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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Beyond FDM and the Future Printing Bureau

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3D printing is a fantastic technology, and the quality of the prints from a desktop machine like my usual Up! Plus 2 are pretty awesome when you think about the fact that they’re produced on my desk! But at some point you’re likely to reach the limits of what can be achieved on such a machine, either through material limitations, size limitations, or in this case in the complexity of the parts themselves.

The parts pictured above are the next stage of development from some of the 3D prints I showed in a post a couple of weeks ago, with some of the patterns and ideas very similar. However now that I’m trying to move beyond relatively “flat” prints into these complex shapes that fit a 3D curved surface, the limitations of a desktop FDM machine become clear. The amount of support material needed, along with the delicate nature of the designs means that pieces of each part were broken during support removal, and on top of that, many areas of the prints simply didn’t print out clearly with lots of loose threads of ABS plastic floating around.

While these prints are enough to visually communicate a design idea, they simply aren’t accurate enough to allow us to physically test or embed electronics in. Therefore it seems we have reached the limits of what we can trial using desktop 3D printing, and must now look at moving to SLS or a similar high-end process, which of course means paying a lot more for prints. It also means that rather than being able to move back-and-forth between CAD and 3D printing multiple times a day, we will be waiting weeks while parts are printed and shipped to us – so a lot more pressure to really take what we’ve learned so far from these prints and ensure that the next set which we produce are going to work.

The reason I write about this is because there is always a lot of talk about whether everyone will one day have a 3D printer in their home. While it’s certainly a possibility, there are obviously limitations to the sorts of products people would be able to print with an affordable home machine. So why won’t everyone just have a SLS machine in the future I hear you ask? Well at the moment my university has purchased a SLS machine, however an even bigger challenge than raising the few hundred thousand dollars to purchase it (which of course will dramatically come down in price now that the patents have expired) is now how are we going to use it safely? It has an enormous checklist just to set it up including requirements for anti-static flooring, appropriate measures and warnings about the dangerous class 4 laser, being installed somewhere that has absolutely no vibrations around it (so not near other types of machinery), advanced air filtration and exhaust systems in the room, an eye-wash station next to it and many more… These don’t sound like the sort of renovations your typical home user is likely to invest in!

So in my opinion it is far more likely that we are going to see even more Shapeways style service bureaus pop up, which is already the case through Staples in the USA and now Officeworks in Australia, where you will take your files to get printed in your local area. All the costs, maintenance and training is covered by these commercial businesses, and we all get to enjoy the benefits. Until then, it looks like I will be placing yet another order for parts on the other side of the world so we can test out these designs properly.

– 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

A Rapid Roundup of RAPID

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As mentioned in my last post, I recently returned from the RAPID 3D Printing Conference in Los Angeles and was completely blown away by the amazing talks and exhibitions over 4 days. A must-see event for anyone serious about the world of 3D printing and also 3D scanning. The photo above shows the huge exhibition floor that I easily spent a few hours exploring every day just to soak it all up. Here I’d just like to share a small selection of the things that really amazed and inspired me.

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Two of the keynotes were of course extremely interesting, day 1 featuring Jason Dunn from the well known Made in Space program. Yes, the guys responsible for sending and operating the first 3D printer on the International Space Station! As a bit of a space nerd, who spent my first day before the conference visiting the retired Endeavour Space Shuttle, this talk was extremely inspiring. Just hearing about the extreme lengths they went through to design and test their printer, and receive approvals from an extremely conservative NASA, was a real insight into the challenges we face when we think about missions to Mars and beyond. For example did you know that it currently costs $10,000 to send just 1kg of material into space? Or that an astronauts time on board the International Space Station costs $40,000 per hour! So asking an astronaut to remove a simple 3D print can turn into a very costly process!

As always Terry Wohlers provided an insight into the current state of the 3D printing industry, and a vision for what to expect over the coming years. Beyond the stats that formulate part of the annual Wohlers Report, something that really stood out to me was that Airbus currently employ 35 people full-time dedicated to additive manufacturing. In just 3 years time (2018) they will be producing 30 tonnes of parts manufactured using 3D printing technology. 30 tonnes!!! That’s a lot of metal and plastic printers, and a lot of raw material being bought up by just one company. For those people still thinking 3D printing is only a prototyping technology, it’s time to wake up!

2015-05-20 StratasysWith 3 days of presentations, there was of course something for everyone during the event. I took this photo during a presentation from 2 guys at Stratasys who have completely 3D printed functional skis and a snowboard. They have used a variety of internal cell structures to increase strength, as well as using a material called ULTEM 9085 which runs through the Fortus machines and provides extremely high strength and stiffness. Definitely a material I’d like to get my hands on, and hopefully possible to run through our Fortus 250mc at Griffith University.

By far the most crowded room I squeezed into was a presentation by Greg Mark, the CEO of MarkForged. If you haven’t heard of this company, look them up – their Mark One printer can print with continuous strands of carbon fiber and kevlar, all for under $5000. Judging by the crowd, and having the chance to spend 5 minutes talking with Greg on the exhibition floor, I think it’s pretty clear that everyone is excited by this company. The parts I played with, including a surfboard fin and motorcycle brake lever, were incredibly strong, and only featured a handful of layers of carbon fiber within the 3D printed parts. The Mark One is certainly on top of my wishlist, especially with my previous attempts of 3D printing fins for my kiteboard.

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Despite all of this, by far the best part of RAPID was the show floor. Not only was there a diverse range of companies, from the big players like 3D Systems and Materialise down to newer start-ups, but every booth had a diverse range of 3D printed products, the sorts of products I’ve only seen written about online. This included the first functional 3D printed motorcycle, the New Balance custom track shoes, numerous 3D printed medical devices and prosthetics, piles of crazy lattice structures in metals and plastics, fashion, furniture… The list is endless! Hence why my brain hurt by the end of each day! But what was great was the ability to get up close to these products, touch them, question them, and discuss them with people that were involved in creating them.

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A personal highlight was of course seeing some pieces by Jessica Rosenkrantz (aka Nervous System) who I have been following for some time. You might recall a recent print of a bracelet I did from a downloaded Thingiverse file from Nervous System that turned out really well. The complexities of their designs, created using algorithms and coding, are really cutting edge and helped inspire my FIX3D bicycle frame and my new line of PhD research that delves into some similar generative tools.

In terms of some new products that interested me, there was a really interesting PLA material from a company called 3D Fuel in partnership with Algix, which is infused with Algae. This means the material is very quick to break down and compost at the end of its’ life, much faster than traditional PLA. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a sample, but it’s one to keep an eye on as they plan to bring a range of different colours to market soon. Lulzbot also had an impressive display of their 3D printers, with the large TAZ model (print area of 298mm x 275mm x 250mm) priced at $2200. The printer and software is all open source, and they had some great examples of products printed in NinjaFlex, and also a brand new material called n-Vent by Taulman 3D.

This is just a very brief summary of a few of the highlights from RAPID 2015, an event that I hope to attend again next year. I can’t recommend it enough. Hopefully some of these links and companies to watch are useful to those that couldn’t make it. If you’re in Europe, an announcement was made at the conference that SME would be partnering with EUROMOLD later this year to really bring the excitement of RAPID to Europe, so keep an eye out for that.

– Posted by James Novak

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