Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Myth or Fact? 3D Printing Provides the Answer

If you are like me you and have a natural thirst for knowledge and technology you probably watch TV channels like The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel, Science Channel, History Channel and others. For me, there might be 200 channels, as the saying goes, but there is something on at least some of those channels. I could run down a list of my favorites like Modern Marvels, How it’s Made, Dirty Jobs, and Pitchmen but I’m sure everyone has their own favorites. One that’s been on for a while and I really like is Mythbusters with hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage. In the show, Jamie and Adam use science to either prove or “bust” common myths. They have also been known to blow stuff up which could be another reason I like the show. For example, there is a myth about thieves that drilled a small hole in the top of a safe, filled it with water and used dynamite to blow the safe apart from the inside. According to the myth, the incompressible water would transfer the force of the dynamite to the walls of the safe. Toward the end of the show they reveal whether the myth is plausible or busted. If it’s busted they usually go much further to see what it would take to achieve the desired result. That’s usually when stuff gets blown up.

A few months ago I was watching a new episode. In typical show fashion, Jamie and Adam pursued one myth while co-hosts Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara pursued a different one. If I remember correctly Jamie and Adam were cutting up an old Porche sports car to see if it was more aerodynamic going backwards than forwards. The other segment was about the myth that a car with a surf board on the roof, involved in a head-on collision, would propel the surfboard with enough energy to penetrate the windshield of the second car and kill the driver. The myth was from the movie Lethal Weapon 2. They start out by conducting full scale tests by recreating the crash scene. After making observations they decide to analyze why the board failed to fly straight and hit the target windshield. The full episode can be seen in two parts here: and here: The surfboard myth starts at the 6 minute mark of part one. Kari wants to build a small scale model of the surfboard and bring it for flight analysis in a water tank at NASA. Her first attempt at building the scale model is by hand. She quickly realized that for this test she would need accuracy and turned to CAD and 3D printing.

This segment starts at the 10 minute mark of the part two of the video and includes Kari pulling the miniature surfboard from a ZPrinter 450.

The accuracy of the board is evident in the aerodynamic water tank and it helped prove why the myth was...

I’ll let you watch the episode to see if it was proven or busted!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Unique 3D Printing: Z Corp.’s 3D Printed Parts of the Month

Today’s 3D printing guest blog is by Julie Reece, Z Corporation Director of Marketing Communications.
Each month, one of our star application engineers, Dan Topjian, creates or selects (from one of our partners or customers) a ZPrinted part of the month. These parts are highlighted on our partner and customer portal called ZCentral, where the files are also available for download. I thought you might be interested in seeing some of our recent prototypes of the month.

Functional Pump Sprayer: 3D printed on a ZPrinter 650

Sunglasses: ZPrinted on a ZPrinter 650

Bike Seat: Model created in T-Splines for Rhino by Juan Santocono, T-Splines, Inc.3D Printed on a ZPrinter 650

Rings: ZPrinted on a ZPrinter 650

Soap Bubble Toy: 3D printed on a ZPrinter 650

Karling Clutch: Model provided by Solidmakarna, created by Karling Racing AB, printed on a ZPrinter 650

Plug: 3D printed on a ZPrinter 650

Sauna House: 3D printed model provided by Juha Savisalo, Finland, ZPrinted on a ZPrinter 650

Functional Lamp: 3D Printed on a ZPrinter 650

Rider Helmet: Model provided by Russ Ogi of RAPID Technology LLC, ZPrinted on ZPrinter 310

Functional Pen: ZPrinted on a ZPrinter 650

Do you have ZPrinted parts you’d like to have highlighted on the ZBlog? Submit your photos to me at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Needs to Happen Before There’s a 3D Printer in Every Home?

Today's guest blog is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

It seems like the 3D printing industry has more buzz now than it ever has. Recent articles in the New York Times, the Economist etc., have all touted a brilliant future for 3D printing. Respected technology thinktank, The Gartner Group, publishes an annual Hype Cycle chart.

The chart describes expectations of different technologies over time. In the Gartner 2010 Hype Cycle chart, 3D printing appears to moving into the area known as ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations.’ Gartner notes that a relatively small group of users are already getting great value from 3D printing.

For participants in the industry, manufacturers, service bureaus and users alike, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what the future really looks like. Will 3D printers exist in every home? Will manufacturing plants ultimately move from large centralized facilities to your basement? Perhaps more importantly, what will it take to get to that future?

Many people compare the early days of personal computers to the current state of 3D printing. The price points are similar, self assembly is in many cases required, and the early adopters certainly share a creative spirit and a techy bent. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that like personal computers, 3D printers will follow a similar path to mass adoption.

I’m an optimist, and I wouldn’t work in this industry if I didn’t think ‘everyone’ would use 3D printers at some point. So the question is not whether 3D printing will ever reach broad adoption, but rather ‘when, why, and how?’

In general, I think there are a few key factors that are likely to determine how quickly 3D printing achieves broad adoption. They include price, part quality, 3D CAD adoption, and the emergence of new applications. Unlike many in the industry, I’m 100% convinced that price is not the key driver. Price will have to come down, but low price alone will not be close to sufficient. Is a low cost 3D printer the path to broad adoption, or a highly capable system that makes great parts and is operated as a service?

What’s on your list? What are the key events, applications, enabling technologies likely to drive broad adoption of 3D printing?

We’ll go into some more detail on these ideas and others based on your feedback over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Restoring My Grandfather's Lamp

I remember my grandfather as a jack-of-all-trades and an engineer of sorts. I’m not sure if he ever earned a degree in engineering but he was one of the most technically competent people I have ever known. He was a pioneer in thermoforming GE’s new “Lexan” (polycarbonate) in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I remember when I was a child in the early 70’s, going with him to Sweetheart Plastics where he was an innovation and technical troubleshooting consultant. Around that same time he tinkered with a window box solar heater and designing and fabricating plastic injection molds.

Years later, after he passed away, my mother handed me a bag of stuff. One of the things in the bag was an old broken lamp that was from my grandparents' house. It used to sit on a corner table in their den. I remember it well because, as far as lamps go, it was the kind a young boy might be interested in - dark brown, bronze, and black with an etching of a colonial era sailing ship. The ship was back lit with a low wattage bulb that gave it a soft glow. I recall flipping the switch so that first the back light clicked on, another click and the back light went off and the main light under the shade went on. One more click turned both lights on.

What I never fully appreciated was that my grandfather built the lamp himself. Long before I can remember he must have come across the copper etching used for making prints of the ship. Somehow he came up with the idea to turn the copper plate into a lamp. Copper etchings are sometimes attached to cylindrical drums, coated with ink, and rolled across paper to transpose the image. It is likely that the copper plate was cylindrical when he found it. From there, the construction was fairly simple, two pieces of turned wood for the top and bottom, a standard lamp kit, and some sort of fake wood patterned plastic strip to close the back side of the copper plate.

By now you are probably wondering what this story has to do with 3D printing. As it turns out, when the lamp was given to me it was in pieces because over years of use the internal lamp melted the fake wood plastic strip enough so that the spring force of the copper plate broke everything apart. It seemed a simple enough fix. I’d have to find a new plastic strip to rejoin the ends of the copper plate, tighten up all of the parts, replace the blown bulbs and buy a new lamp shade.

As with most things, it wasn’t quite that easy. I never paid any attention to the cheap plastic wood looking strip because it was always in the back, facing the wall. It didn’t detract from the lamp’s attractiveness at all. Now, it became the biggest challenge to putting the lamp back together. After a few trips to various hardware stores and home improvement warehouses, I realized that this simple looking part wasn’t going to be easy to find. To this day I have no idea what the actual purpose of it was because I never found anything like it. It never really matched the colors of the rest of the lamp and the assembly required wood shims in order to match the thickness of the copper plate, so it didn’t take long for me to shift gears and consider a better solution.

The picture above on the left shows the fake wood plastic strip. In the picture on the right, you can see the wood shims used to match the copper plate thickness. You can also see the melted plastic toward the bottom. Also note how thin the web is between the two edges of the copper plate. Ideally, this part would be a bit smaller, not require shims, and match the dark brown and black colors of the plate.

I knew that creating the right profile in SolidWorks would be a snap. I was also sure that I could find a texture map that matched the colors better. If not, I knew I could apply a dark brown or black color to the part before printing. I created two different profiles in SolidWorks. I exported them as .stl files. I opened these files in ZPrint and applied several texture maps to them using ZEdit. I put all of the parts into one build file and printed it on a ZPrinter 650.

The picture on the left is the profile and color option I used. The one on the right has a wood grain but the color was too light to be a good match. This part measures 3/8” wide by 8” long. The slot is 0.040” and the center web is 0.060”

I can’t say that I was surprised, but I was very happy that the assembly went together the first time without any issues at all. The most difficult thing was finding a new lamp socket to control both lamps separately. They aren’t rare, but not all hardware stores carry them. Without the ZPrinter 650, I would have been at a loss as to how to fix that lamp. I could have machined a piece of aluminum, purchased an SLA (although I’m not sure the material properties would have been sufficient), or I might have been able to fabricate a piece of real wood. I would have had to paint the aluminum and SLA parts and stained the wood. There are other methods, but to me ZPrinting the part seemed like the best option. I think my grandfather would be pleased. Here are the pictures. You be the judge.

The first picture shows the edge of the copper plate inserted in the slot of the new ZPrinted part. In this picture you can see the natural curvature of the plate forms a half cylinder. This is an indication of the spring force when forming a full cylinder. The second picture shows the ZPrinted part holding both edges of the plate.

The first picture shows the ship backlight on only. The second picture show both backlight and main light on.

The last two pictures show the lamp from behind. Compare these to the first picture in this blog. With the new ZPrinted part, the lamp is no longer relegated to the corner of the room.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Can You Teach Innovation?

Today's guest post is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development.

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”
-President Obama
 State of the Union, Jan. 25, 2011

For years, leaders across business, government and education have expressed increasing concern about America’s continued decline in fields like engineering and manufacturing. Student performance continues to lag other developed nations, especially in math, science and engineering fields. Companies continue to ship engineering and manufacturing jobs overseas. Government efforts to counteract these trends do not appear to be working.

Everyone seems to agree that there’s a problem. Everyone seems to be trying to solve it, but for some reason we continue to lose ground in critical innovation competencies like engineering and manufacturing. Why? Because Thomas Edison was right. He said:

“None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

Trial after Trial. 99% Perspiration. Real innovation is hard. Engineering is hard. Math is hard. Science is hard. It’s no wonder kids don’t like learning these subjects. They see all the trial and hard work, but don’t get to experience the joy of innovation, the inspirational aspects until much later.

Z Corp. developed a basic curriculum of materials that will help students derive the most educational benefit from their ZPrinters. The curriculum is oriented around the National Science Education Standards for Technological Design as developed by the National Research Council. The members of the National Research Council are drawn from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

In the hands of great teachers, Z Corporation 3D printers and the accompanying curricula provide the kinds of inspirational experiences that motivate students to explore tough subjects like engineering and architecture. Low cost, easy to use 3D printers in the classroom help kids experience the joy of making things, the thrill that comes from creating something that works. With 3D printers, kids can experience engineering and architectural design all the way through to the physical solution they designed. They’re not simulating. They’re not pretending. They’re not looking at someone else’s work. They’re creating.

“Showing off their innovations in the trophy case is a point of pride for SITHS students and keeps them inspired to continually improve their work.”
-Frank Mazza, Instructor, Staten Island Technical High School

“When students hold parts in their hands, they’re closing the loop. Until then, it’s all conceptual, virtual and 2D. Completing the circle is important. It turns kids on.”
-Bruce Weirich, Instructor, Ontario High School, Mansfield, OH

Innovation, invention, and engineering may be 99% Perspiration, but if we can help kids experience the 1% Inspiration, the joy of creating, maybe we can get back to out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world.