Friday, July 15, 2011

Product Replicator: Real or Fake?

This week’s guest blog is by Joe Titlow, VP of Product Management, Z Corporation.

(New note as of October 20, 2011:  the viral link was recently removed from YouTube.  New link to view the video.)
Recently, a video of a National Geographic TV-produced program featuring Z Corporation titled, Known Universe, went viral on YouTube, with over 6.8+ million views. The video has generated loads great discussion and there have been hundreds of comments in support of Z Corp’s unique 3D printing and 3D scanning technologies. Because this has been the first time so many people have been introduced to our technology, there also appear to be some skeptics. There were some comments professing the technology to be a fake and even insinuating that the video was meant to deceive the viewing public.

As a Z Corp employee and the person who appeared in the video, I can assure you that this video and technology is most certainly NOT faked. I’d like to point out a few details to help set the record straight:
  1. First, it’s important to clarify that National Geographic approached Z Corp about creating the video for their Known Universe program. The premise of the story was to look to the future and provide a vision about the types of technologies available today that might evolve in the future and enable astronauts to create tools in space. National Geographic produced and edited the video - Z Corp was not involved in the editing or review and approval of the final video.
  2. As many people pointed out, the 3D printed wrench is slightly different from the one we scanned. The differences between the original wrench and the printed one were done intentionally to demonstrate that once scanned, geometry can be digitally edited and then printed. This is typically done in software packages like Geomagic and Rapidform or even in CAD packages like Solidworks. Our customers will typically add, remove or edit features of the design before printing (check out the other videos on our website or on YouTube). In the interest of time, the editors cut the explanation about digital editing from the final video. See Rapidform's video response:
  3. It is also correct that our ZScanner cannot scan the internal details of the wrench. It is a laser based scanner that can only capture surface information within line of sight. Details like the ends of the worm screw in the wrench are created digitally between scanning and printing as one of the edits mentioned above. The scanner captures everything that can be seen and then someone using editing software adds the details that are hidden. (Alternatively, one could separate the pieces and scan them separately.)
  4. Obtaining a near-exact replica of an object is entirely possible even though that was not shown in the video. For example, our ZScanners have an XY accuracy ranging from up to 40 microns for our high-end scanner to up to 80 microns for our entry-level scanner. The resolution ranges from .050 mm in XYZ for our high-end scanner to .1 mm in Z for our entry-level scanner. In fact, our scanner customers are using our scanners for inspection applications where accuracy is mission critical, as well as reverse engineering and other applications (see Mackay Consolidated inspection case study).
  5. As most readers of this blog already know, ZPrinting and ZScanning technologies are real and used today by well-known customers worldwide for a variety of applications, including mechanical design, architecture, education, entertainment, geospatial, healthcare and many more. See our Z Corp case studies and customer press releases.
I invite you to come see the technology in action for yourselves. We’ll be at the following public events, where you can find our ZPrinting and ZScanning systems in action.

Hear and see from our customers in their own words how they’re using the technologies today:

Or, we’ll set up time for you to have a demo here at our headquarters in Boston or at one of our local Z Corp Authorized Dealers.

I personally believe National Geographic did a great job packing a lot of technical content into just a few minutes of air time, while making it entertaining at the same time. Our thanks goes out to them and everyone that helped spread the word.


  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.

    Software Product Development

  2. I'm a little confused on how this would work in space...
    How can you use a powder like substance with no gravity?

  3. Hi bcarl-

    Good point, I didn't address the issue about this technology working in space. Basically, I could see several ways that this could work, but at this point, we have not solved this engineering challenge. There are simulated gravity and low gravity enviornments in which the technology might work, or the process could be reengineered to work in zero gravity.

    Basically, at this point we have not yet had to tackle this challenge, so our current products may or may not work as is. Once we have the real need for this application, I'm confident our engineers could come up with some ways to get this to work in space...

  4. Hi

    There have been a number of Zero gravity trials with other Additive technologies by NASA and other agencies over the years. An early FDM machine was put on the vomit-commet a number of years ago. No problem in Zero G, but could be an issue in a vacuum.

    Nasa has taken this further to develop their own process for producing metal parts in zero gravity and a vacuum. This uses a wire fed into an electron beam. They are trying to find commercial licence partners. Interestingly with this tech it would be possible to make the wrench in a useful material such as titanium. The European space agency (ESA) and companies such as Monolite (Dshape) have looked at how to use 3DP techniques to build habitats (housing) in space. Take a look at contor crafting to get a better idea.

    Bacially, this looks like journalists squeezing the facts into fiction and missing out the stuff (facts) that really could make a difference.

  5. Hi Phil, Yes, NASA is also a Z Corp customer. I think it's important to remember that the National Geographic segment was a forward-looking video to their broad audience meant to envision how today's technology might be used by astonauts in the future, rather than today. Today, ZScanning and ZPrinting technology are widely used worldwide here on Earth.

  6. Rachel Park, author of the notable RPES Blog, which focuses predominantly on Additive Technologies and 3D Printing for prototyping and manufacturing applications posted a must-read blog about this topic today:

  7. This Rapidform technical video shows how a functioning wrench is made from 3D data for ZPrinting

  8. Also relaed read: Snopes blog; 3D printer, true or false:

  9. The starting point of the story to look to the future and provide a vision about the types of technologies available today, which may develop in the future, and to enable astronauts to create tools in space. Produced by National Geographic.

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  11. Joe, I totally agree, I think it is possible, in fact I recall reading early reports saying that zero-g printing processes are cleaner. It is really about heat dissipation when you are talking about abs or pla plastic printing, but with meta-materials new technology is going to need to be invented.

  12. Best regards with thanks for share with me. National Geographic approached Z Corp about creating the video for their Known Universe program.

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