We were at Rail 2009 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We were there to get feedback on BeneluxSpoor.net's rapid prototyping initiative. BeneluxSpoor.net is a foundation of railway enthusiasts and they have a rapid manufacturing/3D printing working group that is doing research into how 3D printing can benefit the model train community. They are looking into painting as well as a host of different 3D printing processes. We were at Rail 2009 in order to show off Beneluxspoor's work and find out what the railroading community think. And let me tell you that they are a tough crowd to please. Their eye and attention for detail is second to none. We got a lot of enthusiastic responses though and think that this is a huge opportunity for us and model railway enthusiasts. With Shapeways people can produce unique trains and other accessories and even sell them via the Shops: the long train if you will.
There was a complete manufacturing section on the Beneluxspoor stand with a CNC machine, a Dimension 1200 3D printer a LOM 3D printer and a laser cutting machine. There were also a few computers where you could try out the Alibre modeling tool.
Some of you might have noticed that a few days ago we launched problem visualization for non-manifold models. This is a tool to help you guys upload your models easier. It allows you to actually see on Shapeways what the issue is with your model.
If you upload a model that is non-manifold then we send you an email telling you that you have a non-manifold error. You can click a link in that email and this link will take you to a part of your my designs page, there you will see a log of your non-manifold errors. These are kept for 14 days.
You can then click on the model name and you will be taken to the analysis page. On this page you can see where the non-manifold areas are in red. You can use the viewer to spin your model around and look at it in 3D and then go back to your 3D app to repair it. In actual fact it is an online 3D mesh analysis tool. You can probably guess where were going with this?
A little background: Every shape that can be 3D printed has to be 2-manifold, so each edge has to be shared by two faces(no more, no less). A model can be non-manifold if it for example contains two cubes that share one edge as you can see below. The edge itself is shared by four faces, so the resulting shape is not 2-manifold. For a little more detail about non-manifold you can check out this link.
Jay Leno likes 3D printing too! He uses the same Dimension printers that we do, and it is great that he is so enthusiastic about the technology. My only gripe: they make scanning and using the resulting file look a bit too easy. I'd love for it to be so simple but generally once a part has been scanned it still requires quite some work by an experienced modeller to make the mesh manifold so that it actually can be printed.