This week MakerBot announced that it had sold more than 100,000 3D printers worldwide. The company said it was able to reach this milestone (as the first 3D printer company to do it) by providing an accessible, affordable, and easy-to-use 3D printing experience.
“Being the first company to have sold 100,000 3D printers is a major milestone for MakerBot and the entire industry,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO at MakerBot. “MakerBot has made 3D printing more accessible and today is empowering businesses and educators to redefine what’s possible. What was once a product used only by makers and hobbyists has matured significantly and become an indispensible tool that is changing the way students learn and businesses innovate.”
MakerBot was one of the first companies to make 3D printing accessible and affordable. Since its founding in 2009, MakerBot has pushed 3D printing and has introduced many industry firsts. Thingiverse was the first platform where anyone could share 3D designs and launched even before MakerBot was founded. In 2009, MakerBot introduced its first 3D printer, the Cupcake CNC, at SXSW. In 2010, MakerBot became the first company to present a 3D printer at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Now, 3D printing is its own category at CES with a myriad of 3D printing companies from around the world in attendance each year.
Being the editor of MCADCafe, I am constantly on the lookout for innovative software and hardware products that make working life better for designers and engineers. While some of these products are truly unique, many are retreads and “me too’s” of existing offerings.
Lately, I’ve been especially watchful on the hardware platform front, because it doesn’t seem as compelling as it once was, much to the credit of escalating cloud-based hardware and software services.
However, something really caught my eye last year – the HP Sprout – a computing platform that is truly unique because it is a desktop computer but is also has an integrated 3D scanner for 3D object capture and editing as well as 3D print options.
In a nutshell, the Sprout is a relatively high-end Windows 8 computer with a novel two-screen configuration and advanced cameras, which combined can make some creative activities possible. The second display, on a desktop touch sensitive mat, is a major advance in the physical user interface for computers.
For as long as I can remember, HP has produced an incredible range of products for science, engineering, and consumer customers. More recently the company has had a huge presence in computers and 2D printers.
Now, HP has vision for 3D printing for manufacturing parts on a relatively economical machine it calls the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printer. The company claims these parts will have similar quality and characteristics as injection-molded parts, and will print at speeds that HP claims to be 10x compared to similar competing technologies. More about these claims to follow.
As a first-year Denver Math Fellow (I assist math teachers and tutor in small groups), last week I was give a reprieve from my daily grind of lesson plans and teaching by participating in what my school calls Explore Week. This is a week where I was partnered with a teacher, chose a topic to explore with students, made a video promoting our explore class, and had students sign up to join us.
The topic my teaching partner and I decided on was “Creating Furniture Using Non-Traditional Methods and Materials.” Our course included designing and creating furniture models from cardboard, as well as 3D printing simple models. It was a lot of fun, and as I said, a nice change of pace, not to mention I really felt I was in my comfort zone.
Explore Week was made possible by the efforts of several companies, including:
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.
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.”
Without a doubt, one of the biggest developments in the MCAD world in the past few years has been 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing). Until relatively recently, though, the cost of the 3D printing machines was cost prohibitive for all but large companies. To a large extent, costs have been plummeting, but there are machines that cost more than a million dollars. However, that is changing with the advent of relatively low-cost desktop 3D printers.
3D printers sound cool, and to a large extent they are. But, before running out to buy one, there are a few things to keep in mind. Currently, a machine will set you back $500 to $5,000, plus $40 to $100 for a roll of plastic filament (think Weed Wacker) for producing parts. Also keep in mind that producing one small object could take hours, and end up costing much more than buying it. Don’t forget, too, that you need some technical know-how to make it all work, including how to create a solid model with a CAD tool. As I have maintained for some time, with all the online 3D printing services that are available, why buy when you can rent. Check out my blog post on this sentiment from last year entitled, “3D Printing Goes Retail: Why Buy When You Can Rent?”
That’s why I have said that the first low-cost devices were more fun than functional, and appealed to DIYers, hobbyists, and early adopters. All that is changing as the technology matures, prices come down, more materials become available, and part quality vastly improves.
An independent consulting firm and industry source that we know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., recently released the Wohlers Report 2015, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. According to the Report, in 2014, interest in 3D printing reached an unprecedented level and exceeded the $4 billion milestone. The phenomenal attention to AM began in 2012, was sudden, and has continued to proliferate since then.
Wohlers Associates is widely recognized as the leading consulting firm and foremost authority on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This annual publication has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. Over the 20 years of its publication, many have referred to the report as the “bible” of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably by the company (and industry).
Wohlers Report 2015
As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2015 covers virtually every aspect of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, underlying technologies, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents significant developments that have occurred in the past year, R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition marks the Report’s 20th consecutive year of publication
The market for additive manufacturing, consisting of all AM products and services worldwide, grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.2% to $4.1 billion in 2014, according to Wohlers Report 2015. The industry expanded by more than $1 billion in 2014, with 49 manufacturers producing and selling industrial-grade AM machines. The CAGR over the past three years (2012–2014) was 33.8%.
We’ve been in Long Beach, California all week at SME’s RAPID 2015 conference and exhibition. If you want to learn what’s new exciting in things 3D, this is the place to be. Hardware and software vendors, service providers, distributors and resellers, and educational institutions all showcase new offerings in 3D printing, scanning, and additive and subtractive manufacturing.
RAPID is an interesting mix of industry experts, pundits, users, and people just curious about this fascinating 3D world that continues to grow at an exponential rate. This year about 4,000 attended RAPID with almost 200 exhibitors
RAPID is about the most recent developments in the field, as well as what may be coming in the future. A number of technologies, techniques, and innovations are discussed during technical sessions, but this year, we found among the most interesting topics to be 3D bioprinting and 3D printing in space.
The first morning’s keynote was made by Jason Dunn, CTO of Made In Space, who talked on the topic of “Bringing Additive Manufacturing to Space.” The company was founded in 2010 with the goal of enabling humanity’s future in space. It has developed additive manufacturing (AM) technology specifically for use in the space environment (no easy task). By manufacturing space assets in space, as opposed to launching them from Earth, the company is attempting to accelerate and broaden space development while also providing unprecedented access for people on Earth to use in-space capabilities (the ultimate goal of a business model to monetize its cash outlay in space on earth).
We’re heading to Long Beach, California next week to participate in one of SME’s marquee events — RAPID 2015.
I’ll be at the conference all week taking in the keynotes, new hardware and software products and service announcements, as well as sitting in on a few technical sessions.
This is an especially pivotal year in the evolution of 3D printing as it strives to get to the next level with higher quality parts, lower cost materials, and greater presence in manufacturing direct part production.
I’ll be hitting the floor running early Tuesday morning and will be Tweeting throughout the event, as well as posting blogs at the end of each day.
If you’re going to RAPID 2015 in Long Beach, feel free to contact me at 719.221.1867 or firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s meet up for discussing the latest technologies, trends, rumors, etc.