Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Does 3D Printing Have To Do With Sustainability?

This week’s guest blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation Vice President of Business Development.

Over the last several years there has been a global push to improve sustainability. Sustainability in general seems like a pretty complex topic. It seems to combine efficiency, environmentalism, renewable energy, recyclability, etc., etc. I think back to my days camping as a kid. The motto was ‘leave it better than you found it.’

Rapid prototyping in general makes strong contributions to corporate sustainability. Reducing waste represents one of the key objectives of most sustainability efforts. Smart companies are doing everything possible to reduce the amount of waste material generated throughout their supply chains. Improving quality, reducing packaging and miniaturization are all methods that companies use to reduce the waste they generate. Interestingly, architectural designers have created specific certifications to improve how architects approach challenges in sustainability.

Intelligent use of 3D printers to make prototypes and scale models reduces waste in many different ways. By pushing errors and changes earlier in the design cycle, prototypes and scale models reduce the waste streams caused by those errors. When you catch an error in the prototype, you cut less steel and waste less plastic. In architecture for example, the savings are even more dramatic because the scale is so large. When you use prototypes and models to create better designs, you reduce the number of final products that get thrown in the trash.

However, despite the positive contributions that rapid prototyping systems make to corporate sustainability efforts, there are enormous differences in the waste streams created by these processes. I have heard stories of companies whose RP systems generate more waste than printed part material, at enormous dollar costs. Support material, shaving uneven surfaces, dissolving chemicals, etc. contribute substantially to the total cost of prototyping. These systems generate significantly larger hidden costs as those waste streams get flushed down the drain.

Z Corporation obviously prides itself on having the most efficient 3D printers in the industry: no support structures, no cleaning material disposal, no disposable build platforms, no chemical waste water, recycles 100% of the build material. Less waste today, better world tomorrow.

Is your company is starting to think about a more sustainable design process?

See Al Dean's Develop3D blog: Z Corp's Recycling Smarts

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Engineering Challenge Part II - 3D Printed Rockets

A few months ago I wrote about an extracurricular rocket design activity that a number of Z Corp. R&D team members took part in. I finally had a chance to sit down and write the update which is timely given that Apollo 13 heroes Gene Kranz (Mission Control Director) and Jim Lovell (Astronaut) recently took the stage at SolidWorks World 2011 to tell their story of that famous NASA mission.

Many lessons were learned during our Z Corp. rocket design project. One of which is that just because you can print it doesn’t mean it will fly straight, or in some cases, fly at all. On the other hand, a surprising number of unconventional rockets did fly, and few straight. An oversimplification of designing a rocket for stable flight is that the center of gravity must be above the center of pressure or the central point of aerodynamic forces on the rocket. In other words, the cg should be closer to the nose and the cp closer to the tail. When designing rockets with crazy geometries, figuring out if it will have stable flight is pretty straight forward and relatively quick. By tying a string at the center of gravity and swinging the model around, the rocket will flies nose cone first if the cg – cp relationship is correct. If not, an adjusted model can be quickly 3D printed on a ZPrinter and tested in the same manner until stability is achieved.

Here are some photos of the rockets we designed, 3D printed on a Z Corp. ZPrinter:

Surprisingly, some of the designs above that look like they should not fly actually do, and some of the designs that look like they should fly don’t. Then again, the opposite is also true in that some of the designs that look like they have no business flying live up to their expectation. What is noteworthy is the number of rocket designs that went from design to test flight in a very short amount of time due to the ZPrinter's incredibly fast speed.

These two videos represent the extremes of success and failure:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pixar Brings Digitized Characters to Life with 3D Printing

In a blog last year I mentioned how Pixar created a Zeotrope of Toy Story characters printed on a Z Corp. Spectrum Z510 3D printer. Although this was not the first Z Corp. color printer, it was the first 3D printer with truly amazing color quality.

A recent Time Compression blog reminded me about one of the exclusively unique capabilities of 3D printing, and more specifically, color 3D printing. In my blog last year I wrote that Toy Story characters were “trapped” inside the digital world. The only way to release them into the real world is to 3D print them. To be clear this is not the only way. After all, you can buy a character doll at most toy stores. What I mean is that color 3D printing is the only way to reproduce exactly what the creator intended, right down to the last crease of an eyebrow or the exact cow skin pattern on Jessie’s chaps because 3D printing uses the data directly from the digital character.

Photo Credits  Woody, Jessie and Spanish Buzz, all 3D printed from original data on Pixar's ZPrinter.
Photo Credits Lotso 3D printed from original data on Pixar's ZPrinter.
A similar example is video games, such as World of Warcraft, where not only are the characters locked in cyberspace, they are also unique to each player. It is hard to imagine any other way to bring a character to life than through 3D printing. Check out to see some of these amazing ZPrints.

For a typical design process where the intended result is a physical object, 3D printing is often used to create prototypes. In the examples above, the final product is not intended to be a physical object, but is intended to remain digitized. 3D printing is a way to bring them to life. I wonder how many other examples exist where 3D data is the intended final product yet can be brought to life by 3D printing.

Video of the Zeotrope in action.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

MCAD and 3D Printing as a Sales Tool

This week's guest post is from John Kawola, Z Corporation CEO.
I had the pleasure of attending SolidWorks World 2011 last week in San Antonio. I have attended many of these events in past years and SolidWorks always does a great job in providing a complete agenda for engineers and designers to learn new skills, learn from other users and share ideas. As usual, the first day kickoff included an introduction by SolidWorks management. As many have heard, there have been changes at the top at SolidWorks. Congratulations to Jeff Ray for his new position within Dassault Systemes and Betrand Sicot for his new role as SolidWorks CEO.
In that first day session, Dassault CEO Bernard Charles and Jeremy Luchini from SolidWorks previewed a new technology called “Post-3D.” In the demonstration, they showed the power of using 3D data as a sales tool. For complex products, ones that don’t transport well and/or ones where some type of product demo is key to sales success, this concept can prove invaluable. They simulated a sales process, presenting a product called “CAD-Chair” in a virtual environment to a sales prospect in China. They were able to describe the product and outline features and benefits. But, most importantly, they were allowing the prospect the chance to “experience” the product. Impressive.
SolidWorks CAD-Chair

So, this brings me to the use of 3D printed parts as sales tools. Historically, prototypes and 3D printed parts have been primarily used by engineers, testing designs and checking form, fit and function. However, the number of use occasions and applications for printed parts is rapidly expanding into the customer-facing, sales environment. Z Corporation has numerous customers using the technology in this way.  Here are just a few examples:

Spirax Sarco: Leader in steam-related products and services
Spirax Sarco ZPrinted model

-Sales models of 1,000 lb. products reduce time, shipping, labor at tradeshows
-Sales staff is able to bring models of large products on sales calls
-3D printed model of a heat exchanger helped seal $600,000 sale, beating companies with only 2D drawings

Continental Tire: Largest tire maker in Germany, and fourth largest in the world
Continental Tire ZPrinted models

-Generated new revenue by putting early prototypes into hands of sales force
-Helped close sales on existing products because salesmen had physical models to help communicate product advantages to customers in sales meetings

Converse, Inc: A wholly-owned subsidiary of NIKE, Inc. offering men’s and women’s footwear and apparel
Converse ZPrinted model

-Among many other uses for 3D printing, Converse uses ZPrinted models to visualize design ideas with sponsored athletes in order to sign top athletes as sponsors

OBM International: highly prestigious design-consulting firm specializing in master planning and architecture for luxury hotels, resorts and mixed-use developments globally
OBM International ZPrinted model

-Dramatic 3D printed models make a deeper impact on prospective clients than 2D renderings or computer animations
-3D printing is galvanizing OBMI’s long-standing reputation as a leader in the global architecture community
-The 3D printer’s positive impact on securing business and minimizing redesign makes it a “bargain”

Gilberts: Gilberts, 16 person architectural practice

Gilberts ZPrinted models

-ZPrinted models improve the quality of proposals being produced which has a positive impact on business won
-3D printed models enhance the understanding of proposals and improve public perception of proposals
-Organizations presented with high quality 3D printed models appreciate the effort put in, hence subconscious reception is improved

These uses have been enabled by the rapid improvement in performance, ease of use, cost and full color capability. While virtual environments like “Post-3D” may prove to be powerful for some sales processes, it can be argued that the ultimate virtual experience is actually holding the product or part in your “real” hand.

There's nothing like holding a 3D printed model in your "real" hand

Related Resources
To learn more about how digital and physical prototyping work best together in specific applications, including sales and marketing, I highly recommend a white paper by By L. Stephen Wolfe, P.E. called, “Physical and Digital Prototyping Belong Together.”

If you’d like to learn more about other departments and applications within an organization where 3D printing can be used for strategic advantage, see this free Webcast called “3D Printing Across the Organization.”