Consumers who invested in the development of the world's first 3D printing pen may find that the oversubscribed crowd-sourced project has spawned a bigger and potentially more innovative rival.
According to Wired, a collaborative student-led project between the Institute for Advanced Architecture and an experimental design think tank has developed a 3D printing and rapid prototyping material that hardens when it comes into contact with air. By combining the functions of a standard manufacturing robot and a thermosetting plastic, it builds objects vertically instead of the usual layering technique
Described by its creators - Petr Novikov and Sasa Jokic - as "Anti-Gravity Object Modeling," it uses a robotic arm to spray-paint what appear to be fully-formed plastic cables onto adhesive surfaces, allowing 3D construction of objects seemingly out of nowhere.
"Conventional methods of additive manufacturing have been affected both by gravity and printing environment: creation of 3D objects on irregular, or non-horizontal surfaces has so far been treated as impossible" wrote Novikov and Jokic on the project website. "This patent-pending method allows for creating 3D objects on any given working surface independently of its inclination and smoothness, and without a need of additional support structures."
Known as Mataerial - a combination of material and aerial - it has been compared to the 3Doodler, which raised $2.3 million on Kickstarter in funding for mass production.The designers of Mataerial are convinced that their machine provides a unique demonstration of the potential for 3D printing, especially when considering that their invention doesn't require the printing bed of currently available printers.
"This method gives us a flexibility to create truly natural objects by making 3D curves instead of 2D layers," they wrote. "Unlike 2D layers that are ignorant to the structure of the object, the 3D curves can follow exact stress lines of a custom shape. Our new out-of-the-box printing method can help manufacture structures of almost any size and shape."
In terms of marketing, few would argue that the Disney Corporation does a fine job in promoting its products and ensuring that the pop culture consumer has a wide range of items to choose from.
With the recent purchase of Lucasfilm, it was widely expected that the company would ramp up its range of Star Wars merchandise, and following the success of its first venture into 3D printing in 2012 - personalized guest versions of a figure frozen in carbonite - the firm will now be immortalizing visitors to its Hollywood Studios park as a Stormtrooper figurine.
According to CNET, fans can have their heads 3D scanned onsite before the CAD files are sent for 3D printing and dispatch. The scanning process, which takes around 10 minutes to complete, has been described by the news source as very sophisticated, although the actual waiting period for receipt of a personalized figurine is expected to be around seven to eight weeks.
"The 10-minute experience uses the world's highest-resolution, single-shot 3D face scanner created by our Imagineering scientists with Disney Research labs," said the Disney website. "That captured image is later sent to a high resolution 3D printer to create the figurine."
However, the chance to become part of the Empire will only be available for a limited period of time. According to PC World, the "Star Wars D-Tech me experience" will run from May 17 to June 9, as part of a series of dedicated movie franchise weekends being held at its Orlando location. Fans can expect to pay just under $100 dollars for the figurine, however it does require visiting the park in order for the scanning to take place.
This is not the first time that 3D printing has been used to create iconic images of science fiction, with the 3D CAD files for the U.S.S. Enterprise used by fans around the world to create plastic replicas of the spacecraft for their own collections of Star Trek memorabilia.
Computer aided design is set to continue revolutionizing the construction industry, with Building Information Modeling (BIM) seen as the way forward for global architects and structural engineers.
According to Information Age magazine, a recent survey by the Royal Institute of British Architects showed that 39 percent of it's members were using 3D modeling software such as SolidWorks on projects in 2012, a rise of 26 percent from a similar study in 2010. Perhaps more significantly, the number of respondents who said that they expected to have adopted the technology by 2018 was shown to be 93 percent, with building designers confirming that using the software was increasingly required by clients, irrespective of the size of the project.
"It allows architects to build more sophisticated models of their designs, and therefore find novel solutions to architectural challenges," said Huw Roberts, marketing VP at Pennsylvania-based Bentley Systems. "Architecture firms like Fosters, Morphisis and Zaha Waheed are using BIM to explore shapes, structural systems and assemblies of materials that they wouldn't otherwise be able to understand and simulate."
While the survey was focused primarily on the private sector, there is a growing demand by public sector clients for BIM-centric design. According to the news source, the UK government has already stated that all construction contracts will be secured by companies who use BIM as part of simulation testing and design validation, which it says will reduce overall costs by as much as 20 percent.
There are a number of high-profile projects underway in London that use BIM, including the long-awaited Crossrail transportation system - currently deemed to be Europe's largest construction project - and Park House, a £150 million (approximately $230 million) mixed retail, residential and office space development in the West End of the city.
With BIM files able to be shared across the virtual space - more often than not as a part of a contractual agreement between stakeholders - data can analyzed in a variety of ways. Supporters of BIM argue that it allows for all eventualities to be considered before ground is broken, ensuring that the exchange of information can be transmitted without the need for paper blueprints and, in turn, efficiently managing the construction process.
"The construction industry has historically been pretty poor on productivity," notes Dominic Tharasafar, construction industry program manager at AutoDesk, in a interview with the news source. "There's an oft-cited statistic that up to 50% of building projects going over time or over budget. BIM offers greater efficiency in deploying men, machines and materials. You can work out how to schedule the project, and you can get better insight into cash flow over the lifecycle of the project."
The global market for computer aided design and simulation software is expected to increase over the next three years with a growing demand for enhanced product visualization a prime driver, says a recently released study.
According to research conducted by TechNavio, revenue in the sector is anticipated to rise by 8.6 percent between 2012 and 2016, with the bulk of the contributions coming from Europe followed by Asia-Pacific region and North America. Bearing in mind the potential for aggressive marketing of CAD-centric software , global CAD earnings in 2016 will be around $8,295 million as key vendors and international companies look to maintain their presence in regional markets through increased commercialization of their products and consumer adoption of techniques such as 3D printing and rapid prototyping.
"With increasing competition among companies for better customer retention and customer satisfaction, there is a growing need to develop high-quality products," said a spokesman for TechNavio, in a press statement. "This has resulted in the increased adoption of CAD solutions that enables manufacturers to effectively design products with better quality and accuracy. Thus, several CAD vendors have started to conduct seminars, participate in industrial exhibitions, and enter into tie-ups with educational institutions to exhibit their products for prospective customers in the engineering industries."
The days of using a mouse or keyboard to manipulate 3D designs in a virtual space could be numbered after a research team from Purdue University developed a specialized tool that allows users to make modifications with a swipe of their hand.
By combining a series of computer algorithms and the depth sensing camera used in a leading video gaming system, the research team found that they could create 3D models without the need for interaction with the computer, with the drag-and-drop characteristics of a mouse click replicated in a physical movement. While the concept - referred to as shape-gesture-context interplay - sounds as if it has been taken from the world of science fiction, it has its origins in traditional molding techniques with pre-defined gestures replicated in the virtual workspace.
According to the university, the research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and is intended to develop a "natural user interface" that can be used in the fields of engineering design, 3D printing and rapid prototyping, architecture and, in a obvious twist, game design.
"You create and modify shapes using hand gestures alone, no mouse or keyboard," said Karthik Ramani, Purdue University's Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering. "By bringing hands into the virtual space with a single depth camera we are able to manipulate the 3-D artifacts as if they actually exist."
The findings of the research project, published in Computer-Aided-Design magazine, have been seen by the team as another product that could be geared toward the growing "creative maker community," especially for those that want to produce innovative and unusual designs though 3D printing. According to the researchers involved in creating the design tool - known as Shape-It-Up - the modification of CAD files through fluid movement could be the next stage in a greater adoption of the technology, with scientists believing that physical gestures can be part of more intuitive (and potentially less restrictive) 3D shapes.
"Our goal is to make the designer an integral part of the shape-modeling process during early design, which isn't possible using current CAD tools" said Ramani. "This is important because many of the things designers need to create are not symmetrical. We (can) conclusively demonstrate the modeling of a wide variety of asymmetric 3-D shapes within a few seconds. One can bend and deform them in various ways to explore new shapes by natural interactions. The effect is immediate."
For early adopters of 3D printing, the recent media interest in the technology will have come as no surprise, especially in terms of what it can bring to the growing "maker movement."
According to The Inquirer, the popularity of additive manufacturing is encouraging the design community to use open source 3D CAD files as inspiration for larger and more complex 3D printing projects, with 3D printers being employed to build other 3D printers. Known in the industry as RepRap - replicating rapid prototype - it allows individuals to create a machine themselves from simulation software, with enthusiasts then able to use that device to build bigger - and potentially - better machines.
Seen by some industry analysts as an essential part in the advances made by the 3D printing and rapid prototyping revolution, RepRap stems from a community-based initiative to evolve the machines being designed for the consumer market and to take advantage of commercial CAD programs such as SolidWorks. The first RepRap printer - "Darwin" - was introduced in 2008, with its autonomous creation process hailed as a significant step forward in the development of the technique.
"About seven or eight years ago when it started, RepRap created this big printer, released it to the public and from then on everyone stated going crazy making their own printers," said Gordon Laplante, an architect and a member of Make-it NYC, according to The Inquirer. "The open source for this was fantastic. You can go to the site and buy the boards and everything and wire it yourself."
One of the attractions of RepRap is that it allows designers and engineers to become more hands-on with the products being printed. According to the Idaho Statesman, the technology is already finding its way into STEM - science, technology, engineering, math - classrooms, with educators using commercial printers alongside self-replicating models to teach students product design and rapid prototyping techniques.
"Commercial prints a little bit finer than RepRap, but for educational purposes, these simpler ones, I think they meet the bill," said Justin Touchstone, a pre-engineering teacher at Eagle High School in Meridian, Idaho, in an interview with the news source. "We have the students do reverse engineering, taking apart a car and making a 3-D model, then getting ideas for how to modify it. Last year I taught the same course, but we didn't have the ability to give them the physical item they created so they could test it. This year, we'll be able to. You can do it on a computer, but you can't really see how it turns out."
An engineering firm in the United Kingdom has used 3D computer aided design and SolidWorks software to create an anaerobic digestion (AD) system intended to annually process over 18,000 tons of liquid pig manure and turn it into electricity.
According to Pollution Solutions, engineers at Projen PLC were called upon by a family-run farm in Shropshire to come up with a means of not only turning liquid waste into a sustainable energy source but also to reduce odors. With AD and the production of biomass currently receiving financial support from the UK Government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the challenge was to create a layout that fulfilled a number of mandatory obligations.
With the farm involved in arable, beef and pig production, engineers prepared an initial 3D design for the waste pipes and supporting structures. This was achieved using SolidWorks simulation software, ensuring that the system was able to process the waste in an efficient manner while maintaining a degree of odor control. This design was then sent to a specialized manufacturer of process solutions, who then fabricated the materials required to build the AD system specified in the CAD files.
"Our reputation is for providing the very highest standards of workmanship, on time and on budget," noted Andrew Sheddon, a spokesman for BCI Process (UK) Limited. "Like any quality contractor we achieve this by rigorously training our staff, operating strict working procedures, risk assessments and method statements, and using the latest 3D CAD software to develop concept designs into working assemblies."
Generation of energy through biomass or other renewable energy sources is considered by the UK Government is seen as one way of reducing the level of dependence on European oil reserves, with the completion of the Shropshire project bringing the total number of digesters in the country to 250.
Self-building machines could soon be a familiar sight in the field of robotics after graduate students from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology demonstrated a 3D printed robot that needs the minimum of human intervention.
According to Engineering.com, the robot was part of a collaborative project between the two universities to demonstrate the concept of sequential folding, an experimental process of assembly that uses a jolt of electricity to spark a flattened object into life. Students took advantage of developments in 3D printing and rapid prototyping to create the "inch worm" robot, with the joint research team confident that this could be a significant step toward reducing the cost of building automatons.
The robot was printed flat, with flexible connectors attached to a series of pre-determined hinges, all of which are identified or tested using simulation software and 3D computer aided design. When the hinges are heated in a certain order the machine can snap into life, with the electrical current ensuring that the complex shapes demonstrated in the simulation can be replicated in the physical world.
In order to make the robot move, the team then attached a battery and motor - the only part of the machine that currently needs a guiding human hand - although the goal of the project is to develop a self-assembling device that can be finished off by another robot. While the research is still in the early stages of development, sequential folding is seen as another way to reduce the costs associated with robotic assembly.
"The goal of this specific project is to design them so they can fold themselves, because often we have these complicated robots that can take up to an hour to fold," said Sam Felton, a graduate student at Harvard's Microrobotics Laboratory, according to the news source."This means that these robots have the potential to scale massively: they can be printed out of cheap materials, they fold themselves together, and another robot can plonk some hardware on them and they're good to go."
It may not be the same as selling ice to Eskimos, but an English company that sells premium quality coffee machines to Italy has credited computer aided design and SolidWorks software as an essential part of its success.
Birmingham-based Fracino currently produces over 40 coffee machines, many of which have been featured in European style magazines and recognized by other manufacturers as beingleaders in the field. The winner of the Outstanding Export Award at the 2012 EEF Future Manufacturing Awards, the company even found itself name checked by Prime Minister David Cameron in a recent speech about UK exports and predicted industrial growth.
The firm has been an innovator in coffee machine production since the 1950s, with the company producing around 3,000 machines every year, all of which are built in-house using laser cutting technology that has been designed to dovetail with the SolidWorks simulation software. Once considered to be a niche part of the beverage sector, the coffee industry has exploded in recent years, with consumers eager to replicate the taste of a barista-poured cup in the comfort of their own homes.
According to The Guardian, Fracino has invested over £250,000 in state-of-the-art machinery that can take the 3D CAD files and manufacture the coffee machines, with lean manufacturing principles and rapid prototyping at the core of its UK-based assembly line. With such a specialized product, the firm has been careful to choose manufacturing and software partners that can deliver the quality required for a successful export business.
"We use SolidWorks and AutoCAD for our designs, which are continually evolving, and Lantek Flex3d works great with SolidWorks, enabling us to get to a flat pattern with the touch of a button," said Paul Gurevitch-Beacock, manager of sheet metal at the firm. "For simple parts we can design directly in Lantek Expert which further increases our flexibility."
A 16-year-old student from Meadville, Pennsylvania, is weighing up his options after winning a national competition designed to showcase the growing interest in high school computer aided design classes and STEM education.
According to the Meadville Tribune, John O'Laughlin has been offered the chance to further his ambitions in industrial design at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) after his solar-powered lawnmower design was considered to fulfill a number of engineering disciplines, including advanced CAD modeling and problem solving through simulation software. While the focus on attracting the brightest and best talent through competition is certainly not unique to the CIA, it is yet another indication that the future of rapid prototyping is likely to be found in the classroom as opposed to the manufacturing industry.
The competition, which offered a cash award and a $10,000 annual scholarship to the CIA, was created with the sole purpose of identifying young talent and, according to its organizers, to "encourage them to pursue career paths in art and design." Attracting 852 entries from over 265 American high schools, it is the first time that the CIA has reached out to students for innovations in engineering design, with credit given to those who thought outside the box, which in O'Laughlin's case meant designing a more energy efficient way of mowing the lawn.
"My whole motivation is to make everything better, to improve upon everything," he said, according to the news source. "I decided a lawnmower would be a good place to start because lawnmowers are kind of clunky and you need to fill them up with gas. You have to push them. You have to start them, and that takes awhile."
O'Laughlin's lawnmower, which he designed by honing skills developed at Meadville Area Senior High School, ditched the concept of gasoline as a power source with the student preferring to switch to solar power as a means of generating energy. Having already conceded that one of the more labor-intensive aspects of mowing was in the pushing of the machine, he added individual motors to each wheel, ironing out any potential design faults in simulation software. The final touch was to make sure that the machine looked like a mower, again employing 3D modeling to make sure that it was not only efficient but also pleasing to the eye.
"Esthetics are pretty important when it comes to products," said O'Laughlin, "because if something doesn't look nice, no one's going to want it, even if it does work pretty well."