Wednesday, March 7, 2012

3D Color Printing Brings Math to Life

Today’s blog comes from George Hart of the Museum of Mathematics in NY.

At the Museum of Mathematics, which is opening later this year in New York City, we plan to show visitors that math is a fun, colorful, and creative subject. To that end, we are busy designing cool, hands-on exhibits, and I have used a 3D Systems hi-def color ZPrinter for making physical models of some exhibit ideas. But this blog post stems from another endeavor: Like many museums, we are raising money through a fundraiser dinner. I am very happy to have access to ZPrinter technology for making a series of festive mathematical centerpieces for this event.

3D printing allows the construction of intricate mathematical forms which could not be built by any other technology. The extra dimension of color allows for beautiful centerpieces that catch the eye and highlight mathematical features. Here are three of my favorites from this project:

This sculptural centerpiece has thirty yellow bumps, arranged like the vertices of an icosidodecahedron. But they connect to each other through meandering paths that weave through the interior. It is something of a maze to find a shortest path from one bump to another. Shades of color help highlight the overs and unders of the intricate paths.

This centerpiece is designed with floral elements connected in ways that give an organic impression without looking like any particular flower. Through twelve pentagonal openings, you can see that the interior features sixty 5-fold flower-like forms.
This design is purely geometric in character. A series of arches nest in a geometric series with smaller and smaller elements leading to the center. The geometric idea is based on five cubes, but they've undergone nonlinear transformations.

For more information and pictures of other centerpieces from this series, see my website.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A New Way to Learn Your ABCs with 3D Printing

Today's blog is by Jon Fidler, digital artist, who created and fabricated 26 3D letters for a collaboration project called 'Architypo' with Ravensbourne, UK-based digital media university, and Johnson Banks.

Here at Ravenbourne, a London-based digital media university, we have just completed a collaboration project with London-based design studio Johnson Banks, setting about to create an 'alphabet of alphabets' and 3D print a complete set of 3D letters, each showcasing the character and history of a particular typeface.The project came about to develop a means of testing and showcasing our in-house 3D prototyping technology. For each of the letters 'A' through 'Z,' the designers selected a typeface beginning with that character, which is used in the sculptural work. Each piece furthermore encapsulates a bit of the history of the typeface:

The 'J' adopts the form of a metro system map, because its fontface 'johnston' was originally designed for the London underground; the 'C' is composed of 'courier,' used in 1950s typewriters, and thus is composed of an assemblage of typewriter keys.

'Arkitypo' took over six months to complete. Johnson Banks first researched each letter and then developed drawings, maquettes, and simple 3D renders before transferring the imagery. Ideas came to us at Ravensbourne where we utilised our 3D expertise and further developed the 3D models, collaborating virtually with Johnson Banks before beginning the first test prints. For the creation of the letters, me and my student, Jason Taylor, used a combination of software, including Solidworks, Rhino, Autocad and 3Ds Max to obtain the required results, and in some cases the letters took days to model.

Due to the existence of over 26 letters, we required a lot of prototyping to be carried out, in order to visually analyse what the designs looked like. For this, our ZPrinter 450 stepped up to the plate and, within a couple of hours, allowed us to print scaled versions of the letters to gain a perspective on their appearance. Then, we quickly edited designs if needed and quickly printed again to check the results. We used the printer to print some of the final letters which included A,D,E,F,H,I,L,N,O,Q,R,S,V,W,X, and Z.  They can be seen below alongside the description. 'O' was a great example of where our ZPrinter was great! Using other machines, the software could not handle the complexity of the object, but we were able to open it up straight away in ZPrint software and print immediately. Because ZPrinters do not use physical support structures, we saved a lot of time processing the models.  We then used all of the data created for the models to create the visulisations that can be see in the video:

The complete alphabet, as well as some of the in-process renders are shown below:
The 'A' is composed of the typeface 'akzidenz grotesk' (1896). Among the first sans serif typefaces to be widely used, the design was part of a family of early san-serifs called 'grotesques.'

The 'B' is composed of the typeface 'bodoni' (1798), modeled after 'baskerville,' but exaggerated in its weight, with heavier thick lines and thinner thin ones. The Johnson Banks sculpture highlights this history with a 'bodoni' 'B' that traces its origin to its 'baskerville' form.

 The 'C' is composed of the typeface 'courier' (1955), originally commissioned for 1950s IBM typewriters.
Johnson Banks designed their model out of typewriter keys, referencing the old days of manual processing
and jammed machinery.

The 'D' is composed of 'DIN 1451,' the typeface selected in 1936 as the standard for German engineering and civil service projects.

The 'E' is composed of 'engravers' (1899), designed for metal engraving.

The 'F' is composed of the blackletter typeface 'fraktur,' modeled after antique carolingian minuscule and other handwritten designs in order to provide a standard typeface for a series of books by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. 'Fraktur' became the predominant style for the following centuries, until the 20th century, where it was ultimately banned by the Nazis in 1941. Here, Johnson Banks' design alludes to the typeface's close association with bookmaking.
The 'G' is composed of 'gill sans' (1933). Eric Gill, designer of the the typeface, is quoted as saying, 'a pair of spectacles is rather like a ‘g;’ I will make a ‘G’ rather like a pair of spectacles;' thus providing the reference point for the Johnson Banks model.

The 'H' is composed of 'helvetica' (originally 'neue haas grotesk', 1957; renamed in 1960). Latin for 'Switzerland,' the typeface became associated with both Swiss design and modernist industry and graphic design in general. The Johnson Banks sculpture assembles together the logos of some of the many corporations that use helvetica for their brand.

The 'I' uses 'industria,' originally designed by Neville Brody in 1984 for 'The Face' magazine.

The 'J' is composed of 'johnston' (1916), created for the London underground transit system, referenced by the Johnson Banks model.
The 'K' is composed of 'kabel' (1927), named in honour of the then newly-completed transatlantic telephone cable, which is the form utilized by Johnson Banks for the sculpture.

The 'L' is composed of 'lubalin graph.' The typeface was among the first slab serif alphabets for the phototypesetting industry.

The 'M' is based upon the 'machine' ITC typeface, often associated with industry, and thus already the influence behind the mechanical cogs used here to compose the letter.

The 'N' is created from the 'new alphabet' typeface (1967), a minimalist experimental font based on clean lines and precise angles.

The 'O' is composed of 'OCR-A,' whose strange characters filled the need for a font recognizable by both humans and the simple optical character recognition systems of early computers.

The 'P' is an assemblage of letters in the typeface 'perpetua' (1929). 'Here,' the designers of Johnson Banks explain, 'It is set to perpetuate in an endless möbius strip of uppercase letters.'

The 'Q' is composed of the typeface 'quadrate' (2002), which appears even in 2D to have a 3-dimensional element. As a result, Johnson Banks sought to produce what the real 3D letter 'could have been.'

The 'R' utilizes 'retina' (2002), Johnson Banks explains: 'At large sizes ['retina'] seems to feature crude ‘notches’ cut into the letterforms, but these are there to compensate for the way blobs of ink blur type at tiny sizes.'

The 'S' is composed of 'serifa' (1966), a serifed adaptation of 'univers.' In reference of this history, here the letterform appears to launch from a 'U' sculpture in 'univers.'

The 'T' is composed of 'trajan' (1989), a contemporary adaptation of the Roman capitals engraved on Trajan's column in Rome. The historical monument itself can be climbed via an internal spiral staircase, to which the Johnson Banks 'T' sculpture makes reference.

The 'U' is stylized in 'univers' (1957), now one of the world's most ubiquitous typefaces.

The 'V' is composed of 'verdana' (1996), designed for screen printing and bundled with early Windows software.

The 'W' utilizes the typeface 'wilhelm klingspor gotisch,' a blackletter design that draws from the curves of calligraphy, referenced in the Johnson Banks piece.

The 'X' is composed of 'xheighter' (1999), a tall, condensed sans serif whose form becomes emphasized in the skyscraper-like sculpture here.

The 'Y' features the typeface 'DFP yuan.' In addition to serving as the name for the country's currency, 'yuan' in Chinese literally means 'a round object' or 'round coin'. Here, intersecting '¥' symbols 'create an endless circle of chinese money.'

The 'Z' is composed of the 'zig zag' art deco-style typeface, here interlocked into a zig-zagging puzzlelike form.

Project Info:
Design: Johnson Banks
Client: ravensbourne
3D imaging and prototyping: Jon Fidler and Jason Taylor
Photography: Andy Morgan
Project client: Jill Hogan
Project advisor: Ben Caspersz

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

3D Printing Helps Humanetics ATD Make Intelligent Crash Test Dummies

Today's blog is by Julie Reece, 3D Systems Director of Marketing Communications.

ZPrinting Saves Weeks and ‘Hundreds of Dollars Each Time’ Molds Are Created for New Parts

The iconic crash-test dummy is anything but dumb. It’s a high-tech testing device with innumerable physical and electronic permutations to satisfy the unique needs of each customer, whether auto maker, airline, space agency or military branch.

This persistent demand for sophisticated new products and features explains why Humanetics Innovative Solutions of Huron, Ohio, a leader in the design, development and manufacturing of anthropomorphic test devices (ATDs), uses ZPrinting 3D printing technology from 3D Systems.

“ZPrinting lets us make new parts for the client in a day and a half instead of the week or more it takes when we need to machine new steel or aluminum molds,” said Humanetics Project Engineer Kris Sullenberger. “It’s also probably a 10-to-one cost savings in materials and machine work, meaning we save hundreds of dollars each time.”
Sullenberger’s team purchased its ZPrinter four years ago to execute an urgent project for the US Department of Defense during the second Iraq war. The client needed a sophisticated head model to test a new generation of goggles and face shields. The head model consisted of a dozen segments representing facial bones, each having impact data collection sensors.

“ZPrinting was the only way we could do the job,” Sullenberger said. “Time was of the essence, and ZPrinting’s speed, accuracy and resolution was best suited to the government’s needs.”

Sullenberger’s team ZPrinted patterns and mold boxes, quickly created silicon molds, and then heat-poured the urethane parts. “From start to finish, the whole product – design, building, testing and shipping – took six months. It would have taken three months of machine time alone to make aluminum molds. And revisions would have been a nightmare. Instead, we just reprinted and repoured anytime we needed a change.”

Today, Humanetics is printing about 200 parts a year, often multiple parts per build. At peak, Sullenberger’s team runs the ZPrinter around the clock for three weeks on end.

Although most of Humanetics’ ZPrinting is for mold and pattern production, the company also prints samples for marketing and sales, often helping explain concepts better than words or CAD images.

“We’ll send complete scaled-down dummies to clients, including senior executives and other non-technical professionals, or we’ll send detailed models that help explain new designs,” Sullenberger said. “People often don’t know what they’re looking at in a picture. But it drives the information home when you print a part, split it in half and let the person pick up the pieces, examine the internals, and put them together themselves.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

There’s something for everyone at Pacific Design & Manufacturing

We’re here at the Anaheim Convention Center in booth #3515 at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, showcasing our complete line of personal and professional 3D printers together with our content-to-print solutions.

Come check out our attractive printer packages that combine the precision of our ProJet™ printers with the productivity and full-color of our ZPrinters® at affordable price points designed to you shave time and money off your demanding development schedules. With 3DTouch™ personal 3D printers that fit every budget, access to Quickparts™ on demand parts service and the portable ZScanner® for reverse engineering and inspection, you can access the most complete range of affordable 3D content-to-print solutions available on the market today. While you’re here, pick up a free, full color model printed on our ZPrinter.
Cathy Lewis, our VP of Global Marketing is on hand and said, “The impressive range of integrated 3D content-to-print products and services that we have on display at PD&M cover the entire ideation-to-production process, delivering affordable full-color models, precise high-definition functional parts and intuitive content creation and capture tools. We are fully committed to democratize access to these powerful innovation and creation tools for the benefit of professionals and consumers alike.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oh the Thinks You Can Think....

Everyone knows you can get to market faster and with less cost using 3D printing, but something bigger is happening. As a result of a lot of recent media attention and advances in the accessibility of 3D content creation, the concept of 3D printing is spreading outside of its traditional domains. As it does, more and more people are using 3D printing to solve new and unique problems. And, as more and more unique uses emerge, more and more people will think about what they can do, and, to borrow a phrase from the recently departed Dr. Seuss, “Oh the thinks they will think…”

Charles-Olivier Roy is one of this most recent wave of 3D printing devotees. As you can read here, (, or in English (, Mr. Roy is combining high tech 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies with the ancient art of pouring metal into molds to re-create a beautiful statue of the Chevalier de Levis in Quebec.
Charles-Olivier Roy,
Photo : Élan Création Graphique Photo: Elan Graphic Design
The project centers on reproducing a bronze casting of the Chevalier originally made in 1895. The new casting will be placed in a park with an amazing view of the St. Lawrence River and Quebec City. The casting was made by scanning the existing statue, and then 3D printing the parts to make the new pattern on a ZPrinter. In addition, Mr. Roy is making 10 miniatures of the statue using the very high resolution ZBuilder technology. The scale and artistry of both the large size pieces and the small size pieces are quite impressive.

The story is part sales, part engineering, part art - and all 3D. It’s a great example of new ways of thinking about 3D printing, and how 3D printing will touch people in new ways.

What are the coolest “thinks you can think” using 3D printing?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

3D Printing Enables A. O. Smith to Cut Time-To-Market, Reduce Development Costs, Drive Higher Sales

Today's blog is by Julie Reece, 3D Systems Director of Marketing Communications.
I thoroughly enjoy hearing new stories from our channel partners and my sales colleagues about organizations that that reply on our 3D printing technology to grow their businesses. Here’s a story about A. O. Smith Corporation, a leading global manufacturer of water heating equipment. A. O. Smith is creating more attractive and energy-efficient water heaters through its advanced new product development process, which integrates 3D printing solutions from the company’s full-color professional 3D printers.

Using a ZPrinter® to create prototypes in-house, A. O. Smith is shaving weeks off product development, saving substantial cost as well as time. This enables them to iterate more productively and thoroughly refine designs, according to the R&D team.

“Instead of commissioning aluminum molds or sending out to busy contractors for plastic models, we can produce our own high-resolution color prototypes for a fraction of the cost,” said A. O. Smith CAD Supervisor, Steve Wood, from the company’s Johnson City, TN, manufacturing facility. “When a trial design isn’t perfect, we quickly revise it and print another 3D model, or we create several different prototypes at the same time. Our ZPrinter gives us the flexibility to make real-time changes and react quickly to our customers' demands.”

An aluminum mold, including setup and prototype production, can be costly, consuming as much as six weeks from the company’s design cycle before the first part is produced. Worse, if the prototype doesn’t work, a significant design revision can require a new mold and another cycle of waiting. With its ZPrinter 650® 3D printer, A. O. Smith can print multiple prototypes reflecting a wide range of design alternatives in a few hours at a significant cost reduction.

A. O. Smith expected the ZPrinter® to pay for itself quickly, but is happily finding that the return on the ZPrinter investment exceeds even its expectations. "Because we're finding it increasingly valuable as time goes on - and thus are using it more,” stated A. O. Smith CAD Operator, Robert Anest, "it is sure to pay for itself sooner than we thought."

In addition to printing prototypes, A. O. Smith is printing molds for the production of plastic molded parts – again avoiding costly aluminum molds. According to Wood, "To produce prototypes from our own molds, we’re spending less money and time.”

The integration of A. O. Smith's ZPrinter® 650 3D printer has not just been a cost savings. “It’s both a unique and an effective sales tool,” said Wood. “Our customers and partners love them – for one thing, they don’t have to lug around a 200-pound water heater. And we’re getting great feedback from everyone involved.”

Do you have a great success story using 3D Systems 3D printing technology that you’d like to share? Post it here or email me at

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Evangelizing 3D Printing

This week’s blog is by Julie Reece.

I had the great fortune to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) several days ago. I helped staff the 3D Systems Cubify™ booth in the 3D @Home section of the show, where we unveiled the new create-to-make ecosystem and the new Cube™ in-home 3D printer.

As most of you probably know by now, 3D Systems recently acquired Z Corp, and as a former Z Corper I was accustomed to staffing tradeshow booths targeted solely towards product designers, engineers, educators and architects with ZPrinters and ZScanners.

The CES experience really opened my eyes. The booth was absolutely packed during the entire four days of the show. Knowing that the show is geared towards products for the consumer, I expected visitors to be relatively unfamiliar with 3D printing, let alone the idea of 3D printing themselves, at home. And that certainly was true. People were absolutely blown away by the technology. “You made that with this?!” “This was 3D printed?!” I heard repeatedly, invariably followed by “Woah!” and pleasantly surprised laughter – hysterics actually. “But I don’t know how to make things in 3D CAD,” they would say. “No worries,” I replied, “You can simply download or modify (using incredibly intuitive developer-supplied apps) your file and we’ll print it using our cloud print service for you in any of our technologies, or you can purchase a Cube and simply print it in your home.” Followed by more “Woahs” and laughter and discussions with complete strangers standing next to them. They began to excitedly brainstorm all of the ways they could use 3D printing at home, followed by, “When can I buy one?”

If I had any doubts going into this show about whether or not true, in-home consumer 3D printing is here today, they quickly vanished. Last week I read several blog posts from additive manufacturing industry veterans (mostly engineers by training) who assert that consumer 3D printing is still many years away because the average consumer doesn't know how to design in 3D CAD and, even if they did, what would they use it for?  They miss the point of the Cubify ecosystem of which the Cube 3D printer is merely one (albeit nifty) output device. Cubify is the iTunes and Facebook of the 3D printing world.  The consumer doesn't have to know how to design in 3D CAD in order to have the option of printing at home or using the cloud print service. And if they had stood in the Cubify booth with me at CES, they would have heard all of the ways average consumers would use in-home 3D printing.  People I spoke with talked about simply having fun with in-home 3D printing.  They talked about using it as a teaching mechanism for their young children.  They spoke of printing replacement parts for toys and games and of creating customized trinkets and gifts for family and friends. Understandably, industry veterans wouldn't necessarily view the possibilities from the average consumer's perspective, but from I saw first hand, that demand exists today.
What surprised me the most, however, was the huge percentage of product designers and engineers from very large, well-known companies, who visited our booth and were equally blown away by 3D printing. How could it be that they hadn’t heard of or seen 3D printing, let alone not be using it in their product development processes today? Several admitted to seeing our now-famous viral YouTube video*about the ZScanned and ZPrinted functional wrench, but that’s about it. In fact, after visiting our booth for a few minutes, a number of engineers talked about putting a Cube 3D printer on every engineer’s desk at work for basic form prototyping, in addition to the larger, more industrial-strength 3D printers in their companies’ RP shops.
The excitement about 3D printing, and the Cube among our booth visitors was contagious. Cubify is just what the average consumer has needed to enable them to benefit from 3D printing. And, there’s still a large, untapped business market that must be shown that more robust 3D printing technologies can save time and money in their product design and development processes, and ultimately win business.

When and how did you first hear about 3D printing? When did you see your first 3D printer and first 3D printed part?

*The viral version of this video, with 8.7+ million hits was removed from YouTube.