Tiko Down and Out?

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Unfortunately it looks like this image of the Tiko 3D Printer is as close as I’ll ever get to one – after months of speculation by fellow Kickstarter supporters, and a recent article by 3dprint.com which explained some of the problems that have plagued the company since their massive Kickstarter success in 2015, the Tiko team have sent an email update to backers that sounds ominous:

“Basically, the company is now on standby while we pursue ways to get back on track… We made countless mistakes, and we are now in a tough place, but it doesnโ€™t mean that everything we built is suddenly worthless.”

It sounds like there may still be a glimmer of hope that investors may see the potential in Tiko and jump in to save the day, but given my previous experience with the failure of Solidoodle after the Press 3D printer, I’m not holding my breath. A few batches of Tiko’s did make it to the US and Canada, however online reports seem to suggest that the hardware and software hasn’t really lived up to expectations, being released out of desperation to get some products out there without being fully tested. A real shame, this was a Kickstarter campaign I was really excited about and the journey started off so well.

Maybe I’m just cursed? This is now the second printer/company that I’ve supported that has hit major troubles. Which means that I think I’m throwing in the towel with crowdfunding 3D printers – there are just too many risks and challenges, and there are so many options already available and sitting on shelves that the risk hardly seems worth it to save a few dollars with a startup. Given how well my Cocoon Create 3D printer has been going over the past year, bought for only $399 AUD from Aldi, I really can’t see the point. In the time Tiko has been struggling to produce 1 printer, Cocoon Create has supplied 1 very successful printer (read my review here), and looks poised to release the next generation machine any day.

That’s the other problem with these sorts of crowdfunded technologies – in the time that it takes to develop and manufacture them, the more established companies and new startups have already brought out ever newer machines that are superior to the technology a year or two ago, even superior to technology only a matter of months ago. The pace of change in 3D printing is extremely quick, and if you get caught for too long in development, what you’re developing will likely be out of date before it even leaves the factory.

Obviously I’m a huge fan of crowdfunding, having just wrapped up a successful Kickstarter project using the old Solidoodle Press as a plotter, but I now have a very big question mark about funding anything as complex as a 3D printer. I really do hope the Tiko team can negotiate their little hearts out and find some sort of a way to move forward. I would love nothing more than to one day have a Tiko on my workbench, and be running it side-by-side with my other printers and writing some reviews for you all. I’m just not holding my breath…

– Posted by James Novak

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InMoov Comes to Life

Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE! – Frankenstein.

Yes finally the InMoov robot arm I’ve been slowly printing and assembling is complete and functioning with only the occasional little hiccup. I thought I was really close in my last post where I had assembled all the 3D prints and electronics, but it is definitely the last 10% that takes the most work.

Tensioning the braided lines just right and tying them to the servo’s is a painstaking task, especially in the heatwave we’ve been having in Australia, where you’re trying to resist the urge to wipe sweat from your face while you tie the knot just right… I felt a bit like a surgeon out in a humid jungle performing emergency surgery. A few little broken bits along the way as well from prints splitting or glue not holding, so it’s a relief to finally iron out all the kinks and start playing with the controls.

As you’ll see in the video, I’m using Grasshopper (plugin for Rhino) with the addition of Firefly to control the hand movements at the moment – if you’ve followed my blog for a while you’ve seen multiple demo’s of this software and why I think it’s so good, so I won’t bore you here (if you’re interested check out my project which was displayed at Design Philadelphia 2015). But it basically means I can manually adjust the servo’s in real-time using a simple slider for each finger, or connect fingers to the one slider to control them all at once and create a fist for example. It really makes those final tweaks to the servos easy.

I hope you enjoy seeing this arm come to life – it’s quite inspiring when you see it in real life, especially if you’re familiar with 3D printing and the time it takes just to print all of these parts. Now I can finally start modifying this project and experimenting with the controls, the build is only just the beginning for this robot.

– 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Goodbye 3D Printing, Hello 4D Printing

Many people I talk to at events and workshops are only just catching on to this whole 3D printing thing, but did you know some of the exciting research in this field has already moved on to the next dimension – literally?

4D printing might sound a bit weird and wacky, but it basically just means something that has been 3D printed, but changes its shape afterwards since time is the fourth dimension. So a 3D print that changes over time. Skylar Tibbits from MIT is really one of the pioneers of such a concept, so if you want to wrap your head around the concept this link to his Self-Assembly Lab at MIT will have some more videos to explain what it means. Having spent some time lately writing about 4D printing for part of my PhD, I thought it was time to give it a go, taking inspiration from the Active Shoes created by the Self-Assembly Lab.

As you can see from my very rough video, it’s actually quite easy to do. All I did was create a few concentric circles in CAD with a 0.2mm thickness so that they would print only 1 layer thick on my Cocoon Create 3D printer. I then stretched some material (from an old pair of stockings – not mine I swear!) over the base plate and held it in place with clips. A slight adjustment to the height of the base plate to make room for this material and 1 minute later it was done.

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The result is really cool (I think) for something that only took 1 minute to print. It’s certainly not perfect, but shows a lot of opportunity for the future of fashion design. If you wanted to only use 3D printing to create this shape it would easily take 20 minutes or more on a standard FDM printer, so I think some more experimentation is required.

– Posted by James Novak

Inside 3D Printing Sydney Review

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As my brain still tries to process everything from the 2016 Inside 3D Printing Conference Sydney, I thought a bit of a review might be a good way to try and both sort out my thoughts, and share with you some of the things on show and discussed throughout the 2 day conference. This conference was shared with National Manufacturing Week, which actually makes up the bulk of the exhibitor stands in the image above – 3D printing only filled up the very right thoroughfare from the Fuji Xerox sign to the back (yes there’s a bit of a disappointed tone in my voice here).

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Above you can see the size of the 3D printing conference itself – which I have to admit was a real shock to see when I walked in on day 1 expecting at least 100 people or more. Having been to RAPID last year in Los Angeles (you can read about my experience here) I guess I just expected a lot more interest in 3D printing by now in Australia! Our slow uptake despite having a significant share of the worlds titanium, which could be used right here for 3D printing, was certainly a common theme for discussion from many speakers, as were the trends and predictions for continued worldwide growth after the latest Wohlers Report for 2016. But well done to all the Queenslanders who made the trip down, I couldn’t believe how often I would speak to someone only to find out they were from my part of the world! Perhaps Inside 3D Printing should look at running in Brisbane next time?

The good news is there were some really great speakers, one of my favourites being from keynote Paul D’Urso about his pioneering use of 3D printing in surgery over the last 20 years. What I liked most was his candid insight into the tensions between what surgeons and their patients want (for example custom-fitting implants that heal quickly and are comfortable, custom tools and guides for surgeons to provide more accurate surgery, and 3D prints from CT scans for pre-surgical analysis and practice which saves time in the operating theater) as opposed to regulatory bodies like the FDA in the United States who are getting in the way of innovations like 3D printing and basically enabling large corporations to own the monopoly on expensive standardised medical equipment. He has a great proactive attitude of just getting in and improving implants and tools himself using 3D printing, and has founded Anatomics as a way to reach out to other surgeons with the tools and products he and his team have developed. A great “just do it” message which was really motivating.

Education was also a big theme, with speakers like Ben Roberts from Modfab and Stuart Grover from 3D Printing Studios sharing their experiences around educating children and the general public about 3D printing through various training programs and initiatives here in Australia. However it seems that there is still far too little being done to educate people about 3D printing, and indeed many other emerging technologies, and perhaps the low attendance at this conference is evidence of how far we have yet to go when compared with the same Inside 3D Printing conferences around the world which seem to generate very high numbers of attendance. A re-work of high school curriculum’s was a well received solution at the conference, with traditional wood-work and metal-work style classes needing to be reinvigorated with digital technologies to provide appropriate high-value skills to students due to the rapidly changing nature of jobs, with reports suggesting that by the year 2020 5 million jobs will be made redundant due to robotics and automation. One of the hurdles argued by Ben Roberts was that most teachers either don’t have the skills to teach CAD and 3D printing, or learned them 5 or more years ago and are now outdated. As someone very keen to help enable the next generation of designers through my regular training programs and visits to schools, along with being a part of the Advance Queensland scheme, I think this is an extremely important issue to tackle right now. Anyway, on to some of the fun things.

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Just like with RAPID, perhaps my favourite part of these conferences is the exhibition space – you never know what you’re going to see! Above on the left is the 3D printed jet engine from Monash University, Deakin University and Lab 22 (part of the CSIRO) which you may have seen in the media already. A lot of complexity with multiple 3D printing methods and materials used for the various parts, I just wish it was a working model! In the middle is a full-colour 3D printed hand, almost exactly the same size as mine. What’s unique about this print is that not only was it printed in 1 go, but that the outer “skin” material is soft and squishy like skin! This is a brand new printer from Fuji Xerox capable of printing with 5 material cartridges at once, and there is huge potential for this to create simulation models for training surgeons, or realistic copies of organs or tumors for surgeons to actually practice on prior to cutting open their patient. Lastly was a highly detailed SLS print of feathers as a fabric-like material at the 3D Printing Systems stand – just something a little more unusual compared to all the usual prints everyone normally displays.

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Lastly just a few things that caught my eye throughout the other exhibits – on the left is one of the robotics displays for automating tasks like pick ‘n’ place – I think I could have a lot of fun with one of these next to my desk! In the middle was perhaps the most interesting display from my own research perspective, with CAD company PTC Creo beginning to enable Internet of Things devices to integrate into their software through the ThingWorx platform. Very much in line with my experiments using Rhino with the Grasshopper and Firefly plugins, however the addition of augmented reality is a really great touch – if you want to see a demo of their full system in action, check out their short 3 minute demo video of the bike being used in both the physical and virtual world. Lastly there were a few companies showing their CNC routers and laser cutters, some of them desktop in size – I just wish I could line them all up next to my 3D printer at home!

Overall a lot to soak up and plenty of new networks created with other attendees, I just hope next year there is an even bigger audience at the conference and even more amazing things happening.

– Posted by James Novak

Design Your Own Custom Pen

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Last year I posted a bit of an inside look at a small project I was working on for my PhD (click here to have a look back at the post) but couldn’t say much since it was for an upcoming conference. Well that conference has been and gone, and my full paper has just been published online for you to read.

In essence it was an exploration of something called interactive fabrication, whereby someone with no CAD or design experience can actually create their own unique 3D printed pen using the ‘testing pen’ shown in the top right image. As you grip this pen, sensors translate the force of your grip in real time into a 3D model that is ergonomically correct for you. You then draw a closed shape such as a hexagon on a piece of paper, hold this up to your computer’s webcam, and this shape is automatically translated up the shaft of the pen. It’s as simple (and behind the scenes very complex) as that! The top left photo shows 4 different pens from 4 different people used during the testing of this project.

The complete process is controlled within Rhino 3D, using the Grasshopper plugin with Firefly to communicate with an Arduino, which I’ve explored in previous projects. There are plenty of improvements that can be made to this design, but as a prototype it certainly proves the potential to embed sensors within a product and automatically create custom functional products for people without the need for them to learn complex CAD software. As it happens, this is a large focus of my PhD!

Please feel free to read my paper called “Drawing the Pen: From Physical to Digital and Back Again” for full details of this project.

– Posted by James Novak

Human Machine Interfaces – Class of 2015

I just wanted to quickly post a video showing some of the great projects to come out of a class I taught this semester at Griffith University called Human Machine Interfaces. These particular projects are presentations after 6 weeks of development combining research, design and prototyping into this short time-frame. I was super impressed to see things like exo-skeletons and products bringing gamification to life, of course combined with 3D printing, Arduino’s, Rhino CAD with Grasshopper and Firefly, and of course anything else the students could get their hands on.

Watch out designers, these guys will be changing the world! Some of these students will also be exhibiting these projects at the upcoming 3D Printing Forum in Brisbane on November 24 (click here to read my post), so come and say hello ๐Ÿ™‚

– Posted by James Novak

A Game of Generative Design

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A few weeks ago I designed a 3D printable light cover (lampshade) inspired by a shattered lightbulb – you can read more about it and download the STL file for free by clicking here. I’ve been taking the concept a bit further using Grasshopper in Rhino to explore the ability to generatively create endless forms within the exact same bounds, meaning every iteration can be successfully 3D printed. Above are some of the outputs from this experimentation.

These are going to be 3D printed for an upcoming exhibition at Design Philadelphia, along with the complete interactive CAD model which will allow 2 people to work together to customise the lamp design using Wii game controllers, turning the design process into a game-like experience. There’s a bit of work left to go to get this interactive element right, but it will hopefully show how CAD may move from being a complex, time-consuming skill to learn into something much more tactile and interactive for the every-day consumer. There are already a handful of interesting apps surfacing such as the Shape Maker tool from Makerbot, or the 2D to 3D tool from Shapeways, which make creating 3D files as simple as drawing a sketch on paper and taking a photo. But generative tools like I’m working on may be the next generation, allowing far more intricate and complex forms.

What do you think would be useful for non-designers to create 3D CAD files?

– Posted by James Novak

3D Printed Wood vs. Plastic

Well here it is – my 3D printed wooden phone amplifier fresh from i.Materialise, which won their 3D printed wood challenge! Now it’s time to have your say:

Which sounds better? 3D printed wood, or 3D printed ABS plastic?

On first impressions it’s definitely a fragile material, a bit like something between MDF timber and an egg carton. The graininess can be rubbed off like sand, and you can already see one of the dots in the ‘i’ has broken off. But it smells really nice, I just can’t quite put my finger on what it reminds me of. But definitely very wood-like.

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For those wanting to print one yourself, the plastic version is freely available for you to download from my Thingiverse or Pinshape profiles. This wooden one is slightly different to meet the requirements of the printing process, but I may add this to the i.Materialise shop very soon so you too can enjoy the natural sounds of timber.

– Posted by James Novak

Winner – 3D Printed Wooden Amplifier

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It was a while ago now that I first 3D printed a phone amplifier and stand, sharing my design on Thingiverse (see the original design and video here). Well after seeing i.Materialise’s new wood material, and a competition to launch it, I just had to bring it back! What could be more cool than a 3D printed wooden amplifier, mixing the old-school with the new-school?

It did take some work to modify the original design to meet the criteria of the wood material, including thicker wall sections and more exaggerated details, and you can see the render I submitted above on the right. The final print from i.Materialise on the left looks awesome, I’m looking forward to hearing it play music when it arrives – I’ll have to post a video comparing the sound of the wood vs. plastic versions, so watch this space.

See the full i.Materialise article, along with the other winning designs here.

– Posted by James Novak