Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are Open Source 3D Printers Really Suitable for Business?

Guest post by Mark Cook, Z Corp. VP of Research and Development

I have to make a disclaimer before going further with this blog. Much of what I will write here is my own viewpoint from what I have read or from conversations I have had with others in the field of 3D printing. The topic is open source 3DP. There are a number of FDM (fused deposition modeling) printers available now in “kit” or open source form. This basically means that anyone can search the internet and find all of the components necessary to build their own FDM printer. Some have assembled the components and offer them for purchase as a kit that you assemble. At first I thought this would be a great way for technical schools to teach about using 3DP as a design tool while at the same time teaching about basic electronics, motion control, and programming. But then I started wondering how many times the kit could be disassemble and reassembled as new students enrolled in the appropriate course. Open source clearly is a way to buy into 3D printing technology at a relatively bargain price. Still, the cost is in the thousands of dollars and from what I can gather the printed part quality is not, at present, all that impressive. Layer thickness is about .012 of an inch which means distinct vertical lines throughout the part. Feature size limit is .080 of an inch which means that many small features simply cannot be printed.

In his blog last week, Al Dean of Develop3D had this to say:

"Many have been talking about the mass adoption of 3D printing for sometime, but I’m not entirely convinced it's going to turn into that world where everyone has a 3D printer in their home for a good long while, if at all. At present, there are dramatically lower cost options available, but these are aimed at the hobbiest looking to take on some new technology and give it a whirl. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when you’re a professional organisation looking to bring your prototyping needs in house, you need something that’s lower maintenance, that produces more repeatable results and that you can get high-level support for when problems occur. Z Corp admitted that its not looking to dramatically erode the price levels (with the new ZPrinters 150 and 250) rather continuing to lower things gradually as it can conduct cost economics and redesign work to bring the cost down in increments. After all, these products are aimed at professionals, as they most likely will for many years to come, and that means that a robust product that produces the results, is more desirable than chopping the margins out of the machines in a dramatic manner."

Who then is buying open source FDM printers? It isn’t clear to me that there is an industrial, true business application for open source 3DP. Do you agree? Let me know.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Announcing Two Additions to ZPrinter Product Line: ZPrinter 150 and ZPrinter 250

Today's guest blogger is John Kawola, Z Corporation CEO

Today I’m happy to announce two additions to our award-winning ZPrinter product line: the ZPrinter 150 (entry-level monochrome) and the ZPrinter 250 (entry-level multicolor). These new affordable, business-class 3D printers make 3D printing available to every designer, engineer, architect and student.

ZPrinter 150                    ZPrinter 250

With a smaller footprint than the rest of our line, these new ZPrinters make great, industrial-quality parts while delivering Z Corp.’s trademark speed and affordability.

ZPrinter 150 monochrome 3D printed model

ZPrinter 250 multicolor 3D printed model (apply text, color, logos)

With our recently announced ZBuilder Ultra plastic rapid prototyping system and our comprehensive ZPrinter product line, Z Corp. uniquely provides a single source for both inkjet 3D printing and plastic DLP rapid prototyping solutions, which means we provide engineers and designers with solutions for all stages of the design/development process - from early-stage concept modeling through form, fit and functional testing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

3D Printing Technology Adoption in AEC

I recently returned from San Francisco where our channel partner, Ideate Inc., organized back-to-back presentations to the South Bay Revit User Group (RUG) and San Francisco RUG. The topic was 3D Printing in AEC (3D printing in architecture, engineering and construction) which is an AIA approved CES course.

I always begin these presentations by polling the room on their awareness and/or use of 3D printing (3DP) to make physical models. Remember that this is a Revit crowd, people who were early adopters for BIM. Yet, only a small percentage of attendees raised their hands when asked if they used 3DP, whether in-house or outsourced, for physical modeling.

They all agreed that physical modeling helps them collaborate with their design teams, clients, and regulatory agencies. There’s no doubt that AEC professionals understand the benefits. What they might not yet fully understand is how some of their colleagues and competitors have integrated 3DP into their standard design practice. We encouraged these attendees to give it a try, and show their principals some 3D printed models designed by their firms. Once that happens, I find technology adoption usually accelerates.

I'd like to hear your thoughts about technology adoption in the AEC community, especially compared to other industries.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Architects and Cell Biologists find common ground through 3D printing

Contributed by Jenny E. Sabin, Sabin+Jones LabStudio, UPenn,

Recent technological leaps in data production, visualization and computation have afforded both architects and scientists an extraordinary ability to generate information and complex form. This has therefore offered up fruitful ground for collaboration.

As opposed to designing from the top-down, architects specializing in generative and parametric design strategies, more formally known as design computation, have adopted a bottom-up approach to the negotiation of constraints within the design process. This renewed interest in complexity has brought forth alternative methods for investigating the interrelationships of parts to their wholes and emergent self-organized pattern systems at multiple scales and applications.

Biology provides useful systems-based models for architects to study and understand how context specifies form, function and structure. While the end goals may differ in science and architecture, there is a driving necessity in both disciplines to spatialize, model, and fabricate complex, emergent, and self-organized systems. How do we intuit, see, and inhabit complex wholes that are indiscernible from their parts? Intersections between computation and material organizations reveal powerful models for visualizing the intangible. Technology has afforded us with an extraordinary ability to generate information, yet this has resulted in an ever-increasing inability to organize, visualize and model diverse datasets and processes. Given this, it is becoming even more challenging to interpret and model complexity using existing approaches. With increasing amounts of data now being generated, there is a growing demand for more sophisticated computational tools and fabrication methods that are capable of extracting and analyzing specific temporal-spatial relationships. To address this problem, researchers in the Sabin+Jones LabStudio* are developing new approaches for the analysis, visualization and fabrication of large biological and architectural datasets that remain indecipherable using existing means.

While the first phase of our design work resides within the spirit of research and discovery, our current phase engages design-oriented applications in experimental material systems ranging from new concepts of materiality to adaptive structures and complex geometries. Key to this design research is the exploration of new tectonic organizations for application at the architectural scale. Here, material technology and design ecology are informed by the visualization of complex biological systems through the generation of new design tools and experiments in fabrication and material construction. Thus far, essential part-to-whole relationships abstracted from the biological systems of study have been explored through the design and 3D printing of non-standard components on our LabStudio ZCorp model 510 printer.

One of our recent projects unfolded at the 2010 International Smart Geometry Conference held in Barcelona at IaaC. As 1 of 10 workshops within the Working Prototypes session, we focused our efforts upon simulation of nonlinear behavior in cell biological systems and the translation of this behavior into material systems and fabrication techniques, namely through 3D printing. Our cluster was titled Nonlinear Systems Biology and Design. For the first stage of the workshop, our efforts were focused upon abstracting and extracting the underlying rules and criteria for cellular networking behavior. We are interested in abstracting behaviors as opposed to form and cellular shapes, which sits in contrast to popular biomimetic approaches. Additionally, we taught the students about the interdependence between environment, code and algorithmic processes. In biology, this is known as reciprocity. This presents a powerful ecological model for architecture. Before the start of the workshop, our testing ground included heavy use of our ZCorp 510 color 3D printer. We were interested in prototyping components, not wholes. We launched a ‘node competition’ with the accepted workshop students before the start of the workshop. ZCorp provided generous support in the printing and production of the components before and during the actual workshop. Similar to the work of Antoni Gaudi, we were interested in bridging behaviors abstracted from biology with material constraints, force transmission and actual fabrication and assembly as a continuous and unfolding loop. In the context of the workshop, there was a constant reengagement of feedback, where constraints from the actual physical environment informed our virtual computational models. The ZCorp team provided impeccable quality control. The final Working Prototype engaged a process of nonlinear fabrication informed by biological behavior and novel fabrication techniques that incorporated 3D printing.

Acknowledgement: The Nonlinear Systems Biology and Design cluster was led by Jenny Sabin, Peter LLoyd Jones, Andrew Lucia and Erica Savig
The Sabin+Jones LabStudio is a hybrid research and design unit based within the Institute for Medicine & Engineering, the School of Design and the Nonlinear Systems Organization at The University of Pennsylvania. Within the Sabin+Jones LabStudio, architects, mathematicians, materials scientists and cell biologists are actively collaborating to develop, analyze and abstract dynamic, biological systems through the generation and design of new tools. These new approaches for modeling complexity and visualizing large datasets are subsequently applied to both architectural and biomedical research and design. The real and virtual world that LabStudio occupies has already offered radical new insights into generative and ecological design within architecture, and it is providing new ways of seeing and measuring how dynamic living systems are formed and operate during development and in disease. Overall, the Mission of LabStudio is to produce new modes of thinking, working and creating in design and biomedicine through the modeling of dynamic, multi-dimensional systems with experiments in biology, applied mathematics, fabrication and material construction.