Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Winter Lights

I thought this was an appropriate topic for the long dark days of winter. Sara Freed is one of our talented Mechanical Engineers who created the following blog about a pet project entitled Winter Lights. Projects such as this provide critical insight to design engineers about how our printers function and their capabilities in order to enhance future products.

Putting color on surfaces unreachable with paint is a snap for a 3D printer. Inspired by glass lampshades, I designed thin-walled parts with color on hidden surfaces. I wanted the parts to look white in daylight but glow with color when lit from within. I made votive candle holders with hollow sides, figuring I could put LEDs inside instead of candles. I modeled them in SolidWorks®, playing with sweeps and shells. I printed several iterations on a ZPrinter® 650 before I was satisfied.

Infiltration makes powder somewhat translucent, so color shows through thin walls. To achieve a white exterior, the walls need to be thicker than the color shell generated by ZPrint®. I found that walls of 1.3 mm (.050 in) were too thick for translucence and settled on a thickness of 0.8 mm (.031 in). I colored the parts directly in the solid modeling software. This allowed me to export to a VRML file rather than an STL. The VRML export produced smaller facets, which made the blob-like shapes smoother. I printed with a custom powder type consisting of zp150 at 120% saturation. This made it easier to depowder the bowl-like parts without sinking my thumb through the shelled-out walls when they were still green and heavy with powder. Bleed compensation was selected along with the default layer thickness of 0.1 mm (.004 in).

The parts were most translucent when infiltrated with Z-Max™ 90, but then the color was so visible that white and colored surfaces looked similar. I preferred the snowy, candy-like appearance of uncolored powder on the exterior produced by putting pastel color on the shell interior and infiltrating with Z-Bond™ 90. Most of my coworkers preferred more intense colors and Z-Max™ 90 infiltration. I missed my initial aim of hidden color, but I did get some fun parts that glow on my foray into extreme color 3D printing.

Figure 1. Infiltration makes the color inside visible, even through a 1.1 mm (.045 in) wall.
Figure 2.  Z-Bond 90 (left) gives a frostier look than Z-Max 90 (right) in these 1.1 mm (.045 in) wall parts.
Figure 3.  Thinner-walled parts (0.8 mm or .031 in) glow more, but the effect of a white exterior is almost lost.
Click here to download the files and give it a try!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is a Desktop, Sub-$5K 3D Printer Necessarily a Consumer 3D Printer?

What’s the difference between a consumer 3D printer and a commercial desktop printer? And furthermore, what’s the difference between a desktop printer and a low-cost 3D printer? One more question might be what does a 3D printer have to cost to be considered low cost?

A few blogs ago I raised the question: How far-fetched is consumer 3D printing? The majority of response was that consumer 3D printing is probably a ways off. Some, however, took my blog to mean that desktop and low-cost printers are far out in the future as well. Since there are currently sub-$5,000 printers on the market (low cost) and several that fit quite nicely on a desktop, I believe that my previous blog posting on the subject was misunderstood.

So I ask the question: Is a desktop 3D printer a consumer printer? Is a sub-$5,000 3D printer a consumer printer? My option is that while both criteria might be necessary for a consumer product, neither makes it so. A consumer 3D printer is one purchased and used for, well, consumer use. The assumption is that a homeowner, for instance, would purchase the 3D printer and use it for printing whatever they might have a need for. On the other hand, a commercial 3D printer could be low cost, desktop, or both. So, if low-cost desktop printers are not slated for the average consumer in the next few years, at least not in 2011, who are they for?

One of the debates today is about the part quality and resolution produced by the very low cost offerings on the market. Is this quality good enough for commercial use? I would argue that in some industries and for some applications it might be. But higher resolution, surface finish, accuracy, etc… are more useful to more designers in far more applications. While the current low-cost devices might be suitable for limited applications, a high-quality low-cost printer would make the technology more accessible to a much greater number of designers, engineers, architects, and other professionals.

That leaves the last question. What price does a fully featured 3D printer have to be in order to be called low cost?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 Top Ten 3D Printing Predictions

Happy New Year everyone! It is the time when many of us are trying furiously to start that New Year’s resolution, some news outlets are capping off the old year with their top 10 lists, and still others are making their predictions for events and happenings for the new year. Here are mine:


- I resolve to write more interesting and engaging blogs in 2011

Top Ten (in no particular order)

- Introduction of Z Corp. MCAD and AEC blogs
- Z Builder Ultra product launch

- Slow climb back from global economic crisis

- LeBron James “The Decision” on live TV (did anyone really care?)

- Flying car goes into production (Terrafugia)

- ZScanner 700 CX wins 2010 Golden Mousetrap Best Product Award

- iPad

- 3D Bioprinter

- ZPrinted model helps visually impaired couple “visualize” their new home on TV’s Extreme Home Makeover

- ZPrinting helps JPAC identify POW/MIA remains

- 3D printing growth rate will return to 2007/08 levels as the industry emerges from the depths of the global economic crises. One of the primary drivers for all 3D printing is to increase speed, improve communication, and reduce cost in the product development cycle. For many industries, the need to cut expenses came at the cost of fewer new product development activities. As economic conditions improve this trend will begin to reverse. Smart companies will look to increase output from development activities while at the same time reducing cost. 3D printing is poised to be a significant part of that equation.

- 3D printing will be used in at least one completely unique application that nobody is currently thinking about. In 2005 Pixar used the Spectrum Z™ 510 to create a zoetrope of Toy Story characters. In 2010 Moody Nolan Architects created a model for TV’s Extreme Home Makeover to help a visually impaired couple “visualize” their new home. If you think long and hard enough you can imagine 3D printing being used for these purposes but for most, until you see them in practice, you wouldn’t know it was coming. In 2011 there will be a number of new and unique applications for 3D printing but one will stand out above all others.

I would like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2011.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

10 Uses for Color 3D Printing

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

1. Design and engineering labels

2. Texture Mapping

3. Finite Element Analysis (FEA)

4. Realistic design prototypes

5. Distinguish parts of an assembly

6. Distinguish anatomical parts

7. Marketing

Sales presentations

9. Packaging

10. Art and entertainment

Do you have additional uses for color 3D printing?  Let us know and send us photos of your multicolor ZPrinted models.