About Me

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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Personal 3D Printing with Resin - B9Creator

One of the most recent entry-level 3D printers to hit the market via a crowd funded channel has got my attention — and that of many others it would seem. The B9Creator project created a spectacular buzz around 3D printing when it hit its $50,000 target within 24 hours, this virtually doubled by 48 hours. The well-deserved attention and amazing success has come, I think, from the fact that this 3D printer offers individuals within the 3D printing user community an alternative to the FDM process.
The B9Creator — the brainchild of Michael Joyce — is a compact, resin based 3D printer and offers users the benefits of resin 3D printing, namely highly detailed, high resolution parts (compare the typical 100µm layer of the B9Creator with the 200µm from a comparable FDM printer). Also the build volume (3” x 4” x 8”) is pretty impressive. For curing the resin materials, the B9Creator employs a light projector and is both effective and safe. Although available in kit form and at a price of $2,375 for the full kit (on kickstarter), the demand for this sort of printer is more than evident by the response it has got. It also looks quirky and has an attraction all of its own, IMO, this is by virtue of the fact that it does mirror the aesthetics of its professional grade big brothers.

With the target funding at almost 300%, this project is all set to go full speed ahead. Congratulations to Mike, and the very best of luck, for, as he says in his own blog, this is where the real work starts. After sourcing all the components shipping of the printers should begin in August.

Full kickstarter project can be viewed here

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

3D Printing Vending Machines

The DreamVendor concept that has been installed at Virginia Tech got lots of positive responses as it hit the news waves recently. Pitted as an “interactive 3D printing station” for students at the university, I must confess to mixed feelings on this when I saw it: 
Of course I see the benefits of making the printers more widely available, and as a consumer concept, I think it is absolutely brilliant. I just can’t help thinking that for students in a mechanical engineering department, putting the 3D printers behind glass is self-defeating — they should be getting totally hands on with the machines and the technology. For consumers, on the other hand, plug in an SD card, follow simple instructions and hit print — spot on! 

It’s Getting Personal!

My previous employer — Rapid News Communications — has just launched a new website / online community. Personalize, which sits very comfortably alongside its sister publication The TCT Magazine, is fully dedicated to the flourishing personal 3D printer market for makers and individuals.
As a communications company that has been on the front line reporting all the latest and greatest developments in additive technology since the very beginning the burgeoning 3D printer market posed a problem for RN insomuch as The TCT magazine is singularly, and proudly, focused on product development, engineering and manufacturing technologies that reduce time-to-market for industrial organisations. The 3D printer market could not be overlooked, but neither could it be allowed to dilute the core TCT message.
The result is Personalize. And it’s a good result. In the first few days since its launch I’ve heard that the unique visitors to the site have been impressive and the feedback extremely positive. Objectively though, now as an outsider, it looks good, provides for easy engagement and the early content is broad and inclusive. The public message is that this is when the serious work begins, and it will, as the team works to build on a very solid foundation. I, for one, will be a regular visitor and look forward to getting involved.
It is also the reason why the RN team have been so vociferous in their contributions to the interminable 3D printing / Additive Manufacturing (AM) terminology debate, and cynical when it comes to using just one of these terms. Kind of all makes sense now as to why there was no give whatsoever in their argument. I stick by my comment on Duncan Wood’s blog post about this on the Personalize site — the nutshell version of my comment being that dual positioning works during this transition phase of the tech, but in the end, it will all be 3D printing! For TCT this means the context provided will be a prototyping & manufacturing backdrop with production grade 3D printers and materials; and for Personalize the context will be the maker community and, in time, consumers per se who want to engage with 3D printing!
Just saying …… 
.........................again! ;-)

Monday, 14 May 2012

Objet's Formal Comment on Colour 3D Printing Capabilities

This morning I received a press kit from Objet, I am assuming other press outlets have received the same. But for the record and to follow up on my blog post, and the ensuing comment stream, from last week, here it is for any interested parties, in full:

"The Objet Pompidou event was a special R&D technology demonstration, presenting Objet capabilities in color DMs (Digital Materials). It has been a dedicated R&D project aimed specifically for this event and to show Long Term technological capabilities of Objet DM and Connex technology.

Following this event there is no change in Objet's offering and portfolio."

Not a huge amount to go on, and nothing about the breadth and depth, or indeed limitations, of the capabilities and what they might mean for 3D printing applications in the real world.

I get the feeling this is intentional!? ;-)

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Merger, Colours & Mojo — Objet & Stratasys Dominate 3D Printing Headlines

Seeing as I was face to face with a number of Objet personnel last week, I took the opportunity to probe a little further into the Stratasys / Objet merger. I also asked a number of Objet personnel if they knew what the big announcement coming from Stratasys was today — they were all tight-lipped but knew exactly what it was. The tagline “Something’s Coming” on 8th May has been on the company website for more than a week, together with a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds.

Well, the time is now upon us, and Stratasys, as one of the companies with the greatest longevity as a vendor of 3D printing platforms for prototyping and for manufacturing applications is extending its reach — downwards . The company is adding a pro-sumer platform to its 3D printer portfolio — Mojo was announced a few minutes ago. Positioned as a professional machine — under $10,000 — this machine goes someway to close the gap I was talking about in my previous post about Makerbot

I have it on good authority that the R&D for Mojo has been extensive and the testing thorough over the last 3-4 years and the production line is all but ready to go . If this is right, then clearly Stratasys has been waiting for the right time to bring this to market and believes the time is now. 

I find it interesting that the company is, seemingly consciously, avoiding the consumer market — I do wonder if this will last and if they will be tempted.  

Anyway, here's the pertinent points about Mojo, lifted from the press release for your information, and including a quote from Todd Grimm, a man I personally trust and respect:

"New Modeling Technology Ensures Reliability
To produce a model, Mojo employs an innovative variation on traditional FDM material extrusion. The ABS material spool and the print head are integrated to a single package, called the QuickPack print engine. To ensure optimal reliability, a fresh print head is part of each material change. Material loading is similar to snapping in an inkjet cartridge on a paper printer.

Industry's Easiest Operation in a Compact 3D Printer
A desktop 3D printer, Mojo measures only 25 inches wide and 21 inches deep. It measures 18 inches in height (64 x 53 x 46 cm). As with a paper printer, no training is needed to get it set up and running, and settings are selected at the host computer, not the printer itself. Modeling operations are easy with Mojo's preprocessing software, Print Wizard, which helps users efficiently manage workflow. Support material removal is also a simple process with the included WaveWash55. It is a self-contained, hands-free cleaning system, and it requires no plumbing.

Fine Feature Detail
Delivering fine feature detail, Mojo has a layer resolution previously available only in the Dimension Elite and the Fortus Production 3D Printer line.

Professional Third-Party Evaluation
After evaluating an early beta-test unit, Todd Grimm, president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, noted: "Stratasys, who arguably started the revolution in 3D printing, is poised to shake up the market again with a complete professional system that breaks the $10,000 mark. With its new [3D printer], Stratasys is in a league of its own. It's counter-intuitive to get a low-price product with high quality like this.""

It has also occurred to me that as Stratasys broadens its spectrum of machines and Objet heads towards manufacturing capabilities, the breadth and depth of the IP within the two companies is unique.

When I interviewed Elan Jaglom, Objet’s Chairman, his passion and loyalty was clearly evident. I homed in on his take of the merger, pointing to the fact that all of the public discourse from both sides since the announcement referred to a symbiotic union of the two companies — at no point was there ever any talk of an acquisition. Elan told me that was exactly right, this is a coming together of two strong companies with complementary technologies and demonstrable growth patterns that are only set to continue. Both he & Scott Crump of Stratasys have shaped the merger, it seems, with a shared vision. In fact, one of his most striking quotes was thus: “this is a merger of growth”.
I don’t disagree; some integration will need to take place on a practical level, and that could be a little bumpy, but with similar cultures and a positive approach I think this merger is a great thing for 3D printing per se and for the markets that will use the 3D printers they produce — right across the spectrum.

Indeed, it is already starting to show — the Mojo announcement has been timed to closely follow Objet’s technology demonstration on Friday — using clever, coordinated marketing to get the market’s attention.

My Weird Response to Makerbot's News Last Week

While I was away last week, I did manage to pick up on the news that Makerbot is ceasing shipments of its kit 3D printer, the Thing-o-matic. I can’t quite explain why, but I had rather an emotional response to that news, in that I found it rather sad. I think it is maybe to do with the fact that it conjures a sense of Makerbot moving away from its RepRap origins.

But on a business level it’s a savvy move.

As the 3D printing capabilities gap continues to narrow (mostly in small increments, there is still a way to go) and with the slew of new entry level 3D printers, both in kit form and assembled,  Makerbot’s market position is shifting towards the centre. It is still left of centre, but there is visible movement.

Entry level —>—>—>—> Mid Range —>—>—>—>Production Machines

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Objet Reveals Colour 3D Printing Capabilities

Where to begin? That is the question!

In the last 48 hours I have seen so much, heard so much, and, inevitably, talked rather a lot too (including an in-flight discussion on 3D Printing but that's a story for another time).

This post will be the first of a series of posts following my short sojourn in Paris, having been invited to attend Objet's media event at the Centre Pompidou - the Parisian museum housing the Multiversites Creatives exhibition, sponsored by the makers of the Connex 3D printing machines.

Centre Pompidou

And that is really where I have to begin. Yesterday's incredible revelation, without any specific announcement it should be emphasised, from Objet about the collaborative R&D the company has been carrying out — in full stealth mode — that has resulted in the phenomenal full colour 3D printing capabilities of the company's Connex range and multi-materials.

Phenomenal is not an overstatement here, neither is spectacularly impressive.

The focus of the Parisian event was the work of Neri Oxman's collection "Imaginary Beings - Mythologies of the Not Yet." (A separate blog post will follow on this). An intriguing title pointing to a portfolio of pieces that was documented in a superior quality catalogue each attendee was presented with on registration before being directed to a sumptuous continental breakfast buffet. So there I was, partaking of the food, sipping the deliciously strong coffee, mesmerised by the view of the Paris skyline from Georges restaurant at the top of the Pompidou Centre, and I started to browse the catalogue. Having read the intro and an updated version of Neri's biography, I turned the page and was immediately captivated by the startling imagery in the brochure. The shapes were intrinsically complex and stunning — and the colours were piercing.

But it had not registered.

It was only on the third image that the realisation dawned. I went back to the first two, and then quickly thumbed through the other fifteen (there are 18 pieces in total), scrutinising each high resolution image. These pieces were not finished - they were not painted! Apart from anything else, it would have been impossible to apply paint to such complex shapes, using multiple colours, so cleanly.

But Objet don't do colour!!

During the short(ish) presentations from Objet's Chairman, Elan Jaglom and Neri herself, which took place prior to the guided tour of the collection, there was no announcement, indeed there was absolutely no mention from either of them directly relating to the colour capabilities of the Connex technology. There was talk of the R&D investments and the extensive range of materials Objet offers from Elan (again a separate blog post on my interview with Elan will follow) and an introduction to the Imaginary Beings concept from Neri, but not a single word about 3D printing in colour.


I could barely contain myself, as Neri wrapped up her speech I started edging forward — I was trying to figure out what was going on, and needed to get some clarification on this. Was I imagining it? I knew I was right about the colour but I couldn't believe I was right, why wouldn't they announce it?

Clever Objet!!

Couple of things - the colours need to be seen to be believed. Some images here, but they don't do them justice. If you get an opportunity to see for yourself in the coming months, make sure you take it.

Also, after having spoken with a few of the Objet guys directly, all of whom had a glint in their eyes but totally played the whole thing down, the exhibition was unanimously labelled as "a technology demonstration" of the R&D Objet has been doing. They could not over-stress the fact that the colour capabilities are not commercialised yet and neither is there an official timeline for when they will be, well, none that Objet is giving away anyway. But be left with no doubt — they will be.

This is clever marketing!

Now, I know some of you will be reading this and thinking - colours - so what?? I am sure you will make your views known, one way or another. And, believe it or not, I get it. I do. Pretty colours are not necessarily an industrial designers first priority when developing a concept and testing functionality of a new product.

But this revelation goes further than just introducing a new aesthetic to Objet's 3D printing capabilities. Objet's collaboration with Neri is a prelude, a glimpse at where this technology can go. "It's just the beginning!" Regular readers of my blog will recognise that as one of my favourite lines associated with 3D printing, but if I heard that line once yesterday, I heard it a hundred times, and it wasn't me saying it!!

I came away from the event yesterday with a better understanding of Objet's full-on commitment to both continued R&D and its brand. Another observation that is worthy of note is just how integrated and committed the whole Objet team is, it's not a small team either, but they are like a well-oiled machine (no pun intended).

As mentioned, further blog posts will cover Neri's collection in more detail and Elan's take on the Objet / Stratasys merger and the future of the Connex.