It’s obviously no secret that 3D printing continues its march on dominating the world of 3D physical realization. In the past year I’ve personally seen 3D printers at Office Depot, UPS, FedEx, and Staples where you can bring in an STL file on a USB drive and, theoretically, come back in a few minutes or hours with a 3D product of your creation.
From what I’ve seen, I haven’t exactly been overly impressed with the results. Between under-trained store staffs, limited choices of processes and materials, and just plain bad designs, the end product and process still leave a lot to be desired. In other words, it’s a hit or miss proposition, and probably more of the latter.
Honestly, if you’re serious about the result, take your design to a 3D printing service bureau with more process and material options, not to mention a professional, experienced staff who understands those important issues, but good design practices, as well.
With multitasking an increasing fact of life for us all, it’s no surprise that machine tools continue to evolve into increasingly multifunction machine platforms, as well.
Let’s be honest, though, multifunction machines are not exactly new. For example, machines with processes that work together providing several functions, such as milling, turning, drilling, tapping, measurement, and EDM have been around for a number of years as requirements have changed.
I’ve also seen a number of interesting things on the exhibit floors at manufacturing trade shows, such as RAPID and IMTS, that employ traditional multifunctional capabilities, but have been most intrigued by a new emerging class of hybrid 3D printers that employ both additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive (conventional machining) methods. Some of these innovative hybrid machines follow.
Hybrid (Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing) Machine by DMG Mori
Wow, it’s still summer, but what a week for cloud-based CAD apps. First, Onshape for Android, and now this development from Spatial and Machine Research.
Spatial Corp., a provider of 3D software development toolkits announced that Machine Research, a software provider that helps manufacturers increase efficiency and profitability, has leveraged Spatial’s 3D InterOp and 3D ACIS to launch the first Machine Research app for manufacturers, providing them with the ability to view, measure, collaborate, and translate virtually any CAD file type to any other file type on a secured cloud-based platform. Customers also can manage projects, utilize a visual search engine to find legacy projects of similar geometry, and customize and standardize the quotation process across their organization.
The Machine Research Multi-Purpose App
The Machine Research App provides two levels of service:
BASIC service allows manufacturers to avoid the expense associated with multiple CAD seats and one-off translation tools for an easy, cost-effective viewer and translator on the cloud for a monthly subscription.
PRO service (currently in Preview Mode) allows manufacturers the ability to search and find parts of similar geometry. Their search engine instantly gives users access to legacy parts of similar geometry to leverage the knowledge they’ve gained in the past to do things more efficiently and profitably going forward. It also allows users to take the multiple inter-connected spreadsheets out of the quotation process by providing a customizable quotation platform throughout their company.
Today, Onshape for Android, claimed to be the first 3D CAD system to run on Android phones and tablets, was released. The new mobile release comes just five months after the launch of Onshape Beta, a full-cloud 3D CAD system that lets design teams simultaneously work together on the same model using a web browser, phone, or tablet.
This is big news because, as far as I know, Onshape for Android is the first 3D CAD app that lets you create designs on Android platforms, whereas other CAD companies have only a viewer.
“We founded Onshape with a vision to make CAD accessible on any device, anywhere,” says Onshape founder and Chairman of the Board, Jon Hirschtick. “We’re proud to be the first in the industry to run on Android. And by ‘run,’ I mean really run. You’re not just viewing models. You’re able to sketch, extrude, fillet, shell, create 3D models, edit their shape and size, and put them into assemblies.”
Editing An Assembly On A Nexus Android Tablet
3D CAD users are no longer restricted to one primary workstation, as their data is now readily available on practically any device. In addition to Android, Onshape also runs on iPhones and iPads – and in a web browser on Mac, Windows, and Linux.
“When we first started, a lot of people were skeptical that CAD could be done on such a small device,” explains Ravi Reddy, team lead for Onshape Mobile. “We solved the precision selection problem and made sketching easy with touch-based finger offset tools. We added intuitive lock and unlock modes to help with pan, zoom, and rotate operations for sketching and assemblies.”
“We rejected the standard notion of providing a view-only version of CAD on mobile or choosing a subset of features,” he adds. “We were determined to build a full CAD product that can be used anywhere and from any device.”
Keep in mind, though, the mobile app is not intended to replace Onshape’s use on desktops and laptops – it is meant to expand a CAD user’s access to their work outside the home or office.
Today, 3D printing is relatively well established, with an ever-increasing selection of printers available, ranging from low-cost personal/desktop 3D units for home to the larger and much more capable industrial-strength printers.
The technology itself has also evolved and is now being implemented in a wide range of industries from automotive to aerospace, construction, health, food, and many others.
By now most of us are familiar with 3D, but for the past couple of years there has been increasing chatter about 4D printing. So what is 4D printing?
He described 4D printed objects as 3D-printed objects that reshape themselves or self-assemble over time, depending on the environment they’re in. In other words, the 4th dimension is time and/or environmental conditions.
Tibbits is said to be working with GEOSyntec to design 4D printed water pipes. As the scale and reach of the technology increases, applications in the military (no surprise here) and construction industries are likely to materialize.
Shapeshifting: 3D printed materials that change shape over time.
Dr Dan Raviv, postdoctoral fellow at MIT, believes that 4D printing may be used in a wide range of applications such as home appliances, childcare products, or even clothes and footwear that optimize their form and function by reacting to changes in the environment.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired a 4D-printed dress which designers were able to print using a powder-based nylon material, and made the dress out of thousands of interlocking pieces.
The pace at which 3D printing has evolved in various industries is impressive, but the technology is still too slow for mass manufacturing, and precision and repeatability must still improve for fabrication of structural components.
The power to offer customized products that are manufactured closer to their point of consumption certainly makes the technology appealing to both providers and consumers. It’s a growing market, but there’s still a lot work to be done – particularly around process speed, product size, and the variety of materials that can be used with the technology.
In the near future, 4D printing could be used in space. For example, an improved 3D printing process using materials that could self-assemble (the next topic below) was used to fabricate components on-site and on-demand for astronauts during a space mission.
A recent study reported in The Conversation has shown that high frequency vibrations can cause bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D object, a finding that may one day help reduce the need for factory assembly lines.
The findings, published recently in the journal, Scientific Reports, signal a key advancement in programmable self-assembly, which was previously thought to only be possible using one-dimensional or two-dimensional objects.
The research team, led by Dr Ido Bachelet from the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, used an algorithm from the Computational Geometry Algorithm Library (CGAL) as part of a design that allowed 18 tetrahedral bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D cylinder.
The following video shows blocks in the self-assembly process. Two sets of the object (36 bricks) were inserted in the chamber and after 2.5 hours in a constant speed of 320 rpm one set was assembled. The video doesn’t contain the whole, but portions of it.
The Basic Self-Assembly Process
“Assembly rules are encoded by topographic cues imprinted on brick faces while attraction between bricks is provided by embedded magnets,” the researchers said in their paper. “The bricks can then be mixed in a container and agitated, leading to properly assembled objects at high yields and zero errors.
“Improved designs inspired by our system could lead to successful implementation of self-assembly at the macro-scale, allowing rapid, on-demand fabrication of objects without the need for assembly lines.”
The ability for life to self-assemble is something that continues to puzzle scientists. For example, proteins, viruses, living cells and multi-cellular organisms are all examples of systems in which parts are bonded to each other through attraction to form a structure or pattern.
Hamza Bendemra, a Research Engineer at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the study, said the research of 3D printed assemblies is remarkable.
“The algorithm was inspired by the molecular assembly of the DNA,” he said. But he added that more research was needed to address challenges of time, space and safety for the model to be more efficient at forming and remaining together.
“In the study, a two-brick assembly took less than a minute to self-assemble. However, an 18-piece assembly required over two hours to perform the same feat.”
“The components are subject to high vibrations and collide over and over again until they fit in the right combination. It would be a challenge to implement such a method with materials with low strength and poor impact tolerance without causing damage.”
The next step in developing this concept for construction and manufacturing industries is to use both magnetic forces and adhesives to ensure the assembly stays in place.
Bendemra agreed, saying that “the researchers did a great job at adding topographic cues to ensure a unique combination only would lead to the pieces locking in. Their footage clearly shows that pieces that collide in a non-desired formation detach until they lock-in as planned.”
“The number of pieces involved in the assembly and the nature of the materials being used (including the magnet) in more complex assemblies could limit the use of such a method.”
Boeing has had a patent approved for an aircraft engine that employs laser-generated nuclear fusion as a power source, according to a recent story in Business Insider. The controversial idea is generating some attention from organizations, such as Counter Punch.
So, why the controversy?
The patent has generated fears (founded and unfounded) of what could happen if an aircraft containing radioactive fuel were to crash, spreading the fuel across the crash site. All in all, though, an understandable concern.
New Patent From Boeing Reveals That Tiny Nuclear Explosions Will Power Aircraft
The engine works by laser beams focused on a series of deuterium or tritium (radioactive isotopes of hydrogen). The result is a miniature nuclear explosion that “sprays” hydrogen and/or helium through a nozzle, thus creating massive amounts of thrust.
The explosions also create neutrons that bombard an inner wall of the combustion chamber coated with Uranium 238, creating heat that is harnessed by coolant on the other side of the inner wall that runs a turbine and a generator that powers the lasers. This bombardment of the Uranium 238 has an unfortunate side effect of transforming part of it into Uranium 239, a fissile material.
This idea is really nothing new, and is actually derived from an old idea to create a laser-generated fusion rocket for providing relatively quick flights to destinations throughout our solar system, and possibly interstellar voyages. That concept is based on an even older idea called Orion (not to be confused with the NASA spaceship being developed), that would have used the force generated by “small” nuclear bomb explosions to propel spacecraft.
Again, the concept is currently still in the patent stage, and is a long way from becoming a real design, much less a prototype.
Realistically, considering the real danger of using fissile material as fuel, it is highly doubtful that it will ever be used as an aircraft engine.
However, the idea has real merit for propelling spacecraft. These possibilities are especially interesting, given the recently renewed interest in deep space exploration.