Another week is starting, and that means we’re that much closer to the holidays. For those of you who haven’t finished your gift shopping yet, be sure to check out some of the gift ideas we’ll be sharing this week focused on “fun and games.” From miniatures to your favorite game accessories, we’ve got something for everyone (including you!).

And speaking of miniatures, recently we had a chance to chat with Bo Jansen and Tim van Bentum, the minds behind the 3D printed Strandbeest (in collaboration with artist Theo Jansen). They’ve created a new, mesmerizing product that’s not only fun, but educational too; the 3D Printed Solar System! Taking advantage of 3D printing’s “no assembly required,” characteristic, it’s just as fascinating to hear about the process as it is to play and learn with this piece. Learn more about how the 3D Printed Solar System came to be from Bo and Tim below.

solar system 2 detailing

Where did the idea to 3D print the solar system start?
At Studio Voronoi we design objects in which art meets technology. Our work is about the beauty of kinetic systems, be it in mechanisms like the 3D printed Strandbeest or in the workings of the universe. After reading ´The Grand Design´ by physicist Stephen Hawking, it occurred to me that the movements of celestial bodies can seem pretty abstract from the perspective of a person on earth. Starting close to home, I wanted to actually see and feel how our home, earth, and our surrounding planets orbit our sun. And with this I also wanted to visualize how our Earth relates to the other planets in our solar system regarding size, position, and orbiting speed. When talking about this with others it appeared that most people are usually quite unclear on these elementary facts about their own home planet. All the more reason to create an enlightening kinetic model to make the universe tangible.
Having already developed the 3D Printed Strandbeest in collaboration with Theo Jansen, we knew 3D printing is highly suitable for fabricating complex mechanical multi-body objects, so Shapeways was the way to go.

You guys have some pretty extensive knowledge of the capabilities of 3D printing designing one of the most well-known pieces on the site–did you run into any design challenges with this particular model?
When designing multi-body mechanisms for 3D printing it is key to think about the removal of the excess material. I.e. how can the powder be cleared from in between the parts. The 3D printed Solar System has a rotating mechanism in which eight rings with the planets on are turned at eight different speeds by a central shaft within a small space. The design of this compact mechanism needed to be very open and accessible to allow for the removal of the excess powder. The first prototypes still had excess material in the mechanism which kept the mechanism from turning smoothly.

solar system 1 solar system 3 info

Was this project for a specific purpose or just for fun?
The aim of this project was to make the workings of our solar system insightful in the form of an aesthetic kinetic object. By this, the purpose of the 3D printed Solar System was to create an appealing decorative object, which functions both as a conversation starter, and/or as an educational tool.

How many iterations did you have to do before the final piece?
It took three prototypes before the 3D printed solar system functioned smoothly straight from the box, with numerous design optimizations in between prototypes. Of course in addition to these prototypes, over 10 years of experience in designing for 3D printing went into this design, which accounts for countless iterations and lessons in design for 3D printing.

What was your favorite (and/or least favorite!) part about designing this piece?
Seeing Earth and the other planets orbiting the Sun before my own eyes for the first time and realizing that this is actually what is happening at this very moment! And seeing the baby planet Mercury quickly race around close to the Sun, while the giants Jupiter and Saturn sluggishly move far away, with our small planet Earth somewhere in between. The 3D printed Solar System makes this mind blowing idea of our place in the universe tangible when you can literally hold our solar system in your hands.

solar system 5 legend

Anything else you want to add!
Another interesting aspect of the 3D printed Solar System is that, like the 3D printed Strandbeest, it showcases one of the unique fabrication possibilities with 3D printing by printing the complete multi-body mechanism in one go and not requiring any manual assembly.

Let us know about your newest models in the comments below!