3D Printing Pop Culture & Viral Objects

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As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve been involved with 3D printing, making, education and various online communities for a while now. Which is why it’s very exciting to share my latest piece of writing, a book chapter titled “The Popular Culture of 3D Printing: When the Digital Gets Physical” which I wrote with former colleague and fellow maker Paul Bardini from Griffith University.

As the name suggests, the chapter looks at the popular cultural context of 3D printing, rather than the more technical aspects featured in most academic writing. As makers, we are both really interested in the growth of 3D printing and spread of 3D printing files on platforms like Thingiverse, MyMiniFactory and others, so we got a bit scientific and collected some data. The results are very interesting!

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Firstly, one of the things we did was collect the total number of files available from a range of 3D printing file repositories, as well as other more general 3D file repositories. Above is the data we collected (on 26th August 2018) which clearly shows Thingiverse to be the largest specific 3D printing file website. This is no surprise given that the website began in 2008, well before most competitors, building a network effect that still seems to be going strong despite some of the most recent challenges Thingiverse has been experiencing. However, there are plenty of other much larger libraries of CAD files that could be searched for 3D printing files, and even though some will be specific to certain CAD software, there’s always a way to make these 3D printable.

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Given the size of Thingiverse, we then looked at the most popular designs on the platform, collecting data (you will have to check out the full chapter for this!), and then calculated the average downloads per day for these designs. The graph above shows this data against the date the design was uploaded to the platform. Some of the names you may recognise: #3DBenchy, Baby Groot, the XYZ 20mm Calibration Cube and the Xbox One controller mini wheel. But what does it all mean?

Well, the short story is that objects uploaded to Thingiverse today will be downloaded in higher volumes per day than objects uploaded earlier in Thingiverse’s history. The trend line is increasing, matching the growth of 3D printer ownership; more people are downloading more things, with the Xbox One controller mini wheel recording 700 downloads per day when it was newly released. However, #3DBenchy is by far the most downloaded design of all time, right now having been downloaded over 900,000 times on Thingiverse alone, as well as being available on almost every other 3D file platform. This has lead to our classification of it as a “viral object.” Similar to viral videos and viral media campaigns, a viral object extends these concepts into the physical world through 3D printing, being first spread rapidly through online file sharing communities, then turned into physical objects in their thousands despite each being made in a different location, by a different machine.

This raises some interesting questions:Β  A viral video or piece of advertising made up of digital bits can easily be deleted, but how do you delete a viral object made up of physical atoms? Simply discarding 3D prints into landfill is unsustainable, and new solutions are necessary that make recycling of 3D prints affordable and accessible to the masses. It is also worth looking at the quantities an object like #3DBenchy is being downloaded and 3D printed, which is clearly in a magnitude similar to injection moulding and the mass production paradigm that 3D printing is supposed to disrupt. While it’s useful to have an object to calibrate and compare 3D printers, it’s also interesting to see that people still want to print and own the same object, rather than being truly individual.

The trend for viral objects is certainly one to watch, and the chapter provides a detailed analysis of this and other emerging trends related to 3D printing and pop culture. If you’re interested in reading the chapter, you may use my author discount code “IGI40” to get a 40% discount, or if you’re at a university you may find you already have access through your library subscriptions. Paul and myself certainly welcome your feedback and thoughts πŸ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

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3D Printing Education Book

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As many readers will know, this blog came about when I started my post-graduate studies at university focusing on 3D printing. My knowledge allowed me to get into lecturing, and part of this role has allowed me to run workshops for the community, including school teachers, secondary students, and the broader public. It turns out these experiences have taught me a thing or two about running 3D printing workshops in short time-frames, often with people who have never seen a 3D printer in action, and has lead to me publishing a chapter in a book detailing how I organise a one-day 3D printing workshop.

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The book is called Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives on 3D Printing in Education, and includes 14 chapters from leaders around the world on the topic of 3D printing in education. My particular chapter is called Re-Educating the Educators: Collaborative 3D Printing Education, and calls attention to some of the many real challenges that plague teachers who are attempting to adopt 3D printing in the classroom.Β The chapter starts with a summary of how Australian schools are adopting the technology, and moves on to new research and peer-reviewed literature about how short, intensive courses are helpful in offering teachers meaningful training in regards to 3D printing. The later section of the chapter provides the organisational structure and hands-on activities I use in my workshops, and is hopefully useful to many other people who are running training programs for teachers and others interested in 3D printing.

A big thank you to Sarah Saunders at 3dprint.com for writing a great article about my research which you can read here. The article provides a nice summary of the book which I hope will help it reach a wide audience, as there is not enough material available for teachers, curriculum planners and education researchers wrestling to bring 3D printing and other technologies into the classroom. This book at least goes some way to presenting the latest research ideas and data to fill this gap.

Please help spread the word to anyone who may benefit from this book on 3D printing in education, and use my 50% discount code “IGI50” to purchase the whole book, or just my chapter, at a generous discount πŸ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Medal and Trophy

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As a product designer focused on 3D printing in my job at the University of Technology Sydney, it was no surprise that I found myself being asked to design some 3D printed awards for the end of year 2018 Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Research Excellence. And while not receiving an award (yet!), I think it’s even more fun to get to be designing them – besides, now I can print them out for myself!

I was asked to design 2 different awards which you can see pictured above. The first were a set of 3 medals, and my only brief was to have them 3D printed in metal, and for them be approximately the size of previous medals given out for the awards. I based my design on a spinner concept which I’ve previously printed, with an important feature being the cone-like details which hold this assembly together when printed as a single part. There is no support material required, with one of my goals being to highlight through the design the capabilities of 3D printing in metal. For recipients, my goal was to create something playful and engaging, rather than most medals which are kept in a case and quickly forgotten. Thanks to my friend Olaf Diegel at Lund University for printing these in aluminium and sending them to us in time!

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For those familiar with metal 3D printing (Direct Metal Laser Sintering to be specific), you can probably guess there was a lot of manual post-processing of these medals to remove the base supports and polish the surfaces. Below you can see the medal as it comes out of the printer on the left (once cut from the build plate), and the final polished version on the right. All of the base support material you can see in the raw version had to be filed away while held in a vice, before going through a lengthy process of polishing. Slow, painful work, but you haven’t truly 3D printed in metal until you’ve gone through this process, it makes peeling away plastic support material from FDM prints seem like child’s play!

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The second award was a trophy which also continued with the 3D printed assembly concept. My only brief for this design was for it to be printed on our own HP Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, which is very similar to SLS printing. Many of us have seen the “ball in a ball in a ball” type of prints which are often shown at 3D printing expos and events, and I built off this to incorporate a lattice frame to contain the balls. The basic design was done in Solidworks, however, the balls were just solid spheres at this stage. I then exported them into Meshmixer in order to apply a lattice structure to them, using 2 different geometries. All parts were then imported into Meshmixer in order to export them as a final fully assembled file ready for printing.

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A little bit of laser cutting and timber work by a colleague really helped bring the design to life, and again, the trophy encourages interaction and play. Congratulations to the winners and finalists, I hope you enjoy your awards as much as I did creating them. With any luck I might get to design them again in 2 years and bring one home myself for real! πŸ˜‰

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Prosthetic Research

As a university researcher, it often takes a long time until I can actually share my work publicly. As a result this blog often only tells part of the story, for example I recently posted about 3D printing a prosthetic hand by e-NABLE. What I didn’t say is that this was part of research into adapting the design to perform different tasks. Recently undergraduate product design student Cory Dolman worked with me to prototype some new concepts, and his work has been picked up by UTS who created this great video about his process and the ideas we’ve been bringing to life. You can also read all the details on his blog which was maintained during the project with me here.

For anyone who is yet to realise the opportunities of 3D printing technology, hopefully this video goes some way to showing how quickly designers like Cory and myself are able to iterate designs, constantly testing our ideas and expediting the design process. We hope that as we refine these designs, we will be able to share them back into the e-NABLE community, and allow anyone with access to a 3D printer to not only benefit from the prosthetic, but also continue to iterate and improve it collaboratively. This is what excites me about 3D printing – it’s not just about the technology, but what it enables.

– Posted by James Novak

Kickstarter Make 100: Handbags?

OK OK you might be thinking Whoa, I thought this blog was all about 3D printing!? And you’d be right. But you might remember this time last year I had my first Kickstarter called Robot Picasso, which used a 3D printer as a 2D plotter with some crazy algorithms to turn photos into abstract artworks. Well, this year I’m involved with another Kickstarter for the same Make 100 month, only this time it’s created by my partner who turns out to be a bit of a designer/maker herself!

The campaign, which you can visit here, is for tropical handbags, clutches and a coin purse, which she makes by hand as demonstrated in the video. What’s even more unique is that she has designed her own tropical fabric print especially for this Kickstarter campaign, created from drawings and assembled into the print below.

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So while not a 3D printing post, Kickstarter is always a fun experience, and this certainly ticks the box for being design related, so I hope you might help support the campaign by clicking through to the Kickstarter page, or sharing a link to someone you think might enjoy the product. Mahalo, Vinaka and thank you!

– Posted by James Novak

Vote Now – Formlabs 3D Design Awards

2017 Formlabs 3D Design Awards

This morning I’ve woken to some exciting news – 3 of my products, which have been featured right here on my blog, have been announced as finalists in 3 separate categories of this years Formlabs 3D Design Awards!!

If you’ve enjoyed following my 3D printing projects, I would love it if you could take 30 seconds to follow this link to the voting page, click on the big green START button, and select my 3 designs. Winners are determined by quantity of votes from the public, so get voting now! The 3 products are:

  1. Art and Design Category: X-Men Cyclops Goggles (pictured above)
  2. Engineering Category: Garmin Virb X Floaty Mount
  3. Education Category: Pine 64 Snap Enclosure

Make sure you take some time to check out the other designs as well – there is some stiff competition in each category, and some great models to download and 3D print.

Thanks in advance for your support πŸ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

Moreton Technology Alliance

2017 Moreton Technology Alliance

Last week I teamed up with fellow Advance Queensland Digital ChampionΒ  (AQDC) and resident of Moreton Bay, Kate vanderVoort, to discuss the latest digital trends in social media and 3D printing with local businesses in our area. This was hosted by the newly formed Moreton Technology Alliance (MTA), a group of local business owners who are passionate about the region and driving innovation here.

Having been an AQDC for a couple of years now, it was great to team up with newbie to the program Kate, and deliver our insights into what may at first seem like 2 different topics. Kate began by sharing her experience with helping businesses engage with their customers through social media, and how businesses that do this well are finding that their communities of followers begin to act as customer service agents and brand ambassadors, solving fellow customer problems using the immediacy of social media. In Kate’s words, it’s a good problem to have – until your employees start feeling like their jobs are in jeopardy!

This idea of building online communities linked well to my later discussion around Intellectual Property (IP) and how online communities of designers like myself are tapping into the growing libraries of files on websites like Thingiverse and Pinshape to replace broken products, upgrade them, or modify them to perform new functions, sharing our designs for free, or for small payments just like buying a song on iTunes.

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I used the example of GoPro mounts which retail at $29AUD for a pack of 6 genuine mounts, or I can 3D print 6 for $1 in material cost (pictured above from Thingiverse). Sure it’s not quite as perfectly fitting, and the material might break, but I could print 174 mounts for the same cost as 6 genuine mounts – essentially a lifetime supply from my own desktop factory. And this is just from a $400 machine, what if I have a better machine or material?

How do businesses deal with this? Will they be forever chasing people around the world with cease and desist letters (lawyers would be rubbing their hands together!)? Or will businesses shift their thinking and embrace this change, in the same way Hasbro’s My Little Pony has become an online community through Shapeways, where children and adults alike are encouraged to design and sell their own My Little Pony creations?

I certainly don’t profess to have the answers (in short I’m not a big believer of IP even without the 3D printing aspect), however the point of this example, along with examples of projects happening from a variety of industries embracing 3D printing, was to inspire the audience at this MTA event, and encourage further discussion. Which I believe it did given the questions from members afterwards, and realisation that this technology really will affect anyone developing physical products in some way or another.

We also discussed opportunities for businesses to collaborate with universities in order to develop research programs into technologies like 3D printing, with the Australian Government recently changing funding models for universities to emphasise greater links with industry, and grants announced for SME’s to fund innovation in partnership with universities and researchers. Follow the links to find out more information.

Thanks to MTA for inviting me to speak, I hope to be fielding a few questions in the near future from businesses who have been inspired to take the 3D printing plunge!

– Posted by James Novak

Turning a 3D Printer into a Plotter

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My last couple of posts have been about the Robot Picasso Kickstarter I’m currently running, a project that developed after the failure of the Solidoodle Press 3D printer. It’s attracted some media attention from 3dprint.com and Digital Trends who have followed up the saga of Solidoodle, the company going bankrupt because of the failings of this one printer.

Given the success of the Kickstarter, which is over 300% funded with a few days still to go, I thought it was about time to show the special 3D printed part that has converted the 3D printer into a 2D plotter. I developed the part in Solidworks using just a few key measurements, in particular the 2 front screw holes and the distance needed for the tip of the pen to lightly touch the plate where paper would be stuck. It sure beats using rubber bands and sticky tape which is how the initial experiments began! You can check out the 3D model below.

This is something that you could create for any 3D printer since most extruders have some sort of screw holes that you could take advantage of (for example you can see them in my Cocoon Create printer in this previous post), or perhaps you could design a clever snap-fitting system similar to the tutorial I wrote for Formlabs last year which shows the step-by-step process to designing a snap-fit enclosure. As long as you can create a secure fit, you will be able to get consistent results using your 3D printer as a 2D printer (plotter). If you want to see the process of drawing with this attachment, just check out the Kickstarter video I put together showing the full process of Robot Picasso. It’s a fun way to add a whole new function to your existing 3D printer if you can turn a 2D drawing into simple G-code commands.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing Workshops Galore

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University and school might be winding down for the year, but I’ve been as busy as ever running workshops on 3D printing and attending conferences – the silly season indeed!

I was a mentor at an event called GLO@Logan, a 3-day startup style workshop for teams of year 9 students from high school’s around the Logan area of Queensland. The project briefs looked at the future of health care, and how technology can be used to better enable people suffering from debilitating disease or age-related problems. A huge congratulations to the team from Loganlea State High School (top right image) who won first prize for their mobile app (which they actually created using MIT App Inventor) which was designed for people in wheelchairs to plan their route to restaurants, bringing in Google Street View images and reviews to help them plan their trip and locate wheelchair friendly restaurants. I was very impressed to see that within a couple of hours of the day 2 practical workshop they already had a rough prototype working on a tablet and had divided tasks nicely within their team. It’s very rare to see a group work so well or efficiently at university, so well done!

For some students like those from Flagstone State Community College, this was also their first opportunity to see a 3D printer in action – and they embraced the technology immediately. You can see their prototype in the top middle image which combines 3D printed pieces, Lego Mindstorms EV3 and a mobile phone, the idea being a robotic dog to act as a companion for elderly people including the capacity to make emergency calls should the person fall and injure themselves. Congratulations on winning second place.

I really hope to see some of these students come through the design courses at university, the ideas and prototypes of all groups were as good, if not better, than many I see from university students.

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We also ran a 3D printing workshop at the CILECT Congress 2016 (the International Association of Film and Television Schools Congress), and what really amazed me is that none of the people who attended the session had ever seen or used a 3D printer before! I really thought film and 3D printing went hand-in-hand these days, particularly when you see the work of Legacy Effects in major movies like Iron Man and Robocop which rely heavily on 3D printing. But from the feedback I think the workshop definitely opened everyone’s mind to the potential of the technology, and need for it to be brought into the education of future film makers.

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Most recently Createworld offered the opportunity to meet with educators and practitioners at the intersection of design and technology over 2 days of presentations and workshops, and this was also the first showing of the InMoov robot hand I’ve been building over the last few months (click here to check out the full development of this project). It now has a plywood stand which is great for hiding all the raw electronics. I also used my Wiiduino project from last year to showcase ideas like gamification, visual programming languages and customisation for 3D printing, alongside a few students from my Human Machine Interfaces class and fellow PhD researchers. I look forward to this event growing even bigger next year, it’s early days for this conference but the ideas and projects are very high quality.

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Lastly a sneak peek inside the new 3D printing facility at Deakin University Waurn Ponds campus, where they have everything from desktop through to metal 3D printers and everything in between. The top left image is overlooking just some of the 3D printing facility, with more equipment in other rooms including a Virtual Reality room and labs for building robotics. I was there for the DESTECH conference and was blown away by the facilities, like a kid in a toy store! There are plenty of high-profile research projects coming out of here already so watch this space.

Looking at my calendar over the last month it has been a whirlwind of events, and it’s finally time to sit back, unwind and process it all over a few (or more!) drinks in the lead up to Christmas. 2016 has shown that 3D printing continues to grow and inspire, and I’m finally seeing some positive steps within schools, although there is still a long way to go. My printer has been running pretty constantly between these events so stay tuned for some project updates very soon.

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printing in Europe

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Hello from Europe! It’s been a few weeks since my last post but that’s because I’ve been traveling around Europe in a part-holiday/part-professional frenzy. Now that I’ve seen quite a lot of 3D printing it’s about time I put together a bit of a summary for you, in case you find yourself looking for some nerdy escapes when you’re next in Europe.

One of the best things I organised was a private tour of the Materialise headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, which you can see photographed above. This is the company responsible for 3D printing my bicycle, and indeed the primary reason for my trip, but more on that shortly. Unfortunately I don’t have any other photos since everything is top secret once you walk through the doors – not surprising since they are responsible for developing many of the latest technologies in the industry. I was shown facilities like the finishing room where prints were manually cleaned and polished for certain projects, the SLS room full of different sized machines printing polyamide, the SLA room where my bike was actually printed, and the MGX display room full of many well-known 3D prints (click on the link to see many of these designs). Very cool to see what actually happens once you upload a design and click the order button on the i.materialise website. The lamps in the right image are called the Tulip Lamp by Peter Jansen.

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I then jumped across the border to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to visit Shapeways, the other large 3D printing company who I regularly use for 3D printing, and have been using since 2010. A totally different vibe! Whereas Materialise are very research-driven and the facility is quite clinical, walking into the Shapeways foyer (pictured above) was similar to what I imagine Google to be like – an open-plan space with communal kitchen and glass-walled offices, music playing, bright colours and a foosball table. Once again when we walked through the “portal” in the middle image photos were not allowed, but we saw some very similar equipment and processes to Materialise. This is a great tour to do since it runs on the last Friday of every month, you don’t need to know someone and arrange a tour yourself – just follow this link to their Meetup site for dates and times. You also get a nice little keyring souvenir (above right image), and can hang around to chat to the team and have some nibbles.

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Surprisingly I came across 3D printing in some very unplanned places – firstly this “Filament Pavilion” at the V&A in London, which will be there until November 6th 2016. Talk about a massive 3D print, this structure is still growing each day! Basically this is a cross between 3D printing and weaving, with a giant robotic arm wrapping filament around preformed hexagonal structures, each time in a different pattern based on sensor data. It certainly shows how this technology can be applied to Architecture, it seems to be quite lightweight and delicate unlike most of the concrete-based 3D prints I’ve normally seen in Architecture which use extrusion and seem very rough both in finish and detail.

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Another museum and some more 3D prints which I was not expecting to see – this time the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. On the left are a couple of the 3D printed ceramic pieces by Olivier Van Herpt, definitely the coolest ceramic prints I’ve come across and quite large in scale. I really like how the layers are actually celebrated in these prints and create a unique textural element to the pieces. Worth looking at the link to his profile for more details about how he created his own ceramic 3D printer. On the right are some full-sized chairs 3D printed by Dirk Vander Kooij, again created with a custom made 3D printer and printed from recycled plastics. It really does seem like 3D printing is everywhere!

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Lastly the main event, the “Making a Difference / A Difference in Making” exhibition by Materialise at the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen, Germany. This exhibition, which includes my 3D printed bicycle, was first held at Bozar, the Center for Fine Arts in Brussles in 2015 but I wasn’t able to attend. So it was awesome to have a second chance to actually get to Europe for this exhibition and attend the opening event. For a 3D printing nerd, there was so much to see! Famous works like Iris Van Herpen’s Escapism dress, Patrick Jouin’s One_Shot stool and Bloom table lamp, The Adidas Futurecraft shoes… And that’s just a small part of the exhibition in these photos. If you can get there before the end of October I highly recommend it, there are so many inspiring examples of 3D printing. Big thanks to the Materialise team for their hard work getting this set up and including my work again, as an Industrial Designer having my work in the Red Dot Museum is certainly going to be a highlight of my career πŸ™‚

Now that my head is full of fresh inspiration, time to head home and ramp up the work on my latest projects. Make sure you subscribe to my blog to keep up with the latest 3D printing experiments and behind the scenes insights.

– Posted by James Novak