It isn’t uncommon among new technologies. After the initial excitement lulls, sales slow and enthusiasm wanes. Sometimes innovations in the product can regenerate interest in the marketplace; sometimes those innovations don’t come or just don’t make a difference. It happened to fiber optic cables (everyone uses Ethernet for network connectivity instead), the Laserdisc (the predecessor to DVDs, which didn’t come along for another 20 years), and the QR code (developed in 1994, yet virtually unusable until the advent of social media just recently).
When 3D printing was first introduced, it was slated to entirely revolutionize manufacturing. No longer would design and production be centralized and reserved for the big companies; soon people would design and produce their own products at home or on the job site. Though the 3D printing industry saw gains during 2013-14, all of the gains were in a relatively small potential market: big business.
However, research completed by Gartner and Canalys points to a rapidly growing 3D printing industry in the very near future. Gartner expects the industry to double unit shipments in 2015, and again each of the next two years, culminating to a total of 2.3 million units by 2018, up from just 108,151 units sold during 2014. Canalys expects the market for printers, printing materials, and related services to expand from its current $2.5 billion to $16.2 billion by 2018.
One of the factors driving greater acceptance and adoption of 3D printing in the mass market is the introduction of a machine developed and marketed by 2D printing giant and legend, Hewlett-Packard. What is the industry lacking, and what can HP bring to the table?
What’s Hindering the Excitement Over 3D Printing?
3D printers are expensive. These machines aren’t easy or intuitive to operate. The process is extremely slow, taking anywhere from a few hours to a few days to produce a useful product (if, indeed, the product is actually useful post-production). Some people even question the safety of these machines, given that many of the common materials used are potentially explosive, the printers run at dangerously high temperatures, and operation can possibly adversely affect indoor air quality. In all, consumer adoption of 3D printing has been significantly slower than anticipated.
What Does 3D Printing Need to Bring Back the Market Enthusiasm?
Though a few 3D printers are available for less than $1,000, it’s hard to get a feature-packed machine for reasonable money. Combining lower costs with higher-end features would definitely spark sales and regenerate excitement over the potential of 3D printers. Making the software more intuitive and user-friendly would also help. With the right software and features, computer aided design could be within the grasp of even casual users.
Another factor that could drive mass adoption is printer heads capable of working with more than a single group of materials. Currently, printer heads are limited to a single group, such as polymers. With printers capable of working with other materials, such as wood, metals, and glass, more people would be willing to invest in the technology.
Additionally, 3D printers need to get faster and more accurate. Few users are willing to wait days to produce an item that’s inevitably inferior to its mass-produced counterpart. Expiring and soon-to-be expiring patents are also driving the market for 3D printing. The open source future of 3D printing means costs will go down as speed and printing quality rises.
What Can HP Bring to the Equation?
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, HP showcased its new Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer, a joint venture with Intel. Intel provided the Core i7 processor, to which HP added the printer, a culmination of more than three decades of research and development on 2D printers. The result is a surprisingly fast 3D printer, which is also stunningly more affordable.
The Multi Jet Fusion demonstrated ten times the speed of 3D printers currently on the market, at a price half that of the competitors. A company which has consistently shown its ability to generate revenue growth of 60 percent year-over-year shouldn’t have any difficulty catapulting the acceptance and sales of a red-hot commodity like 3D printers.
What else can HP bring to the table? Its marketing skills have the potential to spread awareness and longing for 3D printers, since HP is already a household name. Competitors like Stratasys, 3D Systems, ExOne, and voxeljet are primarily known by CAD pros, not by the average consumer. However, as other mainstream companies such as General Electric (GE) and 3M enter the 3D printing landscape, product awareness and acceptance could finally become widespread.
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Sometimes a group of technologies can be lumped together to create an entirely new technology. This is the case with rapid prototyping. Using a group of technologies developed for CAD design, ink jet printing, and other applications, rapid prototyping is revolutionizing the fields of engineering and manufacturing. What is rapid prototyping, and how is it relevant to the world of CAD?
What is Rapid Prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is the process of fabricating a model of a part or assembly to scale using a variety of techniques. Rapid prototyping was built on the technique of stereo lithography, and also makes use of technologies like selective laser sintering, laminated object manufacturing, fused deposition modeling, solid ground curing, and ink jet printing.
During the process, a CAD model of the part or assembly is constructed and converted to .STL format. The rapid prototyping machine or 3D printer then creates the model one layer at a time. After each layer is generated, the model is lowered by the thickness of that layer so that the next layer can be applied. The surface of the model is then finished and polished.
What are the Uses for Rapid Prototyping?
Rapid prototyping is most commonly used to quickly generate prototypes of parts and assemblies so that engineers, manufacturers, marketers, and purchasers can see what the design looks and acts like before it is put into actual production. It is used to generate prototypes of things like machine parts and production tools. The difference between prototypes generated by rapid prototyping is that these models are lifelike, made of actual metal, instead of a plastic guesstimate of the object. Even the most complex part or assembly model can be produced in about half a day, compared to the weeks and many machines it takes to produce a prototype by traditional manufacturing methods.
What are the Benefits of Rapid Prototyping?
The models produced through rapid prototyping are ideal for design teams to visualize the eventual product, and can even undergo some actual real-world testing, such as being monitored in a wind tunnel. Tooling models can also be created, and occasionally the finished models can be used in the actual final assembly of the product.
Rapid prototyping improves communication among designers, manufacturers, and other parties, allowing developers to identify and correct mistakes early in the design process. This speeds up development times and improves the lifespan of products. It allows for greater variation among the products produced, allows designers to develop more complex products, reduces time to market, and helps build products that don’t become obsolete so quickly.
What is the Future of Rapid Prototyping?
Currently, rapid prototyping (like most newly developed technologies) is expensive and not actually so rapid. Researchers are working on faster processes. Additionally, the three materials used for rapid processing are aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium; researchers are working on ways to expand the number of materials that can be used for this process. The process also needs to be made more tolerant of temperature variations, and eventually it would be ideal if a single print head was able to deposit multiple materials instead of just one at a time.
The market for rapid prototyping is expected to reach $7 billion by 2025, aided by product patent expirations and the overall availability and affordability of 3D printers. Enjoy learning about 3D printing, CAD, and related technologies? For CAD users, Cadalyst is the brand of CAD information provider that offers the most complete and up-to-date information about CAD.
Remember when it took eons for 2G mobile technology to give way to 3G? Then it took much less time for 3G to become 4G, which is now the standard. Already, mobile companies are buzzing about the promise of 5G. 3D printing technology might follow mobile technology in this manner, taking ages to progress and then seeing a phenomenal boom in a short period of time.
Just as the reality of 3D printing is becoming accepted and widely used, a group of researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder have developed 4D printing. It uses the same printers and basic techniques as 3D printing, but the materials are combined in interesting ways to do unique things. The research was funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.
What is 4D Printing?
In 4d printing, “shape memory” polymer fibers are incorporated into composite materials, creating a 3D object. But when the object is heated or cooled, key “printed active composites” are activated, allowing the object to transform into another object entirely. The shape memory fibers behave in a predetermined way when exposed to the stimulus (like heat or cold), and therefore the designer can predict how and when the object will transform from one shape to another. Yes, wacky science, but it works.
How Does 4D Printing Work?
When the shape memory polymers are embedded into the composite materials, the object can be 3D printed into one shape, then heated or cooled to produce another shape. For example, a flat piece of laminate can be printed, and then heated or cooled into a bent, coiled, twisted, or folded shape. It is possible that with further research and experimentation, the same technique can be applied to other materials used in 3D printing, such as metals.
What are the Possible Applications for 4D Printing?
What’s the big deal? Well, 4D printing could revolutionize engineering, manufacturing, packaging, and the biomedical industry. One application would be the ability to produce something flat and easy to ship that then transforms into something useful at a job site. For example, solar panels could be 3D printed in a flat, compact form, shipped into space via a satellite, and then transformed into its eventual shape by the cold temperatures of space.
4D printing could revolutionize the field of engineering, allowing designers and manufacturers to produce a multitude of items for a variety of applications that have never before been conceived. 4D printing could be especially useful in applications that call for compact shipping of larger objects, such as items used by the military, rescue workers working in harsh conditions, as well as in space travel, shipping, and medical sciences.
Unlike 3D printing, 4D printing isn’t yet ready for mass acceptance. However, the science is there and with further research and development could soon yield huge gains for a variety of industries and applications.
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What is a 3D printing farm? For now, nobody is completely sure. It does involve growing plants, but it is yet unclear how. It also involves a lot of 3D printers. So far, the farm has a FlashForge and Type A Machines printers, with an Ultimaker 2 and Lulzbot Mini (just released) to follow soon. Farm owner Mike Adams, who calls himself the Health Ranger, plans to choose which of these printers works best and then invest in more of those to complete his farm. He fully expects that he will not be able to generate enough of the parts he’s developing at his Austin, Texas farm to meet demands, and will make the object files available via free download on the website, FoodRising.org.
What the Farm Promises
The best guess is that “farm” refers to both the fact that it is set up to manufacture food (or at least parts to help people grow their own food), as well as the fact that it’s stocked with a farm of 3D printers. The actual methods are still a mystery. The website’s creator promises that with this new method, using mostly parts that are 3D printable, people can grow their own food, plant-based medicines and mineral supplements. The parts not 3D printable will be inexpensive and readily available, such as paper clips and pencil erasers.
The promises include that the method will allow people all over the world to grow food without soil, electricity, or other technologies, using one-twentieth the amount of water normally required to grow foods. Adams claims that 200 percent more food can be grown in a given space, making it cheap and easy to produce food in inner city apartments, third world countries where no power or clean water is available, and other places that typically can’t produce adequate amounts of food. Shockingly, Adams states that this food will feature 500 percent of the nutritional value of traditionally grown foods.
The Health Ranger has publicized his mission statement: “empower consumers with factual information about the synthetic chemicals, heavy metals, hormone disruptors and other chemicals found in foods, medicines, personal care products, children’s toys and other items.”
What’s in It for You
If Adams’ promises prove true, he is working out all of the kinks in his process so that those who choose to take advantage of his methods won’t take long to begin producing their own foods and medicines. He is honing details like what filaments work best, which bed adhesion materials are most effective, the right print speeds and temperatures, etc.
Adams plans to share all of this information, along with the object files, online. For those who do not own their own 3D printers, Adams will be selling the parts needed to produce foods with his method on the website. However, since the point of the endeavor is to empower others to do it themselves, he encourages more people to download and print their own parts.
How and When to Get More Information
Initially, FoodRising.org was scheduled to be up and running by mid-February. Now the rollout has been delayed until the end of the month. For those involved in digital manufacturing, 3D printing, and CAD systems, it will be interesting to see what develops on this farm. Ingenious new development? Another probable marketing disaster? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
For CAD users, Cadalyst is the brand of CAD information provider that offers the most complete and up-to-date information about CAD. Visit Cadalyst today for more exciting news in the fields of digital manufacturing, CAD, 3D printing and more.
We asked Chris McAndrew what innovations he’s most excited about today in the world of CAD.
“The explosion of cloud computing and user interfaces are on the cusp of breaking the CAD world into a new time,” replied the owner and editor of 3DEngr.com.
And it’s a good thing, too.
CAD is ripe for change since the major players in CAD software, including ProE, Solidworks and AutoCAD, are still rooted in clunky engineering principles, Chris says. Even newer programs like Sketchup, Rhino and Blender are resource intensive and tough to figure out.
“As a new class of developers starts to develop tools that are made for the masses, using things like virtual reality and a backend that is powerful enough to render and update a design instantly, it’ll be cool to see what sort of fun platforms are created!” he adds.
Here, Chris talks about 3DEngr.com, the buzz surrounding 3D printing and what you need to know about buying your next CAD workstation. Read on:
Tell us about 3DEngr.com. When and why did you start your site?
3DEngr was started as a place to capture information on 3D design, CAD work and engineering. Initially, 3DEngr.com was created as a study tool for the Solidworks Certification exam, and it still is a great resource for the 50,000+ designers and engineers worldwide who have their certification and are looking to further their expertise. It also has become an outlet to cover the intersection of Engineering CAD design with practical implications of manufacturing. This has led to looking into 3D printing in a big way as it has increased in popularity and become the new hot topic in the world of manufacturing.
Who should be reading it?
Doers! Those people who understand that 3D printing is not going to revolutionize the world by itself, that it will need an educated mass of designers and engineers who understand the nuances of 3D printing and are able to incorporate traditional engineering principles with the amazing new abilities for design that 3D printing provides. In short, engineers, designers, and consumers who are excited by design and engineering.
3D printers have been around since the mid-1980s. So why is there so much buzz surrounding 3D printing right now?
There are lots of reasons, but basically the whole world has changed since the mid-80s. Materials, computing power and access are the three reasons that come to mind.
When 3D printing was first introduced, there was a very limited material list; but now, prints can be created using standard paper (the kind an inkjet printer uses), titanium and living cells. That’s an incredible increase in potential from low-grade plastics.
Computing power is the next most important development. 3D Printers still need software to tell them what they are printing. Learning to design a three-dimensional part file used to be reserved for engineers at multinational companies that had thousands of dollars to spend on software licenses. These days, there are free and open source design programs which are so easy that kids can use them (and do!). Couple that design potential with web-based sharing platforms where you can download existing designs, and all of a sudden the accessibility of 3D printing is transformed in a revolutionary way.
What excites you about the possibilities of 3D printing?
The ideation and iteration process it opens up. The ease of creating a sample or prototype with 3D printing is remarkable. So many great inventions and developments were created through painstaking trial and error, and today the effort required to undertake that process is dropping rapidly. Developments in 3D printing of living cells means that what would have required decades of research can now be packed into days and weeks. The same holds true for other industries. There will be a massive amount of failure with new designs coming off of 3D printers, which means we’ll be able to learn so much more quickly.
What trends do you think those who work with CAD should be following?
Storage costs and IP control. For those looking to build companies and products they want to monetize, it will be critical to understand how their designs are saved and shared. As long as value is still being created, someone will find a way to capture that value for their profit. Hopefully, that profit will be shared with the designers and not middlemen.
How have CAD workstations evolved in recent years?
CAD stations have slowly started to become less relevant. And that’s a very good thing. The first time I tried to buy a laptop that could run CAD software, it weighed a ton and was clunky. Though it rendered quickly, I literally couldn’t fit anything else in my carry-on bag if I flew with it. Thankfully, computing power has continued to evolve and lighter software has made it possible to run sufficient products on all sorts of devices.
What do you think are workstation must-haves for every CAD pro?
Comfort and portability. Why be tied to a physical work station when you can access computing power remotely? Not all CAD workstations make this easy, but planning your station this way will make it easier to keep the touch point that you work with and upgrade that back end as things get better.
What considerations should CAD pros make when updating their workstations today?
Whether or not you care that the key feature you want is going to be outdated in a matter of months. I’ve been sold a number of times on graphics cards that were way too powerful for me to ever use, boot up times that I never reaped the benefits of, and storage space that I simply did not use. Learn to customize your software and hardware. No two CAD pros work the same way. Find a workstation that is easy to personalize, and the benefits will greatly outweigh the incremental feature improvements that can be purchased.
Connect with Chris on Twitter.
When 3D printing was first reported, the promises were endless. We’d all be making our own clothing, building our own vehicles, and generally running manufactures out of business worldwide. The realities have been a bit different — technologies are still in rudimentary stages, and finding materials that lend well to printing certain items, like electronics and clothing, haven’t quite been honed to perfection.
Still, the past year has seen remarkable innovation in several arenas. The quality of 3D printers is on the rise, and the quality of printer you can score for a reasonable sum of cash has also improved. Additionally, new materials have been developed that lend well to particular printing endeavors. Here are the most remarkable achievements in 3D printing as of late.
3D Printed Human Organs
Perhaps the most promising innovation is in the medical sciences. Scientists have successfully 3D printed human liver tissues, which have proven far better at detecting toxins than those previously generated by 2D printers. These liver cells were able to detect hidden toxins in drugs that had been approved by the FDA. The drugs were later pulled off the market. What does this bode for the future? One day liver cells such as this could help pharmaceutical companies get needed medications to the market faster. Controversial drug testing on animals could be eliminated. Most promising, scientists could 3D print human organs, saving thousands of people who die waiting on suitable organs to become available.
3D Printing in Space
Amid a whirlwind of publicity, an astronaut was recently able to print his own wrench in space. NASA emailed him the specs, and he created the tool on the zero-gravity 3D printer installed at the International Space Station where he works. Zero-gravity 3D printing has not been without its challenges, but could one day significantly reduce the amount of weight and space taken up on space missions. Astronauts could simply manufacture what they needed while on board the spacecraft.
3D Printed Cars
The first 3D printed (well, mostly 3D printed) car has finally been introduced. Reviewers expected a low-powered, poor handling machine, but were pleasantly surprised at the vitality of the car. The Strati is the first such vehicle introduced to the public, but you can bet your sweet gearshift it won’t be the last.
3D Printed Houses
Actually, more people have publically unveiled houses they built using 3D printers than vehicles. Among these adventurers is Andrey Rudenko, an engineer and architect who lives in Minnesota. Rudenko produced a mini castle in his backyard using 3D printing, and hopes to soon embark on building a full-size home. A Chinese company showed off its ability to produce no fewer than 10 homes within a 24-hour period, though architects and engineers question the quality and integrity of those productions. Still, the promise of 3D printed homes means that builders could one day make homes to capitalize on a particular need within a given environment, such as the ability to effectively capture heat from the sun or collect rainwater for use within the home.
3D Printed Clothing
Until recently, clothing manufactured on a 3D printer was rigid and uncomfortable, definitely not something anyone would want to don to work or a party. That changed when the company Nervous System produced the Kinematics Dress, a soft, fluid gown generated from a single piece of nylon fabric. Most intriguing is that the dress was made using a body scan of the model who would wear it. Essentially, the dress was constructed as a perfect fit just for her. This would be invaluable to those people who don’t fit into a stereotypical size 10, 12, or 14. The possibilities for uncommonly tall, short, or shaped people is promising indeed.
Perhaps the realization of what 3D printing can actually do for society is on the brink of making itself known. For CAD users, Cadalyst is the brand of CAD information provider that offers the most complete and up-to-date information about CAD. Visit Cadalyst for more news, information, tips, and tricks for CAD design, 3D printing, computer-aided manufacturing, and much more today.
What if you could manufacture your own smartphones and wearable technology in your basement? What if drones and IoT (Internet of Things) connected devices didn’t have to be manufactured in high-tech manufacturing facilities, but could be made in the family garage? Thanks to a newly developed plastic, these far-fetched scenarios could one day be realities.
The Origins of F-Electric
Michael Toutonghi and his son decided to build an electromagnetic propulsion project for the son’s science fair at school. Since soldering didn’t come easy for Mike, he wanted to use his 3D printer to build the circuits. Yet he couldn’t find an adequately conductive material to use. This led him on a nearly obsessive quest studying nanotechnology and materials science. After years of labor, he eventually developed a synthetic mix of graphene, metal, and plastic nano composites. He formed the corporation Functionalize, and is now $6,657 into his goal of $100,000 in crowdsourced funding through the crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter.
How F-Electric Could Fundamentally Change 3D Printing
The differences in his product, F-Electric, from similar conductive plastics that are available for 3D printing are its high conductivity, low price, and easy workability. Most 3D printing materials offer a resistance of between 1,000 and 10,000 ohm-cm. Comparatively, F-Electric features less than 1 ohm-cm of resistance. Additionally, it costs around $140 per pound (32-cents per gram), compared to other 3D printing products that run about 15-cents per gram, but provide thousands of times less conductivity. F-Electric also works well in any of the low-end PLA 3D printers.
The Future of F-Electric
For now, Toutonghi and others who have worked with F-Electric have produced relatively unremarkable products like LED flashlights. However, executives of Functionalize say that they have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential of F-Electric.
In time, users will have the ability to manufacture high-tech gadgets, tools, and computers affordably and quickly using low-end 3D printers and the affordable F-Electric material. At the moment, F-Electric is capable of giving home users the ability to print the inner workings of a computer such as the Raspberry Pi, but not the housing for the device.
Of course, users will have to lean on some type of CAD system to design and simulate their products before manufacturing, which could drive up the cost of making nifty electronic gadgets at home. Being able to manufacture an electromechanical connection with a 3D printer and knowing how those connections should work within the device are two separate issues when it comes to non-professional users.
F-Electric and Functionalize do have at least one competitor, Graphine 3D. Grahphine 3D recently filed for a patent on their 3D printer generated batteries. However, Functionalize’s product offers greater conductivity at a more affordable price, which should give them the edge in the competitive marketplace.
Most 3D printers can also use actual metals, instead of synthetic plastics with conductive properties. Metals commonly used in 3D printers are copper, gold, aluminum, and bronze. The benefits of F-Electric is that it is resistant to corrosion and is more affordable than most soft metals that lend well to 3D printing.
For CAD users, Cadalyst is the brand of CAD information provider that offers the most complete and up-to-date information about CAD and 3D printing. Visit the Cadalyst website today for more articles on news and innovations in manufacturing, CAD, 3D printing, and more.