Wednesday, November 30, 2011

3D Printing Saves Lives

Today’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

I recently came across yet another inspiring story about how researchers and students are continually innovating with 3D printing technology in pursuit of life-saving applications. This one comes from The University of California Berkeley where they are using 3D printing to accelerate the evolution of a new medical device that promises to deliver safe, non-invasive angiography.

Called X-space Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI), the technology will let doctors look inside the heart and brain without the dangers of radiation, iodine, guide wires or catheters, according to Patrick Goodwill, University of California Berkeley research associate and developer of both the theory and first X-space MPI scanner. The MPI scanner detects nanoparticles spotlighted by benign iron oxide tracers injected into the bloodstream.

Goodwill and a team of graduate engineering students in the Conolly Labratory use the ZPrinter® 150 to create parts for MPI scanner prototypes that can image small animals. These devices are precursors to human-scale scanners.

“Since we’re building the world’s first MPI scanners, we can’t just buy parts off the shelf,” said Goodwill. “We’re using the ZPrinter to manufacture parts such as transmit coils, receive coils, heated animal beds and even custom components for delivering animal anesthesia. Every scanner we’ve built has incorporated at least two or three ZPrinted parts.”

Graduate Students Print Parts Every Day for Magnetic Particle Imaging Scanner Prototypes, Saving Weeks of Waiting and Thousands of Dollars

Goodwill purchased the ZPrinter after trying Dimension 3D printers, which were expensive –costing up to $1,500 per part in materials – and time consuming, taking as much as 20 hours to make a single part. He found that the ZPrinter creates parts in half the time, at a fraction of the price, and even produces multiple parts in each build cycle. “We can build 30 parts for the price of one,” Goodwill said.

“ZPrinting is the fastest way we can create the parts we need to rapidly iterate our design so we can bring MPI to the general public sooner,” Goodwill said. “We train all our students on SolidWorks® CAD software and have them manufacture their own parts. Now, whenever we have an inspiration, we try it out with a real part. We never have to leave the lab.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a Great Time to Be an Entrepreneur!

This week's blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation's VP of Business Development.

I was invited to give a talk at Northeastern University’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. I have to say, it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.

Most of you are familiar by now with the basic idea that 3D printing is a great way to lower the cost and time required to bring a product to market. Entrepreneurs feel the pressure to bring their products to market faster and at lower cost even more acutely than engineers and designers at other kinds of firms. That is after all the key mandate of the entrepreneur – do it faster, and do it for less. When you are pre-revenue, you have no choice.

Of course, many entrepreneurs do not come from the ranks of engineers and designers. Generally they are unaware of the power of the prototype. They frequently make the mistake of starting with a short run of production parts from a low cost manufacturing environment. Big mistake.

What I found fascinating was the enormous array of tools beyond 3D printers that have evolved to make the lives of entrepreneurs easier. All of them focused on lowering the cost and time required to being a product to market. Professor Tucker Marion from Northeastern University presented an enormous array of tools that are cost effective and incredibly useful to start ups. Everything from low cost project management and collaboration, to sites like Elance and Guru that help you find talent in specific niches, to sourcing vendors catering specifically to the needs of start-ups. An entire economy is growing up to aid those trying to bring new products to market.

One thing I know very specifically: regardless of what government does or doesn’t do, the fastest way to grow ourselves out of the current recession is to unleash the creativity of our people. All these tools, 3D printers included, contribute to the efforts of creative people who are trying to bring new and innovative products to market. It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How Can You Use In-House 3D Printing to Work Smarter, Not Harder?

Today’s guest blog comes from Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.

Last month I was in the UK for TCT Live 2011. During the show I had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Ben White, Sr. Product Design Engineer at Integra Products (UK manufacturer of window dressing solutions) about how Integra uses 3D printing, not only throughout the product design and development process, but also across the organization, to cut their design cycle by weeks and their product costs by thousands, and even ship greener products. Integra uses physical 3D printed models, example, to refine concepts, ensure fit and function, communicate effectively with partners, and quickly create mold patterns.

Integra previously used a service bureau for its prototypes, but they decided to invest in a Z Corp. 3D printer after realizing they could save time, money and rework by making their own prototypes in house versus using a service bureau. Integra now prints as many as 25 models overnight, rather than waiting as long as seven days for prototypes from the service bureau. They reduced prototyping costs by 85 to 90 percent compared to the service bureau’s fees for SLS prototypes.

White says,

“Our ZPrinter saves us time and money at every step. The biggest savings is getting things right before we invest in tooling. Instead of waiting 40 days for tooling and then seeing if we like our samples, our ZPrinter helps us ensure, before the fact, that our products are going to work, fit with adjacent components, and look great. That can eliminate errors that would otherwise cost us thousands of dollars.”

Integra’s use of ZPrinting includes:

Concept modeling – A powerful use of ZPrinting at Integra involves meeting with customers to refine designs and handing them a prototype reflecting the newest input. “Most of our customers haven’t seen this technology and don’t know that it exists,” said White. “It confirms our edge in technology and innovation, and embodies our mission to work smarter, not harder.”

Enhancing Communication Across the Company – ZPrinting’s quick turnaround helps Integra engineers convey information that doesn’t come across in their computer renderings. With 3D printed models, designers, marketers and salespeople can fully grasp the proportions between the finial (decorative pole end) and the curtain pole. ZPrinted models also more effectively depict complex shapes, such as decorative spheres, to manufacturing partners who can’t fully understand the intent from the digital drawings. Similarly, ZPrinting helps Integra designers ensure that seams and joints aren’t visible in the finished product.

Moldmaking – ZPrinting quickly creates molds for the rapid creation of silicon molds and quick patterns for sand casting. These capabilities cut the 10-week development cycle to four weeks.

Sustainability – In addition to saving time, money and errors in development, White’s team is finding ways to cut costs on actual product materials. “ZPrinting has enabled us to reduce material through extensive testing of prototypes,” White said. “As a result, a recently redesigned plastic curtain hook is now stronger and easier to use, while reducing consumer waste by 500 kilograms per year. ZPrinting is helping us to fulfill our responsibility of being a good neighbor while minimizing our carbon footprint.”

Watch video presentation about Integra’s use of 3D printing delivered by Ben White of Integra at TCT Live last month.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Does Your Company Use Creativity to Create Value?

This week's blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

Z Corporation recently adopted a new mission, and the timing couldn’t be better. Z Corp.’s mission is to help our customers Create more – more ideas, more communication, more innovation.

I gave a presentation last week at the Connected Health Symposium in Boston, and it occurred to me that you can read Create more in two ways – with more as an adjective to describe the things a reader might create, or with more as an adverb exhorting the reader to use their creative powers more.

The difference is subtle, but important. A recent IBM study, in which 1500 CEO’s from around the world participated, had some very interesting findings. The first finding was that complexity was most commonly identified as their biggest challenge. The second was that their companies are not well equipped the deal with the complexity they face. The third was that they viewed creativity as the single most important leadership competency for dealing with complexity.

Complexity is the burden of reading more as an adjective. Growth means more new products designed to serve more new markets with more new customers. All of that adds complexity to an organization. Creativity is the opportunity enabled by reading more as an adverb. By using our creative talents and tools more effectively we deliver greater value to our customers, and hopefully reduce complexity.

We’re happy to support both kinds of creators. With the most productive 3D printers in the world, we enable creators who are relentlessly focused on developing lots of new products in hyper-competitive fields. Our low cost of operation also enables a different kind of creator. A creator who may care less about quantity, but wants to try lots and lots of different ideas in order to identify the one that cuts through.

So what kind of creativity does your company value?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Z Corp. and Kodama Studios Bring You “My Robot Nation,” 3D Creation for Everyone

Today’s blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation’s Director of Marketing Communications.
While many invoke the vision of 3D printers in the home, the reality is that until now, the ability to design and print your own creations in 3D has required expert knowledge in 3D CAD software. Mark Danks and Sarah Stocker, game industry veterans and the founders of Kodama Studios, are changing all of that.

Leveraging their unique experience in video game development and the latest browser technologies in HTML5.0 and WebGL, Kodama has put the joy of play into creating in 3D. A featured application on the new Google Chrome Store, provides you with the ability to go online, design and create a personalized robot collectible using a combination of 3D Web graphics and fast, affordable, and multicolor 3D printing.

Virtually anyone, not just experienced designers, can easily design their own personalized 3D robot creation that can then be printed as a high-quality figurine by Offload Studios, in vibrant color, on a Z Corp. 3D printer (ZPrinter). You can choose from more than 9 billion combinations of body shapes, limbs, colors, decals, and attachments. Video. Check out some photos of robots that have been created so far.

In his exclusive CNET article about the beta launch of, Daniel Terdiman includes this quote from Stocker:

“At My Robot Nation, we believe that everyone is creative, and everyone can create – we all just need a fun and easy way to get started. Youtube, Facebook and Twitter show us how creative everyone can be digitally – we’re giving people an amazing new way to bring that creativity into the real world. Robots are only the beginning – the My Robot Nation platform is designed to be flexible and allow for the creation and customization of objects of any type. 3D printing is a revolution in creation and we want everyone to have access to it – now!”

ZPrinters are already being used to create animation characters for Pixar and personalized avatars for World of Warcraft gamers, expanding the creative possibilities for consumers and computer graphics professionals.