Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is 3D Scanning Entering the Consumer Market?

Guest post by Scott Harmon, Z Corp. VP Business Development.

One of Z Corporation’s strengths is that the our technology is based on highly reliable, mass manufactured consumer technology, specifically HP print heads. You would have to be hiding under a rock not to notice that a number of 3D technologies are entering the consumer space. 3D TV’s and movie screens are wide spread, and much has been made of 3D printing kits. But what about 3D scanning? It appears that the time has come.

Many of you have probably heard of Microsoft’s new Kinect. Kinect is a game controller for Xbox, or perhaps the replacement for a game controller. Fundamentally, Kinect can see what you are doing, and it uses your body motion as the interface to games. Technically, Kinect consists of an infrared chip that projects images on a surface and reads them back to determine 3D shape. It also has a camera for capturing color. If you put these together you get a device that can capture color 3D data - for just $150 (USD).

Clearly the data resolution and quality are not going to be anything near what you get with a professional-quality 3D scanner, but at $150, there are going to be a lot more people able to create 3D data very soon. The first hackers have already adapted the Kinect to work on a regular computer and generate 3D data. You can see an example of this at

If you know someone who’s creating 3D data using the Kinect, let us know; we’d be happy to make a full color 3D ZPrinted model from the Kinnect data!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Physical and Digital Prototyping Belong Together

Guest post by Julie Reece, Z Corp.'s Director of Marketing Communications.

Makers of 3D CAD software for digital prototyping sometimes claim that their systems eliminate the need for physical prototypes. However, physical and digital prototyping complement one another. Both should become an integral part of your product-development processes.

In fact, physical prototypes are much in use today because they are essential to creating great designs. Thanks to the speed of 3D printing systems, innovative product developers use more physical prototypes than they did when each prototype was hand crafted, and combine them with digital prototypes to accelerate design.

Digital prototyping tools allow detailed 3D models to be conceived and changed quickly. But computer graphics is no substitute for reality. When combined with additive manufacturing technologies, physical prototypes can be made from digital models quickly and with much less labor than was traditionally required.

Deciding when and how to use physical prototypes in addition to digital prototypes requires knowledge of both digital and physical prototyping methods. Engineering executives and managers need not become additive manufacturing experts. However, they or their designated staff members should familiarize themselves with the various physical prototyping system capabilities, materials, costs, building speeds, and accuracies. With this information, managers will have rational bases for deciding if and when making a physical prototype is more cost effective than analyzing or simulating product behavior with digital prototypes.

Whether you are evaluating physical prototyping technologies in order to purchase a system for your company or employ a service, keep these points in mind:

1. Faster systems with higher throughput to produce multiple models simultaneously are desirable for iterative, conceptual prototypes or visual prototypes that support detailed design, manufacturing engineering, or marketing.

2. If you plan to make many prototypes, low material costs may be more important than buying a low-priced system.

3. Color systems eliminate the need for painting and finishing.

4. Strong but flexible materials may be needed for evaluating snap fits.

5. Some technologies are well suited to making patterns for metal castings while others are not.

6. Higher-strength materials may be necessary for physical testing.

7. Systems with fine surface finish may be required for working prototypes or final advertising shots, but can take longer to produce.

Companies that make wise choices about both digital and physical prototyping technologies will have competitive advantages compared with companies that don’t. The effective combination of both CAD and engineering software with 3D printing and rapid prototyping assures that your company will deliver products that are desirable, affordable, reliable, and safe.

Excerpt of a white paper entitled, “Physical and Digital Prototyping Belong Together,” by L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E.  Read the full white paper.

L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E. is a professional mechanical engineer based in San Diego, California. For more than 20 years, he published the newsletters Computer Aided Design Report, Rapid Prototyping Report, and Product Data Management Report as well as books on these topics. These publications filled the role of Consumer Reports for engineers seeking objective information about product-development technologies. He currently assists buyers of CAD/CAM, CAE, PDM, and rapid prototyping systems with defining their requirements, conducting independent research, identifying and negotiating with suppliers, and implementing new methods efficiently.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Engineering Challenge

This week I’m going to write a teaser. Stay tuned for results, pictures, and with luck (edited) video. What happens when a Z Corp. design engineer starts talking about model rockets with other design engineers? Before you know it, custom designed rockets begin to emerge from ZPrinters®! Rockets are not something I spend a lot of time thinking about but the image that comes to mind are of the NASA Mercury and Apollo rockets. They have a nose cone on top of a long cylinder and maybe a set of fins at the bottom. There were a few of those and a few that you would think had no business launching off a pad at a thrust of 10 – 30 Newton. This activity pushed limits of rocket design as well as 3DP capabilities. Simple cylindrical rockets were produced with average wall thicknesses of .025” in order to keep the weight down. More creative designs placed the rocket motor closer to the top instead of at the bottom. Another can be most easily described as a skeletal design having no skin or shell whatsoever.

Challenges like this one help our engineers more fully understand the limits and capabilities of our 3DP technology. They provide a creative environment that fosters problem solving and innovation.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Iterative Design - As Easy As 1, 2, 3D Print

This week’s guest post is by Leo Kiefer, Z Corporation Mechanical Engineer

I found a good definition on the other day:

Iterative design is a design methodology based on a cyclic process of prototyping, testing, analyzing, and refining a product or process.

This could not have described my recent design exercise better.

In an effort to minimize the number of molded parts on a particular 3D printer, I was tasked with the redesign of one of the service stations used in this printer. During the printing process, powder and binder gradually build up on the face of the print head. The role of this particular station is to keep print heads clean by periodically “servicing” or removing the build-up. It is a simple, yet important, process that requires the print head assembly to push down on a spring-loaded cam, set the correct height, and then slide along the cam to perform the proper cleaning procedure.

I was able to consolidate the design into a single injection molded part. I wanted to print a prototype to ensure the design was correct before investing in a molding tool. Due to some design limitations for molding, I was not able to achieve a tight interface between this base part and my cam part. This caused the parts to bind, and not return to their original position in certain scenarios.

Figure 1 - Original model - Shown exhibiting the racking problem and without the rubber wiper.

After some testing and analyzing the cam action, I decided to change the interface to a 2-post and 2-collar design. Essentially the posts would act as guides for 2 collars on the cam part. Since I no longer had to deal with tooling shut-offs in the interface areas, I was able to minimize the draft angles and reduce the amount of clearance between the parts. I retained the single base part requirement, but had to add 2 plastic screws in exchange.

So I printed another model on our ZPrinter® 650. The new iteration did achieve a slight performance increase, but not enough. So, back to the drawing board. I decided to move the bosses further apart, assuming that wider is better, and quickly made yet another 3D printed model. This time I almost had it, but I wanted to make a small tweak in order to get it to be 100% perfect. The binding was completely eliminated in the back to forth direction, yet it still caused problems left to right. Instead of increasing the clearance between my boss and sleeve, I decided to make the holes slightly oval in the left to right direction. Another 3D printed model fresh from the printer proved to have all the requirements I was looking for.

Figure 2 – Cross-sectioned SolidWorks CAD model of final assembly

Admittedly CAD software is a good tool for getting parts to fit together, but when it comes to moving components, nothing beats a good physical prototype. The whole design process could have taken a single day if that was all I was working on, but I was able to cut considerable time off the design process by 3D printing models along the way, versus machining the prototypes. With the help of a ZPrinter, the Iterative Design process is a fast and extremely useful tool in any designer’s bag of tricks.

Figure 3 – Iterative Design summarized in one image

CAD Software: SolidWorks 2010
Printed On: ZPrinter® 650 using zp150 powder
Print Job: 432 layers, approx 2.5hrs