There's been tons of attention and excitement here and elsewhere (and rightly so) about the spate of new, low-cost 3D printers that promise to make the technology far more accessible to hobbyists and even small engineering shops. But one of the big roadblocks in promoting the so-called mainstreaming of 3D printing is content creation. Let's face it. Not everyone is a whiz with CAD software.
The 123D Catch tool, available now on the iPad as well as on Windows platforms, is essentially a phone scene editor that lets anyone with a mobile phone or tablet camera (or, yes, a high-end digital SLR camera) take a series of photographs and turn them into a realistic, accurate 3D representation without any formal training in CAD modeling. The captured images (Autodesk recommends between 40 and 60 photos) are uploaded to the Autodesk cloud service, where special technology analyzes them to create a geometrically accurate representation that can then be downloaded as standard Autodesk 3DP or OBJ files.
Now 123D Catch lets users take images from an iPad camera, upload them to the Autodesk cloud, and transform them into a 3D model.
Now that this is available as an iPad app, anyone could take their vacation photos and turn them into a 3D model that, with the help of the companion 123D Make software, could be output using 3D printing technology. The 123D Make tool, which is also now available on the Mac, converts 123D Catch 3D models into 2D cut patterns or in formats that can be output by standard 3D printers or 3D print fabrication services. Inventors could output common household objects -- vases, hardware, car parts. This would be a steppingstone to what many pundits are calling personal manufacturing.
Sculpteo, an online 3D printing service provider, is also doing its part to promote personal manufacturing. In January, the company announced its 3D Printing Cloud Engine, a "white label" service that can be easily integrated into online retailers' Websites, allowing customers to order items and print them on demand. When it unveiled the service, Sculpteo said it aimed to become the "PayPal of the 3D printing industry." The company is planning a series of iPad apps to facilitate the development and purchase of personal creations.
I was just messing with photoshop. PS does make it a lot easier to do creative work, but it doesn't remove the artist. What I mean is, I am no artist, and no matter how good PS gets, I never will be one. It takes an artist to make art. What they are doing with CAD though...apparently can take the CAD designer right out of the picture(so to speak). Makes you wonder why you spent all of that time learning something that now just anyone can do.
Thanks, Beth, I remember that one now. According to the caption, though, it's made of the materials I'm trying to avoid: thermoplastics, although it's cleverly finished to look like bronze. I'm suggesting versions of the older materials that used to be used in museum replicas from the Smithsonian and the MOMA, for example, which were essentially reconstituted bronze and stone. Those replicas were a lot less expensive than cast bronze, but more expensive than the thermoplastic versions made now. Some of them mixed plastics with clay. I don't know what the manufacturing processes were. I can also conceive of something like them using wood.
@Ann: There's definite activity in that area. Take a look at this slide show we did on 3D printing--there's some work being done to create museum-quality sculptures with 3D printing and new materials, including this bust of Thomas Jefferson.
Thank your for telling us about these services. I have stock in two leading 3D printer companies because I believe this is a huge growth industry that surprisingly few people know about. 3D printers combined with the services you report get us very close to what science fiction fans know as a Santa Clause machine. One can wish for a sailboat or any other fantasy and have it manufactured. Some work is even being done on printing biological organs and tissues.
Beth, another reason I'm wondering about more natural-looking materials combines with the souvenir idea. I'm an ancient history fan, and many replicas of ancient statues or other art objects are being made in plastic resins now, instead of the older reconstituted concrete and stone materials, which I prefer. So I wonder if there's any research being done on non-plastic, non-metal 3D materials. Not sure what any other apps for those might be.
I bet all the 3D printer and 3D content creation tool providers will get a lift just listening in on the exchange going on in this community. They're betting that once the tools make the technology more accessible, enthusiasm will be infectious and the applications endless. From the looks of the small burst we've got going here, they might just be on to something.
@Ann: Love your idea of the materials developments. I'm not so sure the ones you mentioned are developed yet, but they would sure get some good traction.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.