There's been lots of talk lately about how the price of 3D printers is going down, how the choice of materials for 3D printing is expanding, and how improved accessibility of the technology is widening its use in a host of new industries, from medical applications to becoming an instrumental part of the engineering workflow around early prototyping.
Yet even with the flood of new, inexpensive, and more consumer-oriented 3D printers for hobbyists, and office-ready models for small and midsized engineering shops, there is still a sizeable bottleneck standing in the way of mainstream adoption. That is, the software used to create the 3D content.
Sure, there are the tried-and-true 3D CAD and NURBS-based modeling tools, but not everyone with the germ of a product idea is a CAD specialist, nor do they want to spend the time learning a complex product. Enter a new genre of low-cost (many even free) and easy-to-use 3D content creation tools. These offerings are making it easy for anyone -- a CAD-savvy engineer or an aspiring hobbyist -- to easily create a 3D model of their concept and output it via any one of a variety of low-cost 3D printers or 3D printing services.
What's really exciting about this trend is that it's the engine behind what many hope will be the next wave of American innovation -- personal manufacturing. By putting the tools in reach, anyone with a compelling idea will be able to easily translate that concept into a physical working prototype without the baggage of full-blown CAD and without having to make the huge capital investments required for traditional manufacturing.
Click on the image below to take a look at some of the 3D content creation tools that will help drive this new personal manufacturing era.
My Robot Nation made its initial debut with the mission to give people with no experience or knowledge of 3D CAD tools the ability to easily create their own designs that can be output by 3D printers or 3D printing services. Now part of 3D Systems' content creation portfolio, the technology will no doubt be folded into the Cubify.com community to help orchestrate the movement toward 3D design and printing for the masses. (Source: 3D Systems)
Ann, these items look a lot like the Mold-A-Rama toys we used to get at the Muesems in the Chicago area. These are injection molded plastic toys. I really like them, but my wife was always wanting to get rid of them. It was fun to watch them being made.
On the other hand, I can see one problem with all this personal manufacturing. These are, of course, novelties. We used to collect small toys that were dropped off at a resales shop. They were great for target practice. (did I say that?)
Terrific slideshow, Beth. It looks like open source software is coming to 3D printing. It's wonderful to see the technology moving away from specialists and going out to the great unwashed budding design engineers.
Great slide show. Image 10 hits on a subject that will be important in the long run. By making 3D modeling systems for novices, Dassault will open the venue to kids who might later become engineers, industrial designers, or architects. In ten years, we'll have a whole generation of up-and-coming engineers who will be ready to use these systems for tasks we can't even imagine yet.
I went to a online site for consumer 3D printing, sculpteo.com. They provide software online to design your object. I wanted a custom funnel shape with 6 inch wide mouth and 5 inch length. After going through the design process using their software, cost was $274 quantity one made from the cheapest plastic material they had to offer. I would have to say that 3D printing is not consumer ready.
There are several ways of designing in 3D. The most common one to date is 3D CAD, but that limits 3D computerised design to those who are 3D CAD proficient, which is a tiny percentage of the population.
For everyone else, at least for those who might like to design, the alternatives are:
1. Cheat - just download someone else's design from Ponoco, Shapeways etc.
2. Use some of the free design packages such as Sculpteo and Google SketchUp (or is without the 'Google' now that it has been sold?). Limited capability but interesting for some applications. SketchUp does not produce brilliant .stl files for printing so far, I have been told.
3. Use our products!
At A1 Technologies, we offer two ways of creating 3D designs, which are low cost, quick to learn, easy to use, and powerful in that they can do and deliver.
You can get a laser scanner for around GBP450 which enables you to create a virtual 3D file of a physical object. This can then be replicated (reverse engineering) or the file an be used as the starting point for a new design.
We also offer a hapticated (force feedback on the mouse - virtual sculpting) 3D creative design package for under GBP600. The youngest user has been 3 years old, and the oldest 85! Teenagers have told us it is "cool". What higher praise is there?
We do not claim that our products are the ideal solution for every application, but for our target market, which is schools and colleges, they hit the spot, and allow youngsters to be creative, and to turn their concepts into 3D modles, which they can then turn into physical models using our Maxit £d printer (under GBP1,000) or our 5 axis CNC mill (under GBP9,000). But you do not have to be a school or college to benefit from a unique portfolio of 3D tools.
I bought myself one of those "cheap" 3D printers from Cubify (~$1300), and have been using Alibre (personal version ~$200) which is as easy to use as non-Google Sketchup, and was able to create an object 130mm circular at a height of 25mm for around $6. That to me is difinitely consumer ready given many consumers have an $800 iPhone and $900 iPad or some Android equivalents. I had a little trouble with some designs that had wide shallow sloping angles, but the chess pieces were brilliant
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.