Having created and 3D printed countless voronoi and lattice structures, I knew this wouldn’t be a problem, however, I can certainly breathe a little easier knowing that the models are robust and suitable for even a basic FDM 3D printer. I used my old Wanhao Duplicator i3 Plus for the 2 models pictured above, and while the PLA filament was a little stringy (has not been stored well), the result was good enough for a proof of concept. No support material was used, and the total print time was about 1.5 hours.
What’s most fascinating about this to me is that now these NFTs exist in both the virtual and physical worlds at the same time. I currently own the virtual models, confirmed on the Ethereum (ETH) blockchain, while also owning physical prints of this virtual information. For 0.05 ETH you can buy these 3D models, yet I still own a physical copy. This is where some people have a problem with NFTs, however, for me I think this is the same as what happens with art, music, movies etc. every day; ownership of the original might change, but people still own/trade/share copies. What’s important is that ownership of the original is clearly recorded as a contract (in this case on a blockchain), and can be tracked through time, with royalties paid to the creator each time it is sold.
Anyway, back to the 3D printing. I’m actually offering to send anyone who buys 4 or more of my NFTs 3D printed versions for FREE, anywhere in the world. However, I’m going to improve upon rough FDM prints and get them printed using selective laser sintering (SLS). All you need to do once you buy them is contact me via Twitter (@edditive) or directly here on my blog, show proof of purchase, provide your shipping address, and wait by your mailbox until they turn up. That way you don’t even need a 3D printer to enjoy your NFTs in the real world!
Welcome to my first post about NFT’s and 3D Printing!
If you’re new to NFTs like me, I hope you find this interesting with a few little tips and tricks along the way. If I can say one thing about NFTs (aka. Non-Fungible Tokens), it’s that they’re difficult to wrap your head around. Even just a few months ago, I was telling people I didn’t have any interest in making them or buying them. But here I am, dipping my toes in the water, and enjoying the learning process. For me, I found that just jumping in, committing some time and money, and making some NFTs was the best way to figure it all out. You may also need to jump into cryptocurrencies as well, but let’s not fall down this rabbit hole now!
As for explaining the whole concept of NFTs, I’ll leave that to The Verge or Investopedia to describe much better than I can. What’s important to know is that it is essentially a way to buy and sell digital information, which might be an artwork or animation, or even a 3D model. It’s also a way to verify who actually owns the information, even if other people are using it.
This obviously presents some opportunities for 3D printing files. If you wander around my blog, you’ll find dozens of free files that I’ve shared on websites like Thingiverse and Printables (formerly PrusaPrinters). These are normally shared with a Creative Commons license like CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, allowing anyone to download, 3D print, remix, copy and share the design, as long as they don’t try and sell it. I’ve even sold some files under different license terms. However, what can be much harder to document is who actually owns the design if thousands of people have downloaded it. For example, the designs I share online all link back to my profile, and it’s relatively clear who created the original. As long as someone doesn’t re-upload the file under their own profile, which is unfortunately a common problem! But what if you really love a particular design, and don’t just want to download a copy of it like everyone else but own the rights to it? Typically this would require some contracts between the designer (e.g. me) and the buyer to formalise, including payment and royalty conditions. This is where the NFT system can work nicely, as it is set up to be a digital contract that documents this, and supports the transfer of payments and royalties.
This is what I wanted to learn more about. So, I’ve created my first NFT collection for 3D printing, which is called BITSnATOMS – 3D Typeset for 3D Printing. As the name suggests, it’s a collection of 44 numbers, letters and symbols that people can collect to represent their name, initials, brand, etc. Through 3D printing, they can exist in the digital and physical worlds at the same time, which is a bit beyond what most NFTs offer. The GIFs below give you an idea of the voronoi geometry used for the typeface, but if you check out the link to the collection you’ll be able to actually interact with the 3D models.
The design itself combines several of the things I’ve shown in tutorials on this blog before, for example my video showing how to lightweight a bike brake lever. I might write another article later about how I actually created these, but the short version goes something like:
A basic 3D model was created in Solidworks and exported as a STL file.
This mesh was then rebuilt in Rhinoceros to have a more random and controlled collection of faces.
Next, it was imported into Meshmixer to create the voronoi lattice structure you see.
Lastly, and this part is important for NFTs on OpenSea, I used Microsoft Paint 3D to convert the STL file into a GLB file.
A GLB file is used for virtual reality, and OpenSea can directly embed this within its listing of your NFT, making it interactive so people can properly view your design. At the time of writing, there was no support for other 3D file formats that might be used for 3D printing, and there was also no GLB export method in any of my CAD packages. The good news is that GLB files open in Cura, making them directly 3D printable, or they can be opened up again in Paint 3D and converted back to STL files. There are also plenty of free online converters.
The actual process of listing NFTs gets a bit more complex (at least for a newbie). Thankfully OpenSea provides really great tutorials on getting set up with an account, as well as creating and listing your first NFT. I followed these to the letter, and had no issues, opting for a MetaMask wallet to hold my cryptocurrencies. Again, I could write a whole article about this part of the process, and may do so in future.
The rest of the NFT process is much like listing any item for sale online: Uploading the actual NFT (or information about how it can be accessed after purchase), a description, price, listing duration and you’re done. Multiple items can form what’s called a “collection,” although I found that the process of uploading each item individually was a bit painful, there is currently no batch upload process. Most of the things you hear about NFTs are actually collections, sometimes many thousands of items, rather than one-off items, and some of the items in these collections are worth hundreds-of-thousands of dollars each! For example, the Bored Ape Yacht Club is probably the most famous collection, with 10,000 artworks. The cheapest of these is currently selling for 111 ETH (which is worth $395,000 USD, or $527,000 AUD)! So multiply this by 10,000 and there is some serious money involved in this collection.
But this would be the exception, rather than the rule, for NFT success.
The challenge now seems to be all about marketing – there are so many millions of NFTs available that it’s extremely difficult to stand out, especially as a newbie who has neither bought nor sold an NFT before. So stay tuned as I figure out this part! For now, if you check out my collection and could share it on your social media, that would be a fantastic start.
I hope this was a useful intro to NFTs for 3D printing, please comment with any questions or ideas, or let me know what you’d like me to cover in the next blog article.
Quite a cool milestone and application of 3D printing, and also happens to be a field I’ve been investigating for the past 6 months with some of my colleagues at the Herston Biofabrication Institute. We’ve just published a review of all research into the use of 3D printing for orbital and ocular prostheses, and you can access the full article for free here.
The graph above does a nice job of showing the overall trend for research on this topic, with the first ever paper dating back to 2004. Early studies like this certainly weren’t 3D printing eyes and implanting them in patients, but instead used 3D printing as part of the process, creating moulds and similar devices. The first time a 3D printed part was directly used as part of a prosthesis was in 2014.
Perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate what is possible now using full-colour 3D print methods (material jetting) is the below video from Weta Workshop. While these may be eyes for monsters, the same principle is being used for human prosthetic eyes. One of the key differences between what Weta Workshop have achieved, and what is being done for patients, is the need for biocompatible materials, as well as the need for a patient’s eye to perfectly match their existing “good” eye.
While it’s early days in the clinical trial phase of implementing 3D printing for prosthetic eyes, there are many benefits which we summarised from our research, including:
Manual steps in prosthesis fabrication can be replaced by digital methods, potentially saving time
Less discomfort to patients through use of medical imaging or 3D scanning techniques
Weight reduction compared to traditional methods
Improved accuracy and fitting of prosthesis
Minimised need for gluing a prosthesis to the skin
Good realism of eye
Ability to easily re-print the same components in the future
Of course, there are currently some limitations as well, such as:
End-use 3D printed parts are typically not biocompatible and require coating with PMMA or used as a mould to cast with biocompatible material (although the UK trial shows that direct 3D printing of multi-colour biocompatible materials may be possible)
Experience in computer-aided design (CAD) technology is required, which is not part of traditional skillset for prosthetist
AM times are slow (although they can also happen overnight or while a specialist does other things)
Rough surface quality of parts requires additional post-processing e.g. polishing
Challenges associated with using 3D scanners e.g. patient movement or scanning anatomy with hair
Expert manual skills are still required for some steps of the workflow
Use of CT scanning for the purposes of creating a prosthetic increases patient exposure to potentially harmful radiation
Research to-date has been limited to small case studies and engineering experiments, making it difficult to understand whether outcomes will translate to the clinical context. It will be great to see how the UK clinical trial progresses, and hopefully provides improved outcomes for patients. Let’s watch this space!
Let me start this off by agreeing with you – yes, this is a weird idea!
But when you work at the Herston Biofabrication Institute and spend most of your days working on neurosurgery and other medical projects, it hopefully makes a bit more sense why anyone would 3D print a “Merry Xmas” brain to decorate our office Christmas tree.
The design of this was quite simple and was based on some tutorials I’ve previously written about mashups and remixes – basically, taking 2 (or more) different files and joining them together in a new and creative way. The brain itself was downloaded here, and then the letters were quickly modelled in Solidworks and exported as individual STL files. All of this was then combined in Meshmixer, which is my go-to software for this type of mashup project (and it’s free for anyone looking to do the same).
This was 3D printed on my Craftbot Flow IDEX XL 3D printer in PLA, with a small hole drilled on the top afterwards to thread a piece of string through. And of course, I’m giving this design away for free to anyone crazy enough to also want a 3D printed Xmas brain decoration! Just click the links below to your preferred 3D print file website and enjoy:
Major sporting events like the Paralympics are a breeding ground for technological innovation. Athletes, coaches, designers, engineers and sports scientists are constantly looking for the next improvement that will give them the edge. Over the past decade, 3D printing has become a tool to drive improvements in sports like running and cycling, and is increasingly used by paralympic athletes.
The Paralympics features athletes with a diverse range of abilities, competing in a wide range of different categories. Many competitors use prosthetics, wheelchairs or other specialised components to enable them to perform at their best.
One interesting question is whether 3D printing widens or narrows the divide between athletes with access to specialised technologies, and those without. To put it another way, does the widespread availability of 3D printers — which can now be found in many homes, schools, universities and makerspaces — help to level the playing field?
Forget mass production
Mass-manufactured equipment, such as gloves, shoes and bicycles, is generally designed to suit typical able-bodied body shapes and playing styles. As such, it may not be suitable for many paralympians. But one-off, bespoke equipment is expensive and time-consuming to produce. This can limit access for some athletes, or require them to come up with their own “do-it-yourself” solutions, which may not be as advanced as professionally produced equipment.
3D printing can deliver bespoke equipment at a more affordable price. Several former paralympians, such as British triathlete Joe Townsend and US track athlete Arielle Rausin, now use 3D printing to create personalised gloves for themselves and their fellow wheelchair athletes. These gloves fit as if they were moulded over the athlete’s hands, and can be printed in different materials for different conditions. For example, Townsend uses stiff materials for maximum performance in competition, and softer gloves for training that are comfortable and less likely to cause injury.
3D-printed gloves are inexpensive, rapidly produced, and can be reprinted whenever they break. Because the design is digital, just like a photo or video, it can be modified based on the athlete’s feedback, or even sent to the nearest 3D printer when parts are urgently needed.
An elite athlete might be concerned about whether 3D-printed parts will be strong enough to withstand the required performance demands. Fortunately, materials for 3D printing have come a long way, with many 3D printing companies developing their own formulas to suit applications in various industries – from medical to aerospace.
With research showing sprint cyclists can generate more than 1,000 Newtons of force during acceleration (the same force you would feel if a 100-kilogram person were to stand on top of you!), such prosthetics need to be incredibly strong and durable. Schindler’s helped her win a bronze medal at the Tokyo games.
More advanced materials being 3D printed for Paralympic equipment include carbon fibre, with Townsend using it to produce the perfect crank arms for his handbike. 3D printing allows reinforced carbon fibre to be placed exactly where it is needed to improve the stiffness of a part, while remaining lightweight. This results in a better-performing part than one made from aluminium.
3D-printed titanium is also being used for custom prosthetic arms, such as those that allow New Zealand paralympian Anna Grimaldi to securely grip 50kg weights, in a way a standard prosthetic couldn’t achieve.
Different technologies working together
For 3D printing to deliver maximum results, it needs to be used in conjunction with other technologies. For example, 3D scanning is often an important part of the design process, using a collection of photographs, or dedicated 3D scanners, to digitise part of an athlete’s body.
Such technology has been used to 3D-scan a seat mould for Australian wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott, allowing engineers to manufacture a seat that gives him maximum comfort, stability and performance.
3D scanning was also used to create the perfect-fitting grip for Australian archer Taymon Kenton-Smith, who was born with a partial left hand. The grip was then 3D-printed in both hard and soft materials at the Australian Institute of Sport, providing a more reliable bow grip with shock-absorbing abilities. If the grip breaks, an identical one can be easily reprinted, rather than relying on someone to hand-craft a new one that might have slight variations and take a long time to produce.
All these technologies are increasingly accessible, meaning more non-elite athletes can experiment with unique parts. Amateurs and professionals alike can already buy running shoes with 3D-printed soles, and 3D-printed custom bike frames. For those with access to their own 3D printer, surf fins, cycling accessories and more can be downloaded for free and printed for just a few dollars.
However, don’t expect your home 3D printer to be making titanium parts anytime soon. While the technology is levelling the playing field to a certain extent, elite athletes still have access to specialised materials and engineering expertise, giving them the technological edge.
It’s official – my entire house now uses 3D printed light covers!
If you follow this blog you may have seen some of my previous indoor light covers, featuring a 3D scanned sea urchin shell and a pineapple. Of course, I couldn’t stop with indoor lights, especially since the outdoor wall-mounted lights on my house looked like the cheapest fittings available. They were desperately in need of an upgrade.
Luckily the fitting includes a piece that is easily unscrewed to accommodate standard DIY light covers. A few simple measurements, including the diameter of the fitting and distance of the protruding light bulb, meant that I had everything needed to create my own design in CAD. For this one I decided to use Fusion 360, just to keep my skills up as I’ve done a few projects in Solidworks recently. The only other limitation was the size of the Prusa MK3S+ build volume (250 x 210 x 210mm), as I wanted the light cover to be 3D printable in a single piece.
Putting all of this information in Fusion 360 gave me a starting point, and of course I began experimenting with a few simple ideas. The one that stuck was this collection of lofts that twist in different directions. Not overly complex, just a clean design that is easy to clean (a complex lattice would just invite spiders!) and protects the lightbulb from sun/rain. Because these are mounted quite high on the walls, what I really wanted was a cool effect when you are looking directly up at the light from below – see the top right image.
Something else I experimented with for the first time with this design was 3D printing using PETG filament – specifically, PETG from eSun. Why? Mainly because PETG has good UV stability so should last while out in the elements and sunshine. But what I’ve really enjoyed is how easy it is to print with – no warping, good adhesion to the build platform and no smelly fumes while printing. Happy days! I actually used the default PETG settings in PrusaSlicer and they seem to be dialled in nicely (no surprises really, thanks Prusa). The material also has a translucency, so the light shade has a bit of a glow when the light is on as you can see in the photos. If you’re looking for more details about the material properties and slicing settings for PETG, this article is a good starting point.
My desk is covered with 3D prints, some of them my own designs, and others are just cool examples of what can be done with a home 3D printer. This is one of those examples.
Stian Ervik Wahlvaag (@agepbiz) has created a clever range of 3D printed vehicles known as “Tiny Surprise Eggs” – why? Well, because they fit within an egg of course! The unique feature of each toy (and egg) is that they feature moving parts printed in place, without the need for any support material. Once the toy is taken off the printer, it is ready to go. The example pictured above is “Surprise Egg #7 – Tiny Car Carrier” and all the vehicle wheels rotate, and the car carrier itself can raise and lower the ramps.
While I didn’t print the egg, I did scale these prints up 200% to have something a little bit more child-friendly. Unfortunately I enjoy them so much they have permanently stayed on my desk, but I promise I’ll print my son another set! The moving parts still work really well at this increased scale and provide some clever design tricks to ensure multiple parts can be printed as an assembly. As an example, above is a cross section through one of the cars showing how the wheels and axels are designed within the main body of the car. Some simple angled details mean that no support material is needed when printed in this orientation, yet from the outside the car just looks like it has normal cylindrical wheels. Great example of how to design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) as it’s known.
Following the vehicle carrier, I’ve also 3D printed “Surprise Egg # 6 – Tiny Jet Fighter” which features wings which fold out, again at 200% scale and with no support material. Both of these designs, as well as at least 8 more surprise egg vehicles, are free to download from Thingiverse, and highly recommended as a way to test your print settings (if there are any issues the moving parts may end up fused together), and learn a few of the tricks for designing assemblies for 3D printing.
If you print these yourself, or have any other recommended prints that include clever design details like moving parts, please share them in the comments section.
3D printing is a slooooow process. While 3D printing geeks like me can spend hours watching a printer lay down layers of plastic, it often turns manufacturers off who are used to rapid manufacturing process like injection moulding where parts can be pumped out every few seconds. However, there is a way to produce products en masse and it’s called the 3D printing build farm.
Perhaps you’ve already seen images like the ones above – these are well known examples of 3D printing build farms at Ultimaker (left) and Prusa (right) that illustrate what they’re all about: Lots and lots of 3D printers! A 3D printing build farm is basically just a collection of several 3D printers, or many hundreds of 3D printers, that can significantly scale up the production of parts. These can often be networked together as part of a single management system, meaning only a small number of workers are needed to keep an eye on things. The benefit over other mass production technologies is that you still retain the benefits of 3D printing a unique item on every 3D printer, rather than just producing thousands of exactly the same product. Of course, you can also produce thousands of the same part, for example the Prusa build farm is made up of over 500 of their own 3D printers, which are used to print many of the parts to assemble new 3D printers.
A centralised build farm (left) and a decentralised, geographically dispersed build farm (right)
Recently I published a book chapter analysing 3D printing build farms in the context of work and the future. Titled ‘3D Printing Build Farms: The Rise of a Distributed Manufacturing Workforce,’ one of the main opportunities we discuss that has not yet been exploited is for 3D printing build farms to be geographically distributed, rather than centralised within a single facility (illustrated above). If all the 3D printers within the build farm are connected to a central management system, then they do not actually need to be located in the same physical location.
Obviously there are some benefits to having all the machines located together, particularly for maintenance and monitoring. However, there may also be several benefits to distributing the 3D printers domestically or internationally, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the longer-term changes we may now enjoy working from home, or at least working in a more decentralised manner:
3D printers can be located closer to customers. Centralised 3D printing build farms must still ship products around the world, just like conventional manufacturers, which costs time and money.
Distributed farms may better suit new flexible working conditions, allowing people to work the hours they want, from a location they want.
New jobs in regional areas with smart regions connected to smart cities. 3D printers may be distributed in regional areas, as well as cities, reducing the need for people to relocate to overcrowded cities in order to find work.
Businesses may join forces and utilise shared “nodes” of the 3D printing build farm.
Time will tell if this provides businesses with new advantages, but it is clear that build farms, whether centralised or distributed, are a growing trend with real commercial value. Some of the biggest adopters are in the dental industry, for example SmileDirectClub which uses 49 multi jet fusion 3D printers from HP to manufacture moulds for up to 49,000 clear aligners each day. This is big business, driven by 3D printing and build farm systems.
If you’re into 3D printing, no doubt you are familiar with some of the ways it is being used in sports. Some of my own products (above) have included a 3D printed bicycle frame, smart bicycle helmet and surf fins, while in the media products have included shoes, golf clubs and shin pads.
However, as a researcher, I was interested to know how this translates into academic research. How many research studies have been looking at 3D printing for sports products? How much improvement does a 3D printed product offer over a conventional one? Which sports are adopting 3D printing? Working with my brother, Dr Andrew Novak, we hypothesized that given the amount of coverage in 3D printing media, there should be quite a large amount of research supporting the developments of iconic 3D printed sports products, as well as novel developments that haven’t even made it into the media yet. The results – published in a paper titled ‘Is additive manufacturing improving performance in Sports? A systematic review‘ – were surprising (preprint version freely available).
Up until May 2019, we found only 26 academic studies that provided any empirical evidence related to 3D printing for sports products. The graph above shows which sports, and how many articles have been published. The first of these appeared in 2010. Running/walking was the most popular sport with 10 articles (38%), followed by cycling with 4 articles (15%) and badminton with 3 articles (12%). All other sports – baseball, climbing, cricket, football (soccer), golf, hurling, in-line skating, rowing and surfing – had only been assessed in single studies. This means that a lot of research into 3D printing of sports products are just one-off projects, and indicates that there may be very little funding/interest to continue building larger projects.
It also suggests that any research being done to support mainstream commercial applications of 3D printing, for example for brands like Adidas and Specialized, is protected by intellectual property (IP) and not being published.
10 articles (38%) observed improvements in performance of products developed via 3D printing compared to conventionally manufactured products, 8 articles (31%) found a similar performance, and 5 articles (19%) found a lower performance.
From a technical perspective, powder bed fusion technologies were the most utilized with 50% of articles using either selective laser sintering (SLS) or selective laser melting (SLM), although 52% of articles did not name the 3D printer used and 36% did not name any software used to design or optimize products. 3D scanning technology was also utilized in 11 articles (42%).
So, is 3D printing in sport a hit or hype? Based on this research it is clear that within academia, 3D printing is still in the very early phases of consideration, and seems to be significantly behind industry. While you may be able to go and buy some 3D printed running shoes or insoles, or cycle on a 3D printed saddle, you won’t find any objective data in journal articles on these products or much research to suggest that 3D printed products are any better than conventionally manufacture products.
Anyone with a 3D printer will no doubt be familiar with Thingiverse, an online database of files that can be searched, downloaded and 3D printed; a universe of things. I’ve been using it for 7 years, and you can find many of my projects from this blog available there.
While the platform isn’t without its issues, particularly over the last year or so, it is still the largest 3D printing file database with over 1.9 million files at this time of writing – you couldn’t print that much stuff in a lifetime!
Because of the scale, many researchers have used Thingiverse as a way of understanding how people engage with 3D printing and file sharing, and beginning in 2018, I wanted to understand the characteristics of the most popular files on Thingiverse. My research paper has just been published called “500 days of Thingiverse: a longitudinal study of 30 popular things for 3D printing” and as the name suggests, involved tracking 30 things over a 500 day period.
The image at the top is one of the graphs from the paper that compares the downloads per day for these 30 things over time. At the start of the study, a new design called the Xbox One controller mini wheel had just been released and was all over social media, attracting a lot of attention and downloads. This equated to 698 downloads per day. However, this momentum didn’t last. In comparison, well established designs like #3DBenchy continued to increase in downloads per day, and during the period of this study, #3DBenchy became the first thing on Thingiverse to be downloaded over 1 million times! These numbers are beginning to approach figures on more mainstream social media and image/video sites, showing just how popular 3D printing has become. And keep in mind, this is just one of many file sharing websites for 3D printing, a topic that was part of a previous research paper I wrote with friend, colleague and fellow maker, Paul Bardini.
If you’re interested in all the details, I have shared a preprint version of the paper which can be freely accessed. Additionally, all of the raw data can be freely accessed if you’re interested in diving into the nitty gritty details, or even continuing to add to what I started. I hope this provides some insights into the scale of making and 3D printing, and some of the trends that drive the most popular files on Thingiverse.