Browsing articles in "3D Printing"
Mar 8, 2013
Comments Off on An Eco-Friendly approach to 3D Printing

An Eco-Friendly approach to 3D Printing

A 3D object produced on the Solar Sinter Machine in August 2011

While on holiday last month I ventured into the Krakow Museum of Modern Art only to discover (much to the joy of my inner geek) a Solar Sinter machine designed and developed by Markus Kayser.

Selective Laser Sintering is the process of creating a very precise 3D object from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals using high tech lasers to trace out shape based on computer drawn 3D designs.  Laser sintering has within recent years become a key tool in 3D printing or design prototyping. The Solar Sinter machine takes this Selective Laser Sintering process and adds and Eco twist.

Deserts occupy some 20% of the earths land surface with two elements dominating, sand and sun. Visiting the Egyptian desert in August 2010 as part of his Sun cutter project led Kayser to realise the potential of a new machine  that could bring together these the vast energy source of the sun and the almost unlimited supply of silica in the form of quartz.

Using a sun tracking device the entire Sinter Machine rotates about its base throughout the day to ensure a large Fresnel lens (1.4m x 1m ) faces the sun at all times. Taking direction of computer drawn model of the object the machine moves the sand box along the X, Y and Z coordinates at a carefully calculated speed, whilst the  print head lens focuses a concentrated beam of light reaching temperatures of up to 1600ºC  which melts the sand.  Layer by Layer the object is built and once completed and cooled the object is simply dug out of the sand box.

Objects printed using the solar sinter consist of a rough sandy reverse side whilst the top surface is hard glass. As composition of the sand varies between regions different results can be produced in different deserts and by mixing sand different combinations of colour and material can be achieved.

Watch the video on this process below:

Markus Kayser – Solar Sinter Project from Markus Kayser on Vimeo.


With even the battery used to move the solar sinter machine powered by the sun, could this new 3D printer hold the key to developing a more sustainable form of manufacturing in some of the the worlds poorest regions.




Feb 18, 2013
Comments Off on 3D Printing gets Presidential seal of approval.

3D Printing gets Presidential seal of approval.

Last week during his annual State of the Union address, US President Obama not only mentioned 3D Printing, he earmarked it as a key strategy for the re-invigoration of the US manufacturing Industry.
In August 2012 Obama initiated early testing of this strategy through the funding of a National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown represented the heart of steel manufacturing within the US and has been one the areas hardest hit by the American recession, today a once shuttered off warehouse is home the a state of the art lab where workers are mastering the 3D printing process.
With a vision to create a 15 node 3D printing network across the US it is clear Obama has faith in the potential for growth presenting by 3D printing technologies. Obama announced the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs “where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defence and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high tech jobs”
Some argue that the potential for 3D printing to revolutionize American manufacturing is greatly over hyped due to high labour and logistics costs within the US. Only time will tell if Obama’s policy will have the desired impact however for 3D printing advocates his mere mention of the technology in one of the the most widely listened to public speeches is likely to further strengthen public interest in 3D printing technologies.
Jan 18, 2013
Comments Off on US Military invests in front line Rapid Prototyping

US Military invests in front line Rapid Prototyping

Recent reports indicate that the US military is developing its own range of 3D printers, designed to enable soldiers on the front line to quickly and cheaply produce space parts for their equipment.

By bringing this emerging technology to the battlefield spare parts and sensitive equipment for devices such as GPS receivers and air drones can be produced onsite rather than waiting on parts from overseas.

In a statement released by operations research analyst D. Shannon Berry it was announced that 3D printers small and light enough to be easily carried in a backpack could be used to in place of a massive manufacturing logistics chain when sourcing spare parts for military equipment. Further announcements from military research facilities include the development of 3D printers costing just $700 (compared to at least $2000 for commercial models)

While the development of 3D printing for front-line military manufacturing proves a controversial topic, it further highlights the growing interest in 3D printing technologies and follows President Obama’s investment of $30 million government funding in the development of a national 3D printing center in Ohio.


Oct 5, 2012
Comments Off on Could 3D printed lighting be the next big thing for children’s toys.

Could 3D printed lighting be the next big thing for children’s toys.

Children’s entertainment giant Disney are currently researching the role of 3D printing in the creation of a new kind of toy. The research focuses on developing interactive devices with active components, with these devices created as a single object rather than assembled from individual parts. The team of researchers at Disney’s Pittsburgh lab have used 3D printing technology to create “light pipes” which provide flexible alternative  to optical fibre. By printing the pipes to fit a toys specific form it was possible to place and light pipe intersections with greater ease than would have been possible with traditional lighting fibres.

This technology was outlined in the research teams first paper which also details some prototype toys developed to date including;

  • A bug like toy with glowing eyes that displays various graphics.

             Incorporating a series of light pipes into the design of a 3D printed demon toy, engineers were able to create the impression that the toy was rolling its eyes, blinking or in love (cartoon style – with two small throbbing hearts) by simply controlling which bits of the eye were illuminated in a specific colour.
  • A chess set with light up pieces that display their location on the board 

             Similarly by creating chess pieces with a large number of light pipes which form a dot matrix display, the team was able to make text and numbers glow through the sides of the bases of each chess pieces, this could be used to show location or suggest moves for each chess piece during chess games.

While the technology sounds promising there are a number of kinks to be worked out by the team. Currently there is too much light loss from longer 3D printed light pipes and some complications have arisen in the creation of entirely enclosed hollow areas. The team however should also be aware of costing factors which may prove a challenge once the prototype design nears completion. Developing 3D printing for the toy industry is not a new concept however industry watchers suggest that production costs for 3D printed toys remain high which pushes prices upwards, making 3D printed toys more suitable to the adult collectors.



Sep 24, 2012
Comments Off on US Army sends Rapid Prototyping labs to the front line.

US Army sends Rapid Prototyping labs to the front line.

REF Expeditionary Lab, inside a shipping container

While Spark Truck has been bringing 3d Printers to schools across the US, the Rapid Equipping Force (REF) division of the US Army, tasked with ensuring soldiers are equipped with the latest and greatest kit, has begun sending Rapid Prototyping technology to the front line in Afghanistan.

The REF consists of a team of scientists and engineers who work to ensure any hardware bugs are ironed our as quickly as possible. With the REF team based in the US lead times are stretched for the development and deployment of solutions to any unexpected equipment errors. Scientists and engineers must first fly over to the soldiers to discuss their requirements. Once the problem is identified the team must return to the US to develop the new prototypes, which in turn are shipped to the soldiers.

Built out of a 20 foot shipping container each Expeditionary Lab is expected to remedy this time delay, allowing prototypes to be produced within a couple of hours. Each lab has been kitted out with all the tools required to modify and create tools and weapons in the battle field. Costing $2.8 million per unit each lab contains a state of the art 3D printer, industrial CNC equipment and a satellite link  not to mention a whole host of engineering equipment. With its own electricity generator and internal air conditioning / heating system each unit is entire independent of its local environment ensuring it can be placed anywhere.

To date three such labs have been created with the first currently in place at the Royal Command South near Kandahar, the second scheduled for deployment at Royal Command East later this year and the third lab is to be kept within the US and used in the event of a natural disaster. At the end of each mission the lab can be simply be trucked or lifted to its next destination.

Aug 28, 2012
Comments Off on 3D printing to help Astronauts survive on Mars.

3D printing to help Astronauts survive on Mars.

The Curiosity Rover is now 23 days into its two year exploration of Mars, aiming to unlock the mystery of Mars. While the project seeks to determine if there is organic matter on Mars, telling us if life can or does exist on Mars, the ultimate goal is to send humans to Mars.


NASA engineers have already begun testing the next generation Rover. Described by NASA test engineer as a “personal SUV” for space the new Rover will act as a housing module for astronauts with two small beds and an observation module so astronauts can get up close and personal with their new surroundings.

The team at NASA decided to use 3D printing to help with the development of the next generation Rover, thanks to the processes ability to create tough, durable components from lightweight materials in a matter of hours. Approximately 70 components used in the Rover, ranging from vents, to external housings were 3D printed using an FDM machine. In addition to the production of end use components Rapid Prototyping also featured in the early design and development stages, prototyping the form, fit and function of the parts prior to tooling.

3D printing helped the team at NASA save time and money at both the prototyping and production phase.

See the new Rover in action below.

Aug 15, 2012
Comments Off on 3D Print mobile to bring Rapid Prototyping technology to school children

3D Print mobile to bring Rapid Prototyping technology to school children

As young children we would rush home from school with our arms laden with wonderful creations to amaze our parents. However somewhere along the way we simply stopped making things, learning became increasing focused on ingesting and regurgitating as much information as possible and we abandoned our much loved crafting tools in favour of pen and paper.

Now a team of students from the University of Stanford aim to foster new opportunities for creativity amongst 7-13 year old school children  (seen as a key developmental pocket where creativity diminishes) with SparkTruck. A bookmobile for makers packed to the brim with crafting goodies. From high tech rapid prototyping equipment used by engineering and design houses to crafting basics such as scissors and glue guns,  SparkTruck is equipped to provide the perfect compliment to a child’s attention span.

Rapid Prototyping while presently the go of industrial designers, is a technology that holds potential even within the tight budgetary constraints of the education system as raw materials and running costs for 3D printers are relatively low”. Coordinator of the SparkTruck project Jason Chua believes that with technologies such as Rapid Prototyping providing fun, open-ended opportunities to children as they move through school and life, children will have assistance in overcoming fear of failure in turn growing increasingly confident in their ability to be creative and work through tough problems.

Aug 3, 2012
Comments Off on 3d Printing sets sail

3d Printing sets sail

Mechanical engineering students at the University of Washington stunned and amused judges at the annual Milk Carton Derby in Seattle as they paddled their way to 2nd place in the worlds first 3d printed milk carton boat!

Taking a unique slant on the traditional Milk Carton Derby design regulations, the team at WOOF (Washington Open Object Fabricators) researched, designed and printed their boat almost entirely from recycled milk cartons. Weighing 40+ lbs the WOOF entry is the only boat that is 99% milk cartons, requiring some 250 one gallon milk jugs to produce.


Speaking on the project, Mark Ganter, professor of Mechanical Engineering stated “milk jug material is an awful material to work with. It shrinks,  it curls, it doesn’t want to stick to itself. Overcoming all those parts of the problem was part of the achievement”. Following weeks of research and dumpster diving, the team received assistance from Scrapblasters who carried out controlled small batch shredding to produce a clean mix of only #2 HDPE milk jug plastic.

Using a home made extruder attached to a 4’x8′ plasma cutter the team were ready for their first test print. Having achieved success the next challenge lay ins scaling up the process while dealing with cost restrictions and shrinkage issues. Thankfully the team overcame the challenges in time to compete in the Milk Carton Derby!

Jul 16, 2012
Comments Off on Airbus designer unveils plans for 3d printed planes by 2050!

Airbus designer unveils plans for 3d printed planes by 2050!

Aerospace giant Airbus have unveiled ambitious plans for 2050, the creation of a 80 metre long 3D printed air plane. 

Concept model of Airbus 3D printed plane


Following two years of work on the concept Airbus employee Bastian Schafer has unveiled plans for a 3d printed plane by 2050. The project faces a number of key challenges the first of which lies in the creation of a 3D printer large enough to create the concept aircraft, as to create a plane entirely in 3d would require the development of a 3d printer the size of an aircraft hanger. The largest 3d printer in operation, has only ever printed structures of a  few metres high.

The plans for this new aircraft include the construction of the aircraft body from a transparent material, so passengers feel as though they are flying amongst the clouds. At present this transparent aluminium exists only in the imagination of the designers. A challenge Schafer and his team believe can be overcome through creation the bonding of different materials on multi material 3d printers.

Research into the future industry applications of 3D printing technology is not a new concept for parent company EADS (European Aeronautical Defence and Security company) who opened a £2.6 million Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing back in 2011 with the University of Exeter.  The centre which focuses on the exploration of 3D printing opportunities has already had considerable success in terms of producing 3D printed internal components for aircraft with Airbus planning on using 3d printed components in its A380s by the end of 2012.

While a 3D printed plane remains some way off, Schafer is currently focusing on internal components with plans to have 3d cabin seats installed by 2013.

May 9, 2012
Comments Off on “Print” your own pet!

“Print” your own pet!

A small Californian company, the Gene Duplication Corporation, is set to push additive manufacturing technology to its limits with the company announcing plans to use 3D printing for the creation of bespoke pets.

3D printing of organs is not a new concept with several years research into the printing of organs such as kidneys for transplant. Organs such as kidneys consist of eight cell types,  cultures of each individual cell type are grown separately and then sprayed out layer by layer with a binding agent to build up the correct shape. The difficulty in directly translating this technology to the printing of household animals lies in the complex nature of correctly laying down the 220 cell types required to produce a living creature.

American company soon to offer custom built pets

To overcome this challenge the team at Gene Duplication Corporation rely on a precise form of CT scanning known as nontomography, which records to a resolution of 500 nanometres. This scanning technique analyses the position and nature of each cell and used across a wide variety of animals and breeds allows existing breeds to be re-created. New combinations of form, colour and behaviour can also be created to create custom made pets for customers.

The adjustment of colour and temperament requires laying down the correct layer and mixture of melanocyte cells and nerve cells respectively. According to Dr. Fril, Manager at Gene Duplication Corporation the leading challenge has been the creation of nerve cells  which may stretch from the animals spinal cord to the tops of its toes. To over come this the printer “PrintaPet” leaves a hole in each layer of cells at the exact point through which a nerve cell is supposed to pass. A nerve-growth factor is then added before the next layer is printed allowing the nerve cell to to the correct destinations once the main body of the nerve cell is printed.

Once final technical difficulties are overcome you will be able to order a customised pet, with behaviour characteristics colour and form fined tuned to meet your specification. With marking behaviour modified your pet can even be supplied pre-wired to use the company’s proprietary “DoggieLoos”