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 🙂

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

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The 3D Printed Bike is Back!

150427 3D BikeLast year was an exciting giant leap into the world of 3D printing when I worked on a 3D printed bike frame for my university Honours project. Materialise were the first to publish my story, and since then it’s been quite hectic (in a good way of course!). Now it’s a new year, I’ve moved into a PhD, and my research has taken new direction; however the interest in this bike seems to be still quite high, and I have just completed a new version of the bike to be permanently exhibited at the Griffith University visitors centre.

Unlike the original frame, which was printed in a single piece by Materialise using SLA technology, this one has been printed in polyamide using SLS from Shapeways (simply due to cost). The SLA frame was a delicate thing to manage, and really showed its limitations over the hot Australian summer when it literally melted whilst stored in my house! So with a new opportunity to print something a little more durable (without costing a giant pile of cash) SLS is the next best option. The limitation with SLS however is the smaller print volume, requiring the frame to be cut into 3 segments and glued together after printing. It certainly feels a bit more durable, although before anyone asks, no this still can’t be ridden! With SLS printing still limited by size, it will be some years before titanium or composite fiber material printers are able to print this in 1 piece… But it will be exciting when it happens 🙂

– Posted by James Novak

A Step Towards Eye Tracking

2015-04-03 GlassesWhile these may just look like some pretty boring 3D printed glasses, there’s actually a lot more going on than meets the eye. Researchers at the University of Newcastle asked me to CAD model a copy of the SMI Eye Tracking Glasses to be 3D printed. The reason: the real glasses cost around $12,000, and before they let their subjects loose with them, they want to give out 3D printed sets to become accustomed to prior to donning the real set. Sounds like some clever thinking to me, and just another great application of 3D printing.

Unfortunately all I had to work with were 4 rough dimensions and the images on SMI’s website, but I think these should be close enough for this particular application. I’ve modeled them to be 3D printed in a complete assembly using SLS, meaning that there is no assembly required and the hinges are less likely to break. Through Shapeways my set come in under $25! However in order to test my model, I’ve chopped it into pieces to allow printing on my Up! Plus 2 home printer, which is too small to print the glasses in one go. The first image above shows all the individual pieces, with the 2 frame pieces already glued together through the nose section.

The only nervous moment was gluing the end-caps of the frame with the arms inside (creating the trapped hinge motion), since it would be very easy to accidentally glue the arms at the same time! There are also a few distorted sections where the prints lifted off the printing plate slightly during the print – but again, this one is just to test how accurate the 3D model is, with the final prints being sent away for SLS printing. I wonder if a company like SMI should be supplying something like this as part of their kit?… Food for thought with the ease at which the files can be 3D printed.

While I can’t share the files for this design, if you’re after some glasses you can 3D print why not start by checking out a previous project where I 3D printed new arms for my aviators? I’ve shared the files on Thingiverse so anyone can make them.

– Posted by James Novak