Category Archives: DIY

Hacking Your Home With 3D Printing

Why should your house look the same as the one next door? Home is where the heart is, right? And creativity comes from the heart. So a home that breathes your creativity is what makes it your home.

With 3D Printing, it becomes easier than ever to hack existing items you have in your house to create a dynamic space, a place that changes, grows and is really you. Last week we got an email from Evan Gant, who has his own shop on Shapeways called Olivebird and created a range of products that show how easy it becomes to manipulate your own environment.

Take these brilliant small components called “Links” that you can attach to your wall and create a whole new dimension for using building blocks. While it provides a fun way for your kid to decorate the wall their bedrooms (obviously preferred above using crayons on the wall), you can also create fun looking and yet functional storage spaces with these Links.

What never fails to liven up your home is.. Life! With this clever Bell Vase hack you can reuse the jars from your favorite food by simply adding a 3D printed lid to transform them into vases. Designer izign believes in sustainable design, so I’m curious to see what other life extending hacks he comes up with.

With summer drawing near, I can imagine you’re ready to start using your ceiling fan any time soon. But don’t you just hate the moment pulling on the wrong cord and having the light go on in stead? Noé and Pedro Ruiz (design duo Pixil 3D) decided they needed a simple solution, which resulted in the Typography Fan Pull Handles.

Last example I want to give really turned the world of Home Deco upside down. This Radiolaria Vertebralia Planter is a cool design by Joaquin Baldwin that shows plants from a whole new dimension in your home.

Need even more cool ideas to hack your house with 3D Printing? Browse this list of products and get inspired!

Keep Your Lightning Cables Unfrayed With This Lifehack | Shapeways Reviews

Your iPhone’s low on battery, and you’re digging through your pack looking for a lightning cable to juice up your phone, but the only one you can find looks like this:  

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Yep, a completely frayed, non-working cable.

BUT! There’s a way to keep this from happening. This nifty little piece of plastic by TheKre8Group lets you quickly and easily wrap your cables to keep them tidy and safe from undesirable bending and fraying.

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Wrapping a cable is super simple.

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Insert the USB end into the larger slot.

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Wrap the cord around, starting in the beveled channel and wrapping upwards, making sure not to double-layer any part.

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Once you’ve wrapped the cord, insert the lightning end into the smaller hole to hold it secure.

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Now, you have a simple, affordable, compact solution to help prevent expensive cables from fraying and breaking.

Check out our video review here:

Do you have a neat way of keeping your cords organized? We’d love to hear it! Leave it in the comments below, and let us know what you want to see next. Follow TheKre8Group on Shapeways here , and be sure to check out their shop here.

Follow Seth on Shapeways here

How to Build a Custom Drone and an Interview With the Maker Behind it

Last week Paul of spyyne3d shared his newest drone in our “feature this” forum and I had to share it out on our blog. The Honeycomb Drone is a lightweight, elegant frame built from Shapeways printed parts and created with open source software. If you want to build a small drone with a few simple parts, this is a great option. On the product page there are instructions on where to buy the additional, non-3D printed hardware and detailed instructions on assembly.

I reached out to Paul to learn more about how he got started building drones and learn more about him as a designer.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get started making?

I grew up on a cattle station in a remote area of Australia and I’ve had experience designing and building with steel from a young age. My father taught me to weld when I was 13 so metal fabrication has been a major part of my life.When I finished school I moved into the city to study geology and became interested in drones because I saw a wide application for their use in the field. I have always had a strong interest in radio controlled vehicles and anything mechanical so I started researching robotics and composite materials in my spare time.

How did you get into 3D printing?

A few months ago I bought my first drone and it occurred to me that the structural design and overall build could be greatly improved. I decided to build a quadcopter frame and soon realized that 3D printing was the only way to create what I was imagining. I had never held a 3D printed object before so I was enthusiastic to test out this new technology. Over a few weeks I taught myself Autodesk Inventor and I was surprised by how easily I could create the shapes I wanted. When the first prototype arrived, I was impressed by the quality and strength of the parts. It really opened up my mind to what could be possible with additive manufacturing now and into the future.

What inspired the Honeycomb drone?

I believe that if something is designed in a form-follows-function manner it will always look good, and I’ve always used this philosophy in things I’ve built. I look to nature for inspiration, particularly the skeletons of animals because they are the result of billions of design iterations. The honeycomb drone was actually inspired by the hollowed out nature of a skull.

What are your goals for your Shapeways shop?

The goal of my shop is to create hybrid looking bio inspired objects which surpass people’s expectations of what can be manufactured. By utilizing the possibilities of 3D printing, I hope to create a new range of products which are lightweight and strong which cannot be manufactured in any other way.

 

We’re excited to order these parts and make one of our own Honeycomb drones for the office. How would you build and customize a 3D printed drone with Shapeways?  Start following Paul and his Shapeways shop to always see what he is dreaming up next.

BotFactory Develops 3D Printed Hardware with Shapeways

This is a guest post by George Kyriakou of BotFactory

With Shapeways we suck more, literally. Imagine if every time that you wanted to make a change to your website or app, you had to wait for two weeks to see the results. This is the reality in the electronics prototyping world. My name is George Kyriakou and I am the COO of BotFactory, where we make Squink, a Desktop Electronics Printer that can create the sort of PCBs to power any device, from drones to watches. We use Shapeways in order to get high precision and quality parts without having to order thousands of units.

BotFactory aims to reassess the way we think about Electronics and hardware prototyping. Instead of waiting a couple of weeks procrastinating while your board is being manufactured and shipped, BotFactory inkjet prints your traces in a jiffy using silver-based nanoparticle electroconductive ink. Instead of searching for interns to burn your freshly cooked wafer, BotFactory solders and picks and places for you. And all that through a single device that sits on your desk: Squink.

As COO I manage our supply and manufacturing chain, which means I also serve as the janitor, packer, shipper, assembler, purchase manager, etc. My long-term goal is to make sure that BotFactory can scale production effortlessly and meet our big vision to have Squinks on everyone’s desk. From the early days, we designed and 3D printed all of the parts for Squink on our handy Makerbot Replicator 2X. We felt that we could scale with only one machine – how wrong we were!

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A 3D printed generator

Posted by in DIY, Inspiration

Yep, you read that right. Someone 3D printed a generator. Even more amazing? They did it right in their own home using 2 desktop 3D printers.

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When we came across this story we couldn’t wait to share it with our community. The generator is made up of 60 parts which took a total of 250 hours to print! Be sure to check out the whole story to see exactly how the designer, Even Erichsen, made this generator come to life. From designing in 3D Studio Max to the actual assembly of the finished generator, Even describes his process and what he’s learned.

This project is an amazing example of how 3D printing is used to build things that can solve problems. While everyone might not find a reason to 3D print a generator, most people have issues they run into every single day that could be solved with this technology. Whether it’s a special stand that fits your phone, tablet, etc. or a gadget that keeps your headphones from tangling, a 3D printed product could be the answer you’re looking for!

 

Hero Forge: Where Are They Now?

We are amazed with all the products that continue to come from designers’ imaginations and out of the printers. While 3D modeling takes some skill, we’ve seen a number of people take that mastery to the next level by creating apps that make 3D printing truly available to everyone. One of our favorite (and successful) examples we’ve seen is Hero Forge, a web-based app that lets you customize tabletop miniatures and statuettes.

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Photo courtesy of Gnome Stew

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How To Make Custom 3D Printed Bic Brander

In this blog post Shapeways community member James Herndon teaches you how to make a custom Bic Branding Iron that snaps onto a Bic lighter from a 2D image using Shapeways CustomMaker.

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You don’t need a 3D printer, just an image, an image editing program like Pixlr and Shapeways.com to print your brand in real steel.

Disclaimer:
Yes, this is a branding iron, they get hot! Don’t do anything stupid with one of these, like burn yourself or an animal! If you do, please don’t blame me! :)

Step 1: Find your image

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First of all you will need to find or create a black and white image for your branding iron.
When you upload your image the black areas will be extruded by 1mm, the white areas will stay in place. You should avoid any Gray scale or color images as they won’t produce as clean of a final brand but you can experiment if you want!

Step 2: Use Autodesk Pixlr to reverse your image (your Iron should be a mirror image of the final brand)

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Almost every image will need to be reversed before uploading, that way the brand comes out the right way

This is super easy with Autodesk Pixlr, a completely free online photo editing program,
Navigate to https://pixlr.com/editor/ and choose to open an image on your computer or by inputting a URL

Then just click “Image” and then “Flip canvas horizontal”

Step 3: Use Pixlr to Invert your image and crop it if needed

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If you found the perfect black and white image but it’s backwards, you’ll need to Invert it in Pixlr

To do this, just duplicate the background layer and change the new layer’s mode to “invert”, that’s it!

If you need to add white space around your image, just increase the canvas size by a few pixels with the center as your anchor. (do this if your brand gets distorted at the edges, you’ll know what I mean later when you go to make your branding iron)

If you need to remove space around your image just use the crop button in Pixlr.

Note:
If you have a rectangular shaped image then you may need to rotate your image in Pixlr as well.

The 3D base models all have the longest edge of the rectangle running left-right, so if you have a tall skinny image, you’ll want to rotate it by 90°.

Step 4: Upload your Image to Shapeways

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If your image is mostly circular or square shaped follow this link:
http://www.shapeways.com/product/QM8964MKH/custom-…

If your image is mostly rectangular shaped follow this link:
http://www.shapeways.com/product/TC8DA2SUM/custom-…

If your image is a skinny rectangle follow this link:
http://www.shapeways.com/product/6DKX33L4Y/custom-…

Next just click on the “Choose File” Button and pick the image you made earlier!

Step 5: Order your brand, wait and burn!

This step is easy! Just click the “Add to Cart” button on the right and follow the process to order your Custom bic branding iron!

Shapeways will then 3D print your custom brand in Stainless steel and it should arrive in about 14-18 days worldwide!

After it’s arrived you just attach it to a Bic World Class lighter and then light it up for about 60 seconds or so (every brand is different)

Be sure to practice on some scrap wood first! Getting a good brand takes practice and you don’t want to mess up your 1951 Mickey Mantle rookie bat with a sloppy batman brand. (really though, that’s a dumb idea, if you have a Mickey Mantle bat just don’t brand it at all).

Have fun!

 

3D printed case turns your micro drone into a wasp

Posted by in Design, DIY, Drones, Inspiration

Drone parts and drone accessories are a popular design category on Shapeways. Customizing drones has become a fun hobby for 3D printing enthusiast, especially with SLS and Shapeways 3D printing, designers are able to design for accurate and sophisticated  upgraded parts and accessories.

German designer Kai Bracher, of the Shapeways shop Cabrada has taken his love of drones to the next level by designing this eye catching 3D printable case for the drone for the Micro Drone. This 3D printed clip on case for the microdrone 2.0 and 3.0 from Extreme flyers turns your done into a wasp.

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Wasp case designed in Zbrush

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Micro Drone in flight with the 3D printed Wasp Shell add on

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The Wasp Drone case currently sells for $31.50 USD on Kai’s Shapeways Shop and is available in various colors in our Strong and Flexible nylon material.

There is also a video shows the mounting of the wasp to the Micro Drone

Have you modded out your drone with 3D printed parts or accessories? Let us know in a comment below or share your photos with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @Shapeways.

Designer Proposes With Beautiful 3D Printed Crystalized Hearts Ring

Posted by in 3D Modeling, Community, DIY

When the love of 3D printing meets the love of another person, a marriage between the two usually occurs. Belgian designer Kurt Drubbel recently proposed to his long time girlfriend with a gorgeous 3D printed engagement ring he designed. This unique piece is covered with tiny crystalyzed hearts (visible up close only). The ring was prototyped in alumide and finally printed in polished silver.

Kurt and his fiancé have a 2 year old daughter together. He presented the 3D printed ring to her on a ferry on a rough sea at night, between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The answer was an overwhelming yes.

Here are some photos of the ring printed in polished silver

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Video showing the prototype and final ring

On behalf of the Shapeways team, we want to congratulate Kurt and his fiancé on their engagement! Do you have a 3D printed love story to tell? We’d like to hear it. Shoot us a email to community@shapeways.com.

How To Make Amazing Videos For Your Shapeways Products

Posted by in DIY, Education, How To

Selling and telling the story behind your Shapeways 3D printed product can be difficult when the consumer cannot see or experience that product in their hands. One way to make the buying experience easier for customers is having high quality, creative, and short videos of your products. Videos can provide an accurate assessment of the product and should achieve the following: form, function, scale, and purpose. Your product video should be no longer than two minutes and should provide essentially a 360 overview and elevator pitch of what your product is, what it looks like, and what it is intended for.

I’ve curated a few examples of well made videos you can use a reference for creating your next product video.

 1) Strandbeest Video by Theo Jansen

2) Mortal Coil video by Ryan Kittleson

3) Ghost Spinning Top by Michiel Cornelissen

4) Sprout video by Egant

5) Microsoft Band Charging Stand by Idle Hands Development

Do you have a great product video you wish to share with us? Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter!

Shapeways Celebrates You This Small Business Saturday

Did you know today is Small Business Saturday? A day focused on supporting your community and the independent businesses within that. Online small businesses count too, and that’s why today is my favorite of this wild holiday weekend. There is a lot to celebrate today, alongside the over 22,000 small business owners powered by Shapeways 3D Printing. Remind your friends and family when they shop from you store on Shapeways, not only are the getting a great deal this weekend, they’re also supporting the maker movement and the small businesses within that.

Learn more about the people behind Shapeways 3D Printing powered businesses through our Designer Spotlight series. Celebrate your creative independence and remind others to #ShopSmall! What small business on Shapeways is your favorite?

 

Hire a 3D Modeler & Designer: The Three C’s

Getting in the DIY spirit and want to hire a designer to bring your project to life? You’ve seen the directory of Designers for Hire, read about a designer you like, and now you’re ready to get started. Even if you’ve never hired a designer before, keeping the three C’s in mind is a good guide: Clarity, Communication and Cost.

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Clarity

Knowing what you want is half the project! The more specific you can be, the better chance you will get exactly what you want.

When talking about your idea, sketches, photos, Pinterest boards, magazine clippings and even screenshots of elements you like are all really helpful in communicating what you like. Photos are especially useful whether it be similar items that represent your idea or elements of different objects that you would like to incorporate.

It also helps to be specific about your preferred style, finishing touches and how your completed product will be used. If you know what material you would like the finished product to be made it, that helps immensely, as the 3D printing guidelines vary between materials and may influence the design itself.

If you’re still in the ‘concept’ phase (say if you are designing a new functional product) and are seeking project guidance or inspiration, be sure to choose a designer who has those skills listed as their specialty.

Designers are creative problem solvers. Once you have given them a clear outline of your requirements, let them do their creative thing and come up with creative solutions.

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Communication

Designers are experts in bringing ideas to life, and most of this magic happens through effective communication. Throughout the creation process, it’s important to communicate openly and frequently with your designer to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what you want, and you know their schedule. They should be asking you just as many questions are you are listing specifics.

Throughout the process, be honest but polite. If your designer is making something that isn’t going in the direction you were imagining, let them know. Many designers are more than happy to modify their designs as long as they have clear direction. I recommend highlighting what you liked (the more specific the better) and exactly what they need to improve on. Don’t just say “I don’t like the hard edges”. Explain why: “The hard edges make it feel minimalist and modern, I am looking for a romantic, organic feel”. The latter statement is much more useful.

In the end, designers like being able to use their own creative judgment to improve ideas. So while it is important to be specific, leave them some space to work their magic to delight you.

Depending on your project, it may be a good idea to formalize your agreement in writing. This digital contract should include all of the specific details that you and the designer agreed upon, including timing and pricing.

The process of bringing an idea to life

 

Cost

Which brings us to the last and most important point: Money. Two things to keep in mind here are how much you are willing to spend and understanding the design process.

Part of having clarity around your idea is knowing how much are you comfortable spending. Three things to consider may help you get an estimate beforehand:

1. Finished product or 3D file? Do you want just a 3D printable file that you will upload and order yourself? Or do you want a finished item? Material cost comes into play here – if you want a silver ring, part of the cost will be made up of the silver itself, and part for the design.

2. Time and labor. Larger or more detailed projects can sometimes take more time to complete, and therefore cost more.

3. One of a kind design. If this is a one of a kind item, it’s not something that you could buy in a store even if you wanted to, so the price may be a little higher than you would expect. If you are working on a brand new product, it’s worth investing in a good design. There is really no way to put a price on how incredible it is to hold something that you imagined, so keep that in mind!

4. Similar items.To get a sense of the general cost of an item before you hire a designer, look for similar items and get a sense of the price. For instance, if you want to make a piece of jewelry, browse our jewelry category section to find a handful of custom items that are of a similar size and scope. The average cost of those items is often a good starting point for you to discuss your budget with a designer.

It also helps to understand the process. Designing is a process that takes time and effort. You may not be aware of all of the “behind the scenes” work that takes place including creative brainstorming, sketching, drafts, revisions and renders. Asking your designer about the process involved in making your specific idea will help you understand the level of work involved.

Communication is key here as well! Talk to your designer as some charge by the hour, some charge by project and the complexity of your design will influence this. The more detail you can give them, the better they are able to estimate a price for you.

3D printing gives us the unique ability to make custom things to order, helping you get exactly what you want, and not just what is available. While we at Shapeways do what we can to give access to the best materials at the lowest prices, ultimately the design is what sets a product apart, and this is where the skill lies. Translating an idea into a physical object is a designers skill, and this alchemy is worth paying for!

How you work with a designer comes down to your project but keeping in mind the Three C’s should help you minimize stress and get exactly what you want. Have you hired a designer on Shapeways? Tell us about it in the comments! If you are a designer, what other tips would you offer for potential clients?

Happy creating!

Your Next Tattoo Made with a 3D Printer

Posted by in 3D Printer, Art, DIY, Video

What better use of the computer controlled x y motors of a 3D printer than to give yourself a tattoo.  Tattooing straight lines and perfect circles are super hard so the enigmatic crew of Appropriate Audiences have solved that problem by attaching a tattoo machine to their 3D printer to give the perfect circle tattoo (not the band logo).

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This should be listed under ‘do not try this at home’ as many territories have different laws on who and how to you can get tattooed.  To follow their process so you can see exactly how not to try this at home, Pierre Emm and friends have shared their how (not) to on Instructables.

Hero Forge, Making Custom 3D Printed Miniatures Easy

Posted by in 3D Printing, API, Apps, Design, DIY, Geek, Toys

Making custom 3D Printed tabletop gaming miniatures is about to get easier with Hero Forge App, and the Shapeways 3D Printing API.  The team at Hero Forge have raised support with a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to create an app to make custom 3D printed figurines for table top gaming.

Following is the story of how the project came about, why they chose to use Shapeways 3D printing, and how this is a perfect case study, for helping people get exactly what they want with a customization app, and on demand 3D printing at Shapeways.

HERO FORGE ORIGIN STORY

About seven months ago, with bated breath and well-bitten nails, we at Hero Forge launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign  proposing a new application of 3D printing: customizable tabletop miniatures. The idea was simple: using a WebGL-based app akin to a videogame character creator, users would be able to build a character from a library of parts, poses, and features, then get it 3D printed.

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The idea for Hero Forge actually came about when we went looking for a service like it, hoping to use it as customers. We’d seen slick WebGL-based apps and had seen all kinds of cool Maker Apps using Shapeways Developer API. We assumed something like Hero Forge would already exist. As it turned out, all the pieces were there but the service itself wasn’t. We decided to make it ourselves.

Going to Kickstarter for funding was a no-brainer. Kickstarter has an incredibly passionate gaming community that’s been jumpstarting role-playing and miniatures projects for years. We really couldn’t have predicted just how amazingly supportive our backers would be, though. We ended up hitting our initial goal within the first three days of our campaign then went on to unlock nine stretch goals. It was exciting to say the least.

WHY IS CUSTOMIZATION IMPORTANT?

There miniatures can mean a lot to tabletop gamers. A player might spend years playing as a single character, and having a mini that really matches their vision is a powerful thing. Unfortunately, finding a miniature that really captures one’s character can be difficult. Nearly all tabletop fans know the frustration of combing through poorly-stocked shelves or browsing low-resolution image galleries looking for just the right combination of features and equipment.

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We have absolutely amazing team working on the tech, UI, and building a library of weapons, armor, poses, faces, and more. They’re making the building blocks that users will be able to play with, combine, and rearrange until they get something that is legitimately theirs. We want to offer a whole new level of parity between the character in their imagination and the miniature in front of them.

HOW IS 3D PRINTING FACILITATING THIS?

It’s great to have reached a point where 3D printing can do more than prototyping. We’ve gotten to a place where it can produce polished, finished products. There’s no doubt that 3D printing is an integral component of our service. No other manufacturing method would allow for us to produce one-off figures in a cost effective way. Using the Shapeways API provides other huge advantages, too. As a start-up, being able to let an established, proven name handle both manufacturing and shipping is a godsend. It lets us focus on what we really want to be focused on: building an amazing service and designing cool great arms, armor, and characters.

There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility of material offerings, too. We’re taking advantage of that flexibility, offering larger-scale statuettes in stronger, cheaper materials and higher detail, smoother materials for users who want more fidelity in their miniature prints. And in the future, if new materials hit the scenes, adding them to our offerings will be easy.

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At the moment, we’re focused on building an incredible service, and the Shapeways API and manufacturing team are proving to be amazing folks to have on our side. We’ve still got our sights set on launching before the year is out. We really can’t wait to see what people create with what we’re building.

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–Joshua Bennett, Co-Founder of Hero Forge

Photo Credit: MDK Photography (MartinDK108@gmail.com)

 

Update: Hero Forge’s website is up and running! Check them out.

Terminator Was Not Open-source: 3D printing & DIY drones

Posted by in 3D Printed, DIY, Gadgets

How 3D printing and DIY drone community are changing perceptions.

We will be attending the EAA Airventure Live convention in Oshkosh this week. So as this week will be all about wings, we thought we would look into one of our top growing communities of flying makers, the DIY drone community, and share their story with you.

“I’ll be back!”
The Terminator, 1984

We all know that line from the movie.  And as we are seeing more forms of artificial intelligence and other robotic incarnations, science fiction and the media want us to believe that the Terminator [1]  will indeed be back soon. One of the most reproved and misunderstood of these robots are probably Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as they are more commonly known. But what no one is showing us is that this technology is not being molded by some dark overlord like “Skynet ”, but more likely by the hobbyist with a 3D printer next door. Embracing the “Maker Movement” and open source development,  3D printing and personal drone communities are bringing together two industries that are growing bigger than the sum of their parts.

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Disruptive technology” is a term coined by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen describing an emerging technology that significantly alters the landscape and creates a completely new industry around it.  The web, cloud computing, cell phones, MP3s, and Wi-Fi are all examples of disruptive technologies that we probably cannot live without in today’s world.

Both drones and 3D printing are considered disruptive technologies and together will radically change our perception of both drone technology and the use of 3D printing.  So just what makes them work so well together – 3D printed drones? Well, yes, this is definitely being done, but it is not the real game-changer. Let’s first inoculate the perception we have of UAV technology and then bring in the alchemy of 3D printing.

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DJI Phantom 1.5 – 24mm Battery Door by BrianSelfDesign

UAVs are flown remotely with no one onboard. This allows the pilot the safety of not being airborne and also dramatically improves the visibility and reach of the pilot as UAVs can go where manned airborne vehicles often cannot. The UAV uses computers, sensors, cameras , and GPS to locate itself and feeds back data to the pilot, which could include its position, the terrain, the conditions, and video footage around it.

Probably the most common use of UAVs is for film. The recent Winter Games in Sochi would not have been as dramatic if we did not have the drone’s eye view of the skier in midair. UAVs are not only cheaper than aerial photography from a helicopter, but they can also come much closer and stay close due to their speed. In the US, using UAVs for commercial filming purposes is illegal, but it does not stop amateur filmmakers from shooting some of the most breathtaking and brazen footage currently to be found on the web. Digital cameras such as the GoPro are attached to the drone and then the only thing stopping you from soaring with the eagles is battery life and range.

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Credit: fieldofplay.eu

There have also been a couple of more playful uses suggested such as UAVs delivering pizza, beer, and your online store orders. But it is not all fun and games; UAVs are also put to work. They allow scientists to explore weather, farmers to inspect their crops or stock, and they enable rescue missions to find missing people and deliver provisions in disaster areas.

Now, let us add 3D printing to the drone mix, or we could probably just 3D print a drone. University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) has produced a UAV that can be printed and in the air in 24 hours. Without 3D printing, the same drone would take 120 hours to produce, there would be material waste, and there wouldn’t be options to print one or many. This same team is also researching disposable 3D printed drones that could be created inexpensively and be in the air on a mission, whether for surveillance or rescue, within 24 hours.

So there we have drones and 3D printed drones, but now we can take this to next dimension: 3D printing drones. Imperial College London’s Aerial Robotics Lab has developed a “robotic quadcopter that can extrude polyurethane foam while in flight.” The researchers are hoping that this drone could potentially fill holes that need patching or build completely new structures in unreachable locations.

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Credit: BAE Drone

Aerospace company BAE Systems predicts that by 2040 we’ll have airplanes with sophisticated 3D printers onboard that can 3D print UAVs on demand and to scope. So soon we will have flying 3D printers printing 3D printed drones that can 3D print. This is probably not what they refer to as a feedback loop in technology, but it comes pretty close.

However the real alchemy (or disruptive innovation) of 3D printing in the world of UAVs is neither the scientific inventions nor the futuristic possibilities, but rather lies within the rapidly growing DIY community of both UAV and 3D printing enthusiasts.

They have formed a participatory partnership that supports each other’s ideas, shares research, actively contributes, offers mentorship, and most importantly relinquishes ownership. This model of community-led research and development is not new, but it has never been in such control of an entire industry’s future.

A pioneer in this regard is Chris Anderson, who quit his job as editor and chief of the revered Wired magazine to join a then 20-year-old Jordi Muñoz, with whom he had only communicated via email to start 3D Robotics, the leading personal UAV manufacturer. Anderson is also a fervent backer of 3D printing and expounds the idea of a new industrial revolution in his book Makers, about a movement started by people who are once again taking design and development into their own hands. In particular, he refers to 3D printing that makes manufacturing faster and more accessible.

Credit: Aarti Shahani

Credit: Aarti Shahani

Before Anderson started 3D Robotics, he had a personal interest in UAVs. A couple of failed attempts at impressing his children with a homemade drone led him to start a community of amateur tinkerers of the UAV persuasion so they could share their findings in this relatively new field and also commiserate on their failings. “By building a team in public,” he says, “you build communities first and open source them, you do not have to find the right people. They find you.” 

Anderson started DIYDrones.com in 2007, and the community currently has over 55 thousand contributing members  and with approximately 1,000 new personal drones being launched every month, this community is flying high.

At about the same time that Anderson was starting DIY Drones, another company had its own story of success in a skeptical market: Shapeways. This company originated in an incubator within Dutch conglomerate Philips. And Shapeways itself is something of an incubator — a 3D printing marketplace that allows for others  to make a business out of the work they produce. Community members are given free reign to upload any 3D printed file to the Shapeway’s website, 3D print in a myriad of materials and colors using Shapeways’ industrial printers and then use the infrastructure to host their own online stores and manage the logistics.

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UltraLight 20cm Landing Gear by BrianSelfDesign

3D printing is a natural fit for the drone community because of the relatively new and unexplored nature of both industries. UAVs would not be developing so quickly if it weren’t for 3D printers and their ability to rapidly prototype and produce the variety of modifications and additions that are needed for things like camera attachments and battery cases for extended flying time. As soon as a new use is defined for a drone, they can immediately test or manufacture it. And in turn, there’s a whole new market and community for the 3D printing industry.

Shapeways has an active relationship with its own community as well. The suggestions and feedback from the community of Shop Owners and Shoppers are regularly addressed not only through dialogue but also by being implementing into development strategies for its online platforms and production facilities. It was also in these community dialogues (together with clear evidence of its booming sales reports) that Shapeways realized what was once considered a niche hobby began turning into a full-blown disruptive force in the marketplace. Drone bodies, modification and drone accessories, have become a significant portion of its current shop owner stock and sales.

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Phantom 1.5 Battery Door by d3wey

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Fatshark Camera Holder with GoPro Mount by d3wey

When you search through the Shop Owners on Shapeways.com, you can see that they are clearly part of this participatory and global community. D3wey, a designer from the UK, asks for feedback on all his products to improve the quality and he proudly states that his designs are more for fun than for profit. He produces everything from GoPro attachments to the battery doors that allow bigger batteries and personalization like dragon or skull designs.

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Canopy for HeliMax 1SQ Quadcopter by spike2131

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DJI Phantom Landing Gear by maikelsdesign

Another active community member, Simensays, produces spare parts, camera equipment, landing gear, and compass mounts to name but a few. These DIY drone enthusiast are clearly more interested in making interesting videos, tracking their extreme sports adventures, or just good old-fashion showboatery than any of the other concerns we might have around drones.

The DIY drone community alone flies more drones than the total number of US military drones at present. Thus the power to ‘demilitarize and democratize‘ the development of UAVs really lies in the hands of the DIY drone community. Inside these communities everyone is a moderator that can encourage good behavior, discipline bad behavior, contest legal decisions, and build software or hardware together. And for the first time, there is communal intellectual property which all own and protect.

And herein lies the true alchemy: every single member of the DIY drone community has a team of 55,000 peaceful and fun-loving inventors, scientist, homemakers, engineers, teachers, and artists—to name but a few—behind them, that are all building and industry with everyone’s best interests at heart. To top this, with the power of 3D printing they also have their own manufacturing plant and from here, the sky really is the limit.

Credit: Parrot AR.Drone

Credit: Parrot AR.Drone


[1] Elison Harlen, James Cameron, The Terminator, 1984
[2] American Broadcast Corporation, Modern Family, Season 05 Episode 14 “iSpy”