3D printing has been around for years and has nestled its way into lots of companies' product development processes as a more effective way to produce prototype products, test functional parts, and perhaps even pump out limited-run production parts.
Yet in addition to that so-called serious product development and engineering work, there's a significant number of less serious, but equally important, efforts underway. These are pushing the limits of 3D printing toward more consumer-friendly -- even quirky, some might say -- applications. We're talking 3D-printed chocolate, 3D-printed fabric and clothes, and even 3D-printed body parts.
Click the image below to see 16 examples of some of the more creative 3D printing projects out there.
This 3D printed guitar, one of the many creations of Derek Manson, director at the one.61 product development firm, sports a body made from a polycarbonate polymer along with a central core, which is CNC-machined from wood. (Source: one.61)
I really enjoy the 3D articles especially when pictures are provided. It is amazing the different things that are created using the 3D printers. I'm glad prices are decreasing this opens some new doors for lots of small companies.
I agree, smith120. More so than any other subject we write about here at Design News, these pictures really do tell the story. Each time I click through the photos, I end up saying, "They built that with a 3D printer?"
The other night I saw a presentation by a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) team at one of our local high schools. They built their own 3D printer from scratch. They also created a different architecture. The "image" is cured from the bottom and built up that way. This is an interesting technology and, as Beth says, it is coming down rapidly in price.
Good point. Today there are many different attempts to create rapid prototyping. I remember about 15-18 years ago supplying sensors to keep the work cavity stable while laser is curing the compound during rapid prototyping. These were the initial steps of 3D printing.
It seems like 3D printing is so different and so hard to visualize, until you actually see it at work, that it definitely is one of those areas that captures the attention of young people. I would imagine there are dozens of efforts tucked away in various schools exploring how to exploit this stuff. Every school should have access to the technology as well as part of a drive to keep the attention focused on STEM.
Beth, thanks for a fun slideshow. This topic, and technology, is one that invites so many different approaches to use and applications for end products. Slide 7, the UAS, was impressive--looks like it was *not* a prototype. But the chocolate on slide 15 is wild.
It is fast becoming that mix of fun and wacky (printing chocolate, printing food, printing shoes and furniture) and highly functional (printing UAVs and small machine prototypes). I think Chuck's point about ideas percolating is also critical. People are predisposed to experimenting with this technology and putting it to different uses. Once they do, the enthusiasm is viral, spawing more and more applications and pushing the use-case envelope even further.
I have been a user of various RP technologies for over 10 years, and it can be invaluable in getting evaluation versions in your hands, even functional prototypes are now the norm given all of the material choices available. I recall a few years back a webinar with a guy who was a big proponent of the future of consumer-level RP machinery. He invisioned people having consumer versions of 3D printers at home to allow them to download 3D files directly from manufacturers so that they could build their own replacement parts for various consumer products that had failed. I think that is still a ways off, but an interesting idea, nontheless.
I had always envisioned 3D printing being used in applications like the Skil-Bosch FDM on page 6, but as I look at this show, I'm beginning to think consumers will find an amazing number of new ways to use this technology. I agree with you, Beth, the best idea is to bring it to schools and let the ideas percolate up over the years.
I have been following the posts about 3D printing and it is interesting. It only stands to reason that once the platform is designed and standardized that material scientists will get on board and find ways to meet your manufacturing needs. It's all a supply and demand curve. With 3D printers demanding more options out there and easier to attain manufacturers will get creative quickly. I have heard that marine and automotive are already considering of 3D printing some parts for low production numbers. I don't see this being ideal for any mass produced part since injection molding will still rule that field. Also keep in mind that some of the Composite material airplanes today use special made 3D printers. So if one of the most controlled transportation industries in the world is allowed to use 3D printers I don't see why other applications cannot be allowed?
@ervin: All good points. There is a steady stream of boat and automotive makers already using 3D printing to produce prototype parts and in some limited run cases, production parts. It seems to be prevalent in the racing industry where you're really optimizing and many of these things are one-offs or close to it.
Beth, excellent article and to think, David Deckard started it all with stereolighography.He was a graduate student in those days but launched a new technology that is now called "additive manufacturing.Several months ago I wrote a paper on that manufacturing technique for PDHonline.org.There are several processes that fall under that description.These are as follows:
Selective Laser Sintering
Fused Deposition Modeling
Laminated Object Manufacturing
Shaped Deposition Manufacturing.
All are fascinating and save countless hours when prototyping a component.Engineers always like to "kick the tires" prior to committing to a specific design and these prototyping techniques allows for just that.Again—great piece.
The automotive taillight is an interesting application. I wonder if we can foresee a day when dealerships and garages will be able to make plastic parts on site, thereby reducing inventory for the parts department.
I think that's where we are heading, Chuck. Not overnight, of course. But 3D printing has made some dramatic turns in terms of price reductions and capabilities this year and the scenario you outline is where most experts see the broadest impact. Just think back three or four years ago--most people didn't carry smart phones. Now most do. With certain technologies, the tide can turn pretty quickly and I think 3D printing has that potential.
I agree. I could see rather than having everything in stock you would only need to have the CAD/CAM programs from the manufacturer and make as needed. That could extend to so many other industries as well.
Definitely Cadman-LT. Automotive, simple household hardware items, boat parts, appliances, the list is endless. How annoying is it when the appliance guy comes to the house (sorry Made by Monkeys readers who fix stuff on their own) and they just need one simple part for your fix and they don't have it. One, sometimes two visits later (because they got the wrong part), your appliance is fixed, but you've been without it for weeks. Imagine if they could download a simple CAD part file and print the part right in their repair truck. Beautiful!
Or when you or your husband have to go to the hardware store multiple times to get the right part, because you have to bring it home, try it out and see if it works or not, and if not bring it back and repeat the cycle. If you live out in the boonies like I do, that's a lot of trips. I like Chuck's idea, too, for car parts at the local garage.
A lot of trips and a lot of extra hardware hanging around the house that you never end up returning and then have to eat the cost. Small dollars, but they can add up. 3D printed parts would be much kinder on the household repair budget.
That reminds me, we have to reorganize all that extra hardware in the garage this summer, an annual project. Once in awhile we find a use for an odd part, but it does seem like the inventory just keeps growing.
My inventory is always growing. It's an entire room of my house now. I can't seem to get myself to throw anything away. Plus, I like to have a large inventory of parts to choose from. It's always nice when I am working on something and I'm like...oh I need a "whatever" and I can just go grab one off the shelf! I'm always afraid that if I throw something out that eventually I'll be...oh yeah, I had a bunch of those, but I threw them away! argh!
Ann, I've done that, going to the store multiple times..but I usually keep everything I get thinking I'll need it eventually. I like the idea of making what you need right at home with NO trip to the store. I'm kinda in the boonies as well. 10 bucks in gas or in ink? least for the ink you get exactly what you want, maybe even something that isn't made....yet
Cadman-LT, I know what you mean. Ours are now in parts of two different (small) rooms, so I guess they could almost fill half of one. We now keep a lot of the wrong parts, but not everything. I mean, there has to be a limit somewhere, right?
As far as I know, there isn't a "wrong" part. It's just a part without a use yet. Some parts I find other uses for. It may have been made to do one thing, but think hard eough and you can find an alternative use for it. SO I keep everything.
I have a friend I go to for many of my pc needs. He gets bulk hardware from this auction house. Well, the other day I went over to pick up a "new" laptop for myself and he was showing me some of his recent buys. He resells most of his stuff on ebay. Anyways, he was amazed that he was selling this "ink" for so much money. So I inquired as to what kind of ink this was. It turned out to be for 3d printers. He had no idea what that even was! :) Too bad he didn't have a printer to go with the ink. I would have bought that for sure!
I also found that to be very very funny. I've been talking about those 3D printers for the last month or so and they seem to be almost everywhere now, but I never thought I would see that. I mean, I just never imagined it would show up in my life like that. I also don't really understand why they would have sold that ink in the first place. It is possible that someone was picking things up for auction and they just thought it was regular ink by mistake and threw it in. It was labeled as "ink", well sort-of. It was labeled "solid-ink". Afterall, my friend thought it was just "ink"...lol
It is pretty amazing how widespread the talk is now around 3D printing, especially when they really have toiled away in relative obscurity in the past. I think your comments around the pricey ink bring up a real issue (and potential problem) with 3D printing becoming more accessible. The materials to "print" parts or prototype products is expensive and the actual maintenance and upkeep of these printers is actually pretty involved. It's not like an office printer that you can pretty much put on auto pilot with semi-regular upkeep. These printers involve a lot more care and tending, particularly if they're used to products parts and products that require any kind of realistic tolerances.
Hey Beth. Yes...but think about it for a minute. I can go to the store and buy a new printer cheaper than I can buy ink for it...a regular 2d printer. So yeah the ink is expensive.....all ink is. It will get cheaper....but probably no cheaper than regular ink is. Think about that.
As far as the maintenance goes....I think that is yet to be determined. My printers break all the time..I just get a new one. This is new stuff....so yes...treat it well....but I would treat it like every other $5k piece of equipment...with care. Not like a replaceable printer...
As cool as they may be....and I have not decided yet. I still wonder about metal. If they can do it with plastic now then someone will find a way to do it will metal soon. THAT will be cool! and if they can hold tolerances....I hate to imagine. no more machinists?....ugly thought
I wanted to say...they won't ever replace machinists because machinists make high precision parts. Then I thought...I think they print at .007" ...not shabby. I still am not sure how that works out in 3d...for tolerances...but....think about it. If they can print that precise NOW......in a few years it could be down to .0001"......machinists...well their machines aren't that good.
It's scary for machinists. I mean CNC machines costs like $50k then add a guy to run it. With these printers....just the CAD guy could do his job. Just draw it up and print it...no extra costs. Scares me becuase I used to be a machinist.
The CAD and engineering guys don't have the same body of knowledge as a machinest. The machinest has much better education and experience in regard to the real world.
We can't all know it all. I think this pairing of theoretical and practical knowledge is something that can't be replaced by a new machine. If it is attempted, then you end up with someone who makes designs that are much more at risk of being impractical or failing.
cadcoke5...I could not agree more. Until you machine things and make them....you said it better than I can...but it gives you a certain knowledge of how things work that you can't and won't get from printing a part.
It's kind of happening now I think. There are these CAD Engineers from school that know design so they CAD up a part and send the program out to the floor. Then the ACTUAL machinists say...I can't make this. The CAD guys have never machined a part in their life and have no idea of what they can and can't actually make. I think every designer should have some experience on the floor so they have some practicality in their designs.
I also know that some of this 3D printing is going to make it possible to make things that otherwise would not be able to be machined. I still feel the loss of hands on knowledge will just get exponentially worse.
They can laser scinter (spelling?) metal parts now. They can also post plate plastic parts so it has some of the properties of metal.
I have a friend with a string printer (uses a spool of plastic string as the raw stock, I believe slide 8 was done with a similar printer). It's amazing what you can make with it and how fast this field is developing.
@3Drob: I like your point about the speed in which this field is developing. 3D printing and additive manufacturing have been around for a long time and have definitely made progress over the years. But there's been a lot of focus and excitement in the last two years alone--the last one really upping the ante in terms of lowering barriers to entry. I think a lot of that market attention has bred a lot of new developments and the cycle begins. Now that the technology is accessible to more people, there is more atttention as to how you can use it and that again, is driving new innovation.
I recently built from a kit one of the RepRap filament printers to explore the technology first hand (I have actually been a user of rapid prototyping since the late 1980's). The kit was comparable in price to the low-end Objet unit, but probably requiring more "tweaking" to get the results I would like to see. Building my own machine was critical for me, in that I wanted to know how it works, not because of price...
1. The technology is definitely priced at a range to develop interest in the "consumer" marketplace- when I think of how much I paid for my first laser printer or even my first inkject printer compared to what I paid for the computers driving them, the price of an entry-level 3D printer is quite reasonable.
2. Materials are cheap.
3. 3D printing will never replace the machine shop (I have my 3D printer right next to my hobbiest lathe-mill set-up, alothough not in the same room- I think the 3D printer I built needs a bit cleaner environment). The technology is complimentary.
4. The real limitation to the home user adopting the technology is going to be the CAD capabilities required to get from thought to g-code (actually, once the model is built, generating the g-code is trivial. Building the 3D model is the hard part).
5. To really explore some of the things hobbiests are doing, one should visit their sites (i.e., "Thingiverse"). This is where the home user is going to be "shopping"- the designs can be downloaded in 3D models ready to print (of course, of varying quality and finesse, but still taking the major pain out of the process).
The "home user" is unlikely to want to print a full-size turbo-prop engine. The "home user" is going to be more interested in printing cute little cartton characters for the kids, or custom jewelry, or their own "artistic creations".
@cwarner7_11: Thanks for wading in with your perspective, which puts a lot into context given your familiarity and experience in the 3D printing world. I think your point about creating the 3D models (or the CAD requirement today) being an obstacle for the technology to mesh with the mainstream is spot on. That's what I continually hear from both users and the industry. But I think industry is well aware of the hurdle and is making strides to address. Check out this recent post on a couple of content creation tools that should help and I know there are more out there.
Beth, this 3-D printing world is very exciting!! I'm a older mechanical engineer and glad to see the next generation of designers freed from the time we old timers spent learning to be competent at welding, machining, layout, and assembly.
There's a whole new kind of manufacturing world about to happen. How rare it is and how lucky we are to be right at the cusp of such an industrial revolution.
In addition to the excitement, revolutionary changes give more choices. At least for a little while there will still be places for the old style "make and assemble" craftsman as well as for the new 3-D printer-designer.
Well, it won't be the end all for machinists, but I do think it will replace them for some jobs. In fact I am sure will. Ahhh progress. It'll be cheaper I would think though, rather than getting a part machined...that's a good thing.
The big limitation that I see is in mmaterials, and the properties of those materials. Not that a creative person can't make amazing things, but the strength and other properties certainly does matter. Of course we can make models to use to make molds, but casting steel is still a big deal type of thing. Those 3D printers able to produce steel parts are beyond the range of most hobby type designers.
3D printing has already changed the game, and the change is really just beginning. What we are approaching is an era of " If you can dream it and if you can draw it, then you can make it", which is approachng fantastic. Of course, materials are still the limiting factor, a reality that has not changed for hundreds of years. But I am convinced that in the near future somebody is going to put some of that sintered steel powder into some sort of 3D printing machine and make some nice 3D parts. OF course, until it can deliver the same surfaces and accuracies as a good machinist, we will still need machinists, and probably CNC wizards as well. A CNC wizard needs to know everything that an expert machinist knows, plus programming, but they don't need quite as steady hands. But CNC following a good 3D printer should be able to produce whatever can be designed. Quite likely not cheap enough, but certainly cheaper than before.
The problem, as always, will be finding an adequate source of unobtainium. That stuff is hard to get.
One of the casualties of becoming a working engineer is slowly losing the concept of "fun". Making things for the sheer heck of it has an untold value that can lead to slicker, sexier designs that make the customer happy to be a user. This is a strange statement coming from a person known to be a "function over form" type.
I've always seen 3D printing as a new tool that can neatly complement the older subtractive machining techniques. Yes, material science in 3-D printing must continue to try to catch up to our desires, but the mere idea of 3-D printing has pulled open a new direction. An artist friend of mine once taught me that all techniques are at your disposal when you really want to create something.
R.Moon, you have my sympathy on losing "fun". That is a large portion of motivation, and at some jobs it was really great. Of course it does require some enlightened management, those folks who are able to define the results needed for a project and not insist on the following of specific rules about how one's pencils must be arranged on the desk and how each days papers must be stacked. Those folks should work at a fast food place where consisency of everything is critical.
But being able to look at each day and anticipate what interesting challenges will appear, and anticipate the fun of solving them, is what made engineering so much fun for over 35 years. Except, of course, for those times when managers of the opposite type were involved. And the really interesting fact is that most of the organizations that brought in the bad managers are either not around any more, or they are in a totally different business now. This shows that on most occasions the proof is found in the results.
Real engineering is indeed a fun profession, even dispite those sometimes high stress levels.
An article in the Boston Globe talks about how being able to make things at home will change everything from putting Chinese factories out of work to closing retailers to shipping companies, etc. It might even bring manufacturing back to the US.
Then, I say, a medical study will come along saying that people are getting new ailments or cancers from the materials and all 3D printing will be banned. The Chinese factories will start up again, using 3D printing.
The vast majority of the folks that I see won't be able to print pancakes with a 3D printer, much less anything of value. They are simply not capable of focusing their attention long enough to even start the process. So the big winner will be the producers of the 3D printing machines. But I also predict a problem with a lot of machines in the "JUNK" class being sold, so that no matter what, the items produced will not be useful. It happens with every product and the 3D printers will not be an exception. And that problem will kill it for a whole lot of people. So the factories in China will never need to close up because things are being made here by everybody. It just won't happen that way.
Just look at the general public and you will see that I am correct.
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 discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.