If you are making a movie, and you need special props and effects, you call New Zealand-based Weta Workshops. And when Weta wants to make specialty props, they use 3D printing.
The studio makes armor, costumes, vehicles, and pretty much everything else you can think of. Weta worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and recently worked on the upcoming Hobbit films. They used 3D printing extensivly to build props, including swords and spears used in the film. In the above video, make sure to check out the huge robotic arm they are working on turning into a massive 3D printer.
This summer's stop motion animation film ParaNorman also made news for using 3D printers. Animation studio Laika used 3D printers to create faces used in the film, which were printed in full color on a 3D Systems ZPrinter 650. Using the technology allowed the studio to have 1.5 million unique facial expressions for the main character. For comparison, in Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington had only 800 possible expressions.
Coral reefs are incredibly complex, one-of-a-kind creations. Unfortunately, we are also destroying them at an alarming rate. Fortunately, a joint Australian/Bahraini team is working to 3D print replacement reef units. The team is made up of Sustainable Oceans International (SOI), an Australian reef design consultancy, architect James Gardiner, and Reef Arabia, a reef construction company in the Arabian Gulf.
In 2010, James Gardiner won an award from SOI for his conceptual project that used a construction-sized 3D printer to create replacement reef units. Now, the company has partnered with Gardiner to design, print, and ship the first prototypes, two of which have been purchased by Reef Arabia. The prototypes are 1 meter tall the weight 300 kg each. In Bahrain, the first prototypes will be placed among 270 standard concrete artificial reef units, to test the effectiveness of the design.
The 3D printed reefs have several advantages over traditional concrete-poured replacement reef units, namely that they can replicate the complex internal caves and connections of a real reef, and have specific features added to appeal to certain kinds of marine species.
Sometimes one good project leads to another. At the University of Virginia, a class project to construct a 3D printed plastic turbofan engine replica, sponsored by Rolls-Royce, got the students some attention and has led to the creation of a flight-worthy 3D printed drone.
The engineering students built a plastic turbofan engine using 3D printing technology and some copper tubing that could be powered with compressed air, for under $2,000. A YouTube video of the engine caught the attention of the Mitre Corporation, a defense contractor. Two of the students, Steven Easter and Jonathan Turman, went on to receive a summer internship at the company with a far more challenging goal: build an Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) from 3D printed parts.
The team worked with their professor from the engine project, University of Virginia alumni David Sheffler, who has 20 years of experience in the aerospace industry. The project's mission was to create a UAV with a 6.5" wingspan, made from assembled 3D printed plastic parts.
After completing construction of the UAV, the team conducted four test flights in August and September, where the aircraft hit a cruising speed of 70 kilometers per hour. Observers from Mitre and the U.S. Amy watched the final test flight and were sufficiently impressed; the team's internship has been extended and they have been tasked with building a lighter and easier to assemble model.
Students at the University of Virginia are well situated to take on these kind of exciting projects, the school's Rapid Prototyping Lab has six uPrint 3D Printers and a Fortus 3D Production System from Stratasys.
In the U.S., we have the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), opening in Youngstown, Ohio. The center is focused on additive manufacturing and 3D printing, and is the first of 15 institutes to be opened in the U.S. as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The program has $70 Million in federal and private funding. We covered the center previously here.
Now, on the eve of the 3D Printshow London 2012, UK-based Big Innovation Center, a spin off of Lancaster University and the Work Foundation, is recommending that the British government review and adopt policies to support the 3D printing industry.
The paper, Three Dimension Policy, outlines the way that 3D printing will impact the UK economy, as well as the challenges and policy gaps that need to be closed. The report authors note that the country must be prepared to navigate massive changes to intellectual property, regulation of dangerous printed items, liability, safety standards, new and suitable materials, and both digital and physical infrastructure.
In the report, the authors emphasize that the growth of the 3D printing industry in the UK will empower business by encouraging customization of products, reducing the need for large inventories, shrinking capital and transportation costs, and limiting environmental impacts.
There was also this nice thought for Shapeways users: "3D printing could significantly increase the market for design services, by placing increased emphasis on the value of design." The report goes on to say that we are likely to see both a globalized market for design and a rise in localized production, and that "If the customer is able to choose a product design from the internet, with the manufacturing process and materials relatively standardized, design is likely to the be the key selling point for many products."
The report cautions that the rise of a globalized design marketplace places extreme strain on the intellectual property laws, which will need to be updated to keep pace with the technology.
The full report is really fascinating, and provides some great insight into which industries are facing significant disruption as 3D printing matures. Highly recommended reading, check it out.
And since we are in a British mood, here is a sweet 3D printed replica of London's famous Tower Bridge, by the UK's own Chalk Studios.
Sivam Krish is a busy man. He co-founded Genometri, an early generative design firm which we profiled in 2010, and just last week launched a Kickstarter to fund One just One, his new 3D printed jewelry brand. There are 26 days left to go, so head over and check it out.
Generative design is a design process that uses advanced algorithms to explore potential design possibilities. The results mimic what happens in nature, no two items are the same, each is unique. One just One is initially working with a small group of designers to build collections of unique designs that were each generated from a single genetic base model, with the goal of eventually building a larger global community of technology-savvy and skilled designers.
As Sivam puts it, "Generative design is inspired by natural design processes where genetic structuring of design data enables the creation of variations. No two people are alike and now, no two products need be alike."
The One just One Kickstarter campaign offers pieces of original jewelry in exchange for pledges of support, starting at $20. And if that's not enough to get you excited, One just One orders are filled by the one and only Shapeways.
After this weekend's record breaking sky dive from the edge of space, sponsored by Red Bull, you could be forgiven for thinking that NASA has lost its mojo and is ceding the limelight to Austrian dare devils and energy drink companies.
Have no fear space lovers, NASA is doing just fine. The space agency's Desert Research and Technology Studies (D-RATS) groups are hard at work on the most pressing challenges for space exploration, including manned missions to Mars. The research program conducts two weeks of field tests every September, in the Arizona desert near Flagstaff. Since 2009, the D-RATS have been developing a new SUV-sized manned rover, which, keeping with NASA's reputation as a technology innovator, is made with 70 parts that were fabricated using a Stratsys' Fortus FDM 3D printer.
The production-grade Fortus printer was used to create parts that include pod doors, the front bumper, camera mounts, custom fixtures, and flame-retardant vents and housings. The custom parts were printed in ABS, PCABS, and polycarbonates.
The large rover is designed to serve as both transportation and shelter for two human passengers, and has 12 wheels on independently moving six axles. The goal of the vehicle is to enable astronauts to move around Mars and to work without being confined to space suits. Previous manned rovers, such as the Lunar Rover Vehicle used on the Apollo missions to the moon, were unpressurized, more like a dune buggy than the Luxury Space SUV (LSSUV?) in the video below.
The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, located at the U.S. Military's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, is up to some mind-blowingly cool stuff. Researchers at the center are using 3D printing technology to solve some serious problems that the military faces, including replacing lost limbs, speeding the development of aircraft, and fine-tuning the design of field gear for soldiers.
The researchers are using CAD software to design objects, but are also using 3D scanning to reverse engineer items, for example protective masks for combat troops.
Lost limb replacement is probably the most fascinating (and morbid) project they are working on. The premise is that by scanning soldiers before they go to war, a 3D model exists in case any body part is lost. If the soldier loses their lower leg, a prosthetic can be quickly produced that looks exactly like the real body part.
A very interesting company in this space is Bespoke Innovations, who specialize in 3D scanning and printing of custom prosthetic limbs.
Shown above, Rapid technologies Branch Chief Rick Moore describes how the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center is using 3D printing technology.
3D printing technology is not new to the military, the most impressive example is the Army's Rapid Equipping Force. The mobile lab is contained in a 20" shipping container with gear that include a 3D printer, CNC machine, and plasma cutters. The lab deploys with two scientists who collaborate with soldiers and other engineers to develop solutions to pressing equipment problems. The labs have already been deployed overseas in combat zones, and a future lab is planned for disaster and humanitarian relief missions.
Warning: Video features bad animation and cheery, upbeat military imagery.
Ben Chapman, a designer on the Thingiverse, has come up with this great looking knife sharpener.
The 3D printed sharpener works by fitting onto the bottom of a standard size ceramic coffee mug. Chapman, in a moment of genius, realized that the bottom of a coffee mug usually has a ring of exposed unglazed ceramic. The knife blade fits in a slot at the proper angle to hone the blade on the ceramic as it is pulled across it.
The protruding stand on the side allows the sharper to be used with the mug tipped at an angle and the blade moving vertically through the slot, or with the mug resting on its top lip, for sharpening at a more horizontal angle.
Awesome design, and inspired use of an existing household item to complete the sharpener. Now, maybe we can convince Mr. Chapman to get the design up on Shapeways?
Around these parts, saying that 3D printing is the future is pretty cliche. But, say we switch things around, and talk about how 3D printing is illuminating the past.
Paleontologists, who are about as focused on the past as it gets, have started using 3D printing technology to create models of mollusks. For those not up on their invertebrates, mollusks are the largest marine phylum, and account for 23% of named marine organisms. To learn more about a new species in an extinct group of mollusks, University of Texas paleontologists, led by Jakob Vinther, studied a 390 year old fossil using CT scanning, DNA-based dating, computer reconstruction, and, to make actual models of the organisms, 3D printing.
To overcome the difficulty of studying the fossil, which was partly encased in rock, the team used x-ray micro-tomography (essentially taking multiple CT scans while rotating the fossil) to build a 3D digital model of the mollusk. Then, by using reconstruction software, they were able to correct for fossil degradation and shifts in the placement of parts of the creature. The result was a more accurate 3D model.
Now the really fun part. Vinther and his colleagues then created a replica of the mollusk using a 3D printer, at 12 times the size of the original. The resulting model allowed the scientists to get a more complete picture of the anatomy of the extinct mollusk, and test hypothesis' about it's evolutionary path.
Replicating mollusks for science seems harmless enough, and I applaud the research. Lets just not get carried way with building the robotic dinosaurs please.
Hypothetical question time. If you are a vegetarian, can you eat 3D printed meat? If you are a vegan, can you wear a jacket that is made of 3D printed leather?
These are not theoretical questions; technology and techniques for 3D printing in organic material are very real, and moving along at a brisk pace. University of Pennsylvania scientists have developed a method to use 3D printing to create working blood vessels by printing sugar-based casts for live cells to form around (see video below). Earlier this month, researchers at University of California, San Diego were able to significantly speed up the process with a new technique. The new method uses stereolithography: a photo-sensitive solution of biopolymers and cells is targeted with light beams to build solid structures, such as blood vessels or potentially organs.
One private sector company that is generating buzz in the investment community is Organovo. The company makes the NovaGen MMX Bioprinter, which takes cells and shapes them into 3D tissue structures. Keeping things in the family, Andras Forgas, son of Organovo founder Gabor Forgas, has also started his own spin-off company, Modern Meadow. The new venture is focusing on developing organic material for food and clothing. Backed the Peter Thiel's Breakout Labs, the new startup is first targeting wearable printed leather, then plans to move into food production. Modern Meadow's faux-leather technique involves isolating and reproducing mass amounts of cells to create a raw material for a process that would resemble weaving.
Don't look for a leather goods or meat section here are Shapeways just yet, but who knows, maybe we'll be able to cater to the motorcycle and BBQ crowd at some point.
Ron Swanson doesn't often use 3D printing technology. But when he does, you can bet that he would want to do it in wood, not some fancy plastic or ceramic. Fortunately for Ron, LAYWOO-D3 is a new FDM filament for RepRap printers that is made of 40% recycled wood material, with the rest made up of polymer binders. More like plywood than a nice hardwood.
The material smells and looks like wood, albeit more of a plywood than a nice hardwood. Once an item is printed out, you can sand, paint, saw, and do just about anything else you would do to the real thing. Imagine printing out your own set of Lincoln Logs or a wooden iPhone case for your outdoors-loving father.
Invented by German Thingiverse member Kaipa, the filament can even simulate tree rings. Heating it to 190 C gives the material a light color, while increasing the temperature to 230 C makes it darker, giving the appearance of rings. The filament is non-warping, can be printed with rough or smooth surfaces, and limited quantities are currently only available in 3mm, although 1.7mm is planned.
Recycling wood and using a renewable resource for 3D printing is admirable on it's own, not to mention the undeniable aesthetic appeal of wood. LAYOO-D3 is an exciting addition to the growing number of materials that can be printed, looking forward to seeing what designers can do with it.
If you want to check it out and get rustic with your printing, you can order some here (supplies appear to be limited), or find some on eBay.
This is urban planning for people who thought the best part of Monopoly was playing with the little houses and hotels. At Louisville, Kentucky's Ideas festival, community members got the chance to rearrange the city and try out new ideas for future development, all with the help of 1/1000 scale 3D printed models of existing city buildings.
The buildings were printed out live at the event by local hackerspace LVL1, who had collaborated with University of Kentucky architecture students to develop the models. Attendees were not only able to move the 3D printed buildings around the huge map of the city, but the building's designs could be modified via Google SketchUp and printed live on one of the five 3D printers that LVL1 provided. Sort of a real-life D&D tabletop game, although with no dice or goblins, and more discussions of traffic patterns and zoning designations.
The interactive event was used to kick-off Vision Louisville, a planning initiative to shape the next 25 years of the city's development. The city plans to hold on to the 3D printed building models and record the ideas that were developed on the map for future use. Louisville is not the first city to get the 3D printing treatment, Chicago was rendered in 3D in 2009 as part of an exhibit by the Chicago Architectural Foundation.
Sound like a lot of fun (maybe even more than Monopoly), and if you want to get going on arranging your own city, maybe check out these sweet buildings from Shapeways' own pfeiffer stylez.