishop and Lipkowitz believe the same approach could break open the 3D fabbing market by making it terrifically easy for makers to access high quality conglomerations of models. The software makers went farther than just using software, however, as they built more complex software on top of simpler components distributed via APT-GET. The same forms of assembly are used to produce 3D objects, and thus the theory is that similar product complexity can be achieved.

Via Youtube (part 1), YouTube (part 2), YouTube (Part 3), Slides here and the SKDB site (Hat tip to Bryan)

3D Printers Should Not Be Banned

Last week we posted our thoughts on Gartner's Nick Jones' article suggesting that 3D printers might be banned in the future as they might overflow our streets with discarded plastic items. We don't think the world will look like a McDonalds Happy Meal Toy graveyard anytime soon, and apparently neither does anyone else, either.

Followup articles quickly appeared at Ponoko and Erik de Bruijn's blog, where the comments flew in definite disagreement. Many commenters cited exploratory work on biodegradable materials, but also the notion that residential or even distributed 3D printing would save significant amounts of carbon due to avoidance of object shipment. It's even possible to run our home fabber using wind/solar/geothermal power. One commenter asked:

The question is should I be getting carbon credits for using a reprap in my direct recycling efforts?

We think 3D printing can be an environmentally friendly method of manufacturing, if done right. The commenters and thousands of others working on the problem are going to make certain it is.

Via Ponoko and Erik de Bruijn

Darwin's Ring

Multiple tips arrived this week directing us to a rather amazing design: FluidForm's Evolve Ring Silver, designed by Michal Piasecki and Krystian Kwiecinski. Not only does this item look very attractive, it also has a scientific heritage: The design was machine generated by Artificial Intelligence software, specifically a genetic algorithm. GAs use simulations of reproducing generations to gradually "evolve" a solution.

Piasecki and Kwiecinski designed a GA specifically to produce such rings and this is their result.

But it doesn't end there. This GA is evidently to become part of Fluid Forms' standard service. In other words you'll soon be able to use the GA as a "ring configurator" to generate a unique ring of your own! They say this is mass customization, and it is.

But it's also Customized Evolution. Your solution, grown in seconds.

Via FluidForms and Michal Piasecki (Hat tip to Andreas, Bryan and Kerry)

FOC Explores 3D Paper Printing

We've written a few times about the amazing paper 3D printer from MCOR, which uses common A4 paper as it's build material. Now we see it being used by a professional design firm: Freedom Of Creation.

They've been experimenting with the device and produced the iPhone cover shown above. As you can see, they slipped in a stack of rainbow-colored paper into the MCOR's input hopper, resulting the multicoloured iPhone cover. With paper printing, the object can be colored before it's even made!

Some comments from FOC on this technology:

What is intriguing about printing in paper is that the process itself is fairly simple, its about stacking layers of paper and removing what you don’t need.

It’s the greenest and most low-cost technology for 3D printing, therefore Freedom Of Creations’ Imagineering department is researching possible applications ranging from collection products to scale models and promotional material for clients.

It sounds like they'll be making good use of the technology in coming months. Can we have that in green?

Via Freedom Of Creation

3D Systems Unveils The Biggest!

3D Printer manufacturer 3D Systems demonstrated their new Projet 5000 Large Format 3D printer at the EuroMold conference. Is this just another 3D printer? No - there's something unique about this one.

It possibly has the largest build chamber available in a 3D printer today: a staggering 55 x 39 x 30 cm. To accompany that statistic, the Projet 5000 can also run for an amazing 80 unattended hours, due to its ability to hold up to 8 material delivery modules.

For those applications that absolutely require the large build size, this will be welcome news. No word on pricing yet, but it's probably more than we can afford.

Via 3D Systems

Micro-Machining Process

Swiss-based BESTinCLASS, developers of the very cool Micro-Machining Process  (MMP), have come to terms with EOS, makers of laser-sintering equipment for exclusive use of MMP in the UK. We're a little puzzled, since we heard earlier that BESTinCLASS had awarded exclusivity to First Surface.

Nevertheless, we believe this finishing process is quite interesting. The process apparently uses a combination of mechanical, physical and chemical techniques against a surface. Key features:

  • Surface finishes can be controlled selectively up to a mirror-like polish
  • Costs and turnaround times are predictable and controlled
  • Finishes can be reproduced to industrial standards for multiple parts
  • Treated parts are free from contamination

You can see the results in the image above.

We wonder whether MMP could be used on metal 3D printed objects? Or better yet, included as a feature in 3D printers. That capability would certainly raise the profile of 3D printing outside of the technically-oriented early adopters, because smooth finishes appear more professional to the uninitiated.

And everyone loves shiny objects.