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.

Sep 7, 2012
Comments Off on ParaNorman takes 3D printing for film one step further.

ParaNorman takes 3D printing for film one step further.

In 2009 stop motion animation Coraline introduced  the world to 3D printed stop motion character models, offering unparalleled levels of detailing to both character expressions and film backdrops, above all 3D printing allowed stop motion animations to finally hold their own in a CGI dominated market. Next Friday (14/09/12) the latest instalment from the 40 man team at Laika, ParaNorman, hits cinema screens across the UK and Ireland.

When creating Coraline 3d printing allowed the team at Laika to create some 200,000 possible facial expressions for the films leading character resulting in greater emotional range and smoother lip syncing, in comparison with the 800 lead character facial expressions created painstakingly by hand by the artists behind The Nightmare before Christmas in 1993.  During the creation of Coraline 3D colour printing was still in its infancy and as a result the team had to handpaint each of the 200,000 possible facial expressions, a challenging task as each of Coraline’s freckles had to be painted on exactly the same spots.

By 2010 3d printing had reached the stage where objects could be coloured in on the computer and then printed in colour. Having had considerable success with 3d printing puppet faces for Coraline the team at Laika were eager build on this success with the incorporation of 3D colour printing into the production of ParaNorman.

Speaking on the project Brian McLean director of Rapid Prototyping at Laika commented on a number of early production issues including problems achieving consistency in colours. The team overcame this by carrying out thousands of tests in order to figure out the best file formats and colour profiles to send to the printer. To overcome the chalky consistancy of  the printed faces the team had to find and follow an exact process for dipping the parts in super glue, sanding and then baking the parts in an oven at specific temperatures and times in order to achieve different effects. All of which required completion within just 3 months.

Thanks to the latest 3d printing technology ParaNorman exceeds all expectations with some 88,00 faces and 1.5 million expressions for the lead character alone. The colour printer also provided some unexpected benefits. The printer injects colour 16th of an inch into the face rather than on the surface allowing for subsurface scattering, while the silicon material is similar to skin allowing gentle reflection and absorption of light. This translucency and vibrancy have allowed the team to achieve a kind of translucency to Normans ears which closely matches real human ears.

Why not catch ParaNorman in cinemas next week and see how 3d printing has evolved.

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 23, 2012
Comments Off on Automotive components achieve pole position with Rapid Prototyping

Automotive components achieve pole position with Rapid Prototyping

Aston Martin LMP1 AMR-One Engine produced with Rapid Prototyping technologies

Aston Martin LMP1 AMR-One Engine produced with Rapid Prototyping technologies. (Source: formula1-directory)

Rapid Prototyping has grown in popularity within the Formula 1  industry over the past decade thanks largely to the new techniques pioneered in the aerospace industry along with ongoing research into the materials available. Today many Formula 1 teams run SLS brake ducts and air ducts in addition to many more components produced in SLA.

Operating within a highly competitive and time sensitive industry, Formula 1 teams fight to remain ahead in terms of design, wind tunnel testing and race track testing.  Rapid Prototyping or manufacturing decreases production lead times by allowing design errors to be identified and corrected within days making it a critically important tool in the development of Formula 1 components.

Capable of producing almost any shape Rapid Prototyping allows for teams to create even the most complex of geometries. Material developments have also lead to an increase in the range of applications available as materials such as Nanotool, CeraMAX and Bluestone offer the benefits of SLA components (smooth surface finish and high dimensional accuracy)  with the durability and thermal resistance required to withstand wind tunnel testing.  For Formula 1 teams running wind tunnels more or less 24 hours a day, these material advancements  mean it is possible source components for testing within days rather than weeks.

Leading Autosport teams such as Red Bull Racing and Aston Martin are both early adaptors of this technology. In 2011 Red Bull Racing opted to transport two Rapid Prototyping machines to the races inside the trucks. This move allowed the team to source components quickly with parts printed overnight and simply fitted into the cars on site the next day.  The same year Aston Martin’s LMP1 prototype car, AMR-ONE, raised one big question, just how did George Howard Chappel and the team develop a car from scrath in just six months. The answer through the use of 3D printing and Rapid Prototyping technologies.

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.

Jul 2, 2012
Comments Off on 3D Printing takes centre stage this October

3D Printing takes centre stage this October

3D Print show highlights applications of 3D printing technology

3D Print show highlights applications of 3D printing technology

3D Printing is set to take centre stage in London this October with the 3D Print Show 2012.

With 3D printing technology still largely confined to the world of product design and development the 3D Print Show provides many with the unique opportunity to get up close and personal with 3D printing technology.  Organiser of the show Kerry Hogarth    hopes the show will inspire early adopters and educate the public on the range of applications for this emerging technology.

Visitors to the show will be able to view demonstrations from a range of 3D printing technologies including 3D scanning company EuroPac 3D, whose work includes the creating of computer-generated imagery through 3D scanning for the Harry Potter films. For anyone interested in 3D printing this exhibition is a must with applications ranging from Consumer Goods to Space Travel , Fashion to Architecture and everything in between on display.

Find out more at

Jun 13, 2012
Comments Off on Loire Valleys largest Château recreated in SLS.

Loire Valleys largest Château recreated in SLS.

                                                                                                                 Loire Valley's Chateau de Chambord

Some four hundred and fifty years after construction began on one of Frances most iconic architectural landmarks, Rapid Prototyping bureau Laser Prototypes have unveiled a scale model of Château de Chambord, produced entirely in using the Selective Laser Sintering process.

With some 11 kinds of tower and 3 types of chimney the complex roof scape alone would represent a significant challenge for any model making process, particularly in light of the customers tight project lead times. With rapid build times, and the ability to produce complex geometries with minimal post production processing the Selective Laser Sintering Process would prove the ideal process for meeting the project brief.

SLS Scale model of Chateau

Customer supplied 3D CAD data of the Château was sliced into a series of 2D cross sectional layers using proprietary software to create an STL file. Once compiled this file was then fed to the companies SLS machine, where the model was grown layer by layer on a bed of PA Nylon powder.  Parts produced in the Selective Laser Sintering process require no support structure, as the Nylon powder proves self supporting with minimal clean up required, ensuring no damage to fragile/ fine features of the Château chimneys and towers.

Complex roof scape accurately recreated in SLS


May 10, 2012
Comments Off on 3D printing of the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

3D printing of the 2012 Olympic Stadium.

Designed on a compact island site, with seating for 80,000 and the flexibility to transform into a 25,000 seated arena post the 2012 games, the 2012 Olympic stadium pays homage to the quality of engineering and architectural ability within the UK. Forming part of East London’s regeneration programme the Olympic stadium has taken just over three years to complete.

Demonstrating the speed and accuracy of Rapid Prototyping technology, a lecturer at Ravensbourne college London, has created a scale model of the Stadium in just 6 hours.

Using satellite imagery and 3d modelling software Jon Fidler created detailed 3D CAD data of the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Once completed this 3D CAD file was then sent to an FDM printer allowing a physical model of the stadium to be printed within hours. In addition to developing the model in just 6 hours Fidler created a time-lapse video showing the various stages involved including design and build.

This cool 3D printing video can be seen below.