Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Create More...Ideas: Kamen Rider CRD Buckle

In his blog posting last week, Z Corp. CEO John Kawola outlined Z Corp.'s "Create more" vision for continuous innovation. Our next few blogs will feature real customers who are creating more with 3D printing.  Today's guest blog is from Russ Ogi, Chief Operating Office at Z Corp. partner, Rapid Technology, LLC., and is the next in a series of blogs he is writing about his design and creation of a Kamen Rider Suit.

In the myth of the fictional Kamen Rider universe, belts and belt buckles have been an integral part of the character. Possibly because that area of the human body is believed to be the center of Chi energy. Chi is a concept held by many Asian cultures as a universal energy that people can channel for health and vitality.

For Kamen Rider V3, the belt called Double Typhoon, would use the twin turbines to draw in wind energy and allow him to change from his human form to superhero form.

The Double Typhoon design (see photo below) from the 70's TV show is a classic and is as iconic to fans as the helmet is. We wanted to keep the concept and feel of the original but make it more contemporary. Being a huge fan of the Kamen Rider V3 series, I wanted to pay homage to the original and was careful with what liberties we took with the design elements.

I worked with Calvin Lac, an Application Engineer here at RAPID Technology, on the design (see photo below). The drawing is also done by Calvin. We started the design process by looking at different versions of Kamen Rider V3 action figures and fan art. We tried as best as we could to come up with a unique version of the classic. From there, we examined the look and feel of the piece. We wanted the buckle to be aggressive and have some heft to it.

We developed the idea of setting the turbines back from the surface the way fighter jet engines are. This gave the buckle more depth and allowed us to be more creative with the shape of the openings for the turbines. The partially hidden turbines give the model visual interest and causes the viewer to move around the piece to take it all in.

Calvin did extensive research on fighter jet intake shapes and eventually settled on a configuration like the Harrier Jet. We spent a good deal of time balancing how visible the turbines should be. I wanted to keep the turbines a prominent part of the visual composition like the original, whereas Calvin took a practical approach to keeping the fans protected and hidden, like an actual fighter jet.

Once we had the main layout, we focused on the details. Since the intake wells were much more visible then that of a jet, they needed accents and Calvin actually drew inspiration for the buckle's intake "teeth" from a watch face he saw. He also suggested the idea of changing the number 3 to the Roman Numeral III. I thought it was a great interpretation and one that I had never seen before on any iteration of the character.

Calvin crammed all these ideas, brilliantly, into one drawing. Now it was my turn to transform a 2D sketch into a mythological personal power plant. This is the final design of the model I created in Maya.

From there, we began fine tuning the design. The model went through a couple of iterations.

Looking at the physical models, we were able to pick out two elements that needed to be changed.

Since the buckle wasn't curved enough to conform to the human body and the turbines did not stand out enough, we went back to the 3D model and made some adjustments. With their speed and low cost, the ZPrinters were the ideal tool for troubleshooting the design and within a few hours time we had the new version.

Here we have the raw prints.

The buckle itself was printed in separate sections but here we placed the parts together for visualization and for fun. The battery is shown for scale.

This next image is a work in progress.

The parts are then separated into individual pieces. You can see the early stages of the prep work for painting. The center section has already been sanded and primed and the inlets have just had the filler putty added.

In this next image we see the buckle together again with the parts all painted just prior to assembly.

Next, we focused on the internal components.

The fans are rigged with small motors that you can see to the upper left of the main buckle housing. The turbines in the picture were test printed on the ZPrinter again, to trouble shoot the design and fit of the turbines.

In this picture, you can see the evolution of the turbine.

Subtle, yet important changes. The turbine in the upper right is the original with a flat center. That was followed by the one on the lower left. The center was changed to a cone initially for aesthetics. The final turbine design has a deeper cone to house part of the turbine motor. In the end, the turbine was created on the ZBuilder for its extra-high resolution on delicate parts.

I had expected the turbines to undergo design iterations but the funny part is that I thought the fine tuning would be to the blades and their angles, not the cone. Turns out, we got the blades right the first time out. The "III" emblem was also created in the ZBuilder, again for the fine detail.

Here we have the final buckle assembled.

A sheet of transparent colored plastic is placed over the center "V" design for eventual back lighting. An LED is used in the central dot below the "III" emblem.

Just for effect, we took a shot of the buckle with the CRD helmet.

As a long time fan of the original character, it was cool to see these two models together.

See more examples of how people are "Creating more" with 3D printing:

See the now famous viral 3D printing YouTube video

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Create more. Z Corporation's Vision for Continuous Innovation

Today's guest blog is from John Kawola, CEO, Z Corporation.

Some people punch the clock. Others live to make a mark.

If you get out of bed in the morning to push the boundaries of the possible, Z Corporation can help you get there. We exist because you are an inspired designer or engineer who wants to create more. More ideas, more communication and more innovation.

We believe that invention is exhilarating. You discover ideas in your imagination, the natural world or the built world. You transform ideas into digital concepts. Then you push astonishing creations into the physical world where they make a difference.

Sometimes, however, business constraints hold you back. Like limited time and budgets; the complex dynamics of working with colleagues and external partners; and the technical limitations of design tools.

That’s where we come in. We exist not to get around those realities, but to help you use them to your advantage.

We believe that innovation should drive every phase of design, from concept through data capture, sketching, modeling, detail design, analysis, manufacturing and inspection. We make that possible with 3D printing and 3D scanning solutions for high-volume, low-cost use by virtually anyone, so that you can innovate early and often throughout the design process.

And that puts you in a powerful position to synch your goals with those of your organization. You’ll explore more ideas while saving money. You’ll present iterations in a way that encourages group development. You’ll inspire prospective customers. You’ll get the green light to make your designs real. And you’ll see your designs succeed in the marketplace.

Like you, we live to stretch the boundaries of what is possible. We work with the most productive designers and engineers to create solutions that streamline manufacturing, and we lead the way in emerging applications in architecture, education, entertainment, healthcare, art, historic preservation and geographic information systems. No other vendor enables so many applications.

Within each industry, we’re bringing the value of our solutions to the entire organization. We enable management teams to drive investments; marketing teams to generate demand; sales teams to secure orders; and teachers to develop the innovators of tomorrow.

More ideas.

More communication.

More innovation.

Z Corporation. Create more.
Read our complete Vision Paper.

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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Fun, Innovative 3D Printing Company

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

I generally prefer to purchase products from companies whose employees really, I mean REALLY, love what they do. They’re passionate about their products and actually use them. The lines between their work day and home livese are blurred because what they do for work is also their hobby. They’re fun, creative and brilliant. Sometimes they wear shorts, Hawaiian shirts and flip flops to work. They brainstorm during a game of ping pong and shoot off rockets they designed and created in a park after work in their own informal, internal design competition. They mountain bike together at lunch. Because of these attributes, they produce better products. You know the types of companies I’m talking about…Google, Apple, Converse, Timberland, Cisco, and yes, Z Corporation.

This summer, each Z Corp department is taking turns hosting a themed lunch of their own choosing for the rest of the company. Recdently it was our executive team’s turn. They hosted a Casino event in our first floor cafĂ© and outside on our lawn under the watchful eye of our company mascot, a pink flamingo named Zeke.

Maybe it was partly because our home team heroes, the Boston Bruins ice hockey team, had just won the coveted Stanley Cup the night before, or maybe it was because it was a gorgeous summer day, or perhaps it was the offer of great prizes from several of our customers that the air was electric. My colleagues yelled with glee as their buckets of fake money filled.

I was the designated photographer for the event, and was able to step back and get a different perspective than my colleagues. Through my lens, I saw a Z Corp vice president in a tuxedo jacket, Bermuda shorts and flip flops.

I saw our CEO, John Kawola, manning the roulette table and good naturedly chiding players for taking too long to place their bets.

I saw employees from all departments and all levels playing together, talking, laughing and building team and company spirit.

But, I think the thing that struck me most was when I finally noticed that the poker chips we were using were actually 3D printed in-house at Z Corp on a ZPrinter. Take a look at the photos below. How cool is that?! There were hundreds of them being thrown in buckets and on tables.

Oh, and the Bruins? Well, we didn’t forget about them either. One of our application engineers who lives, eats, and breathes the Boston Bruins quickly created this 3D print that morning, in time to display it during our Casino celebration.

This is the type of creative, passionate, innovative company I like to do business with, and I’m happy to say, lucky enough to work for.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Future of Design

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

In the old days, design and manufacturing were essentially the same. The cobbler, the blacksmith, and the potter all designed and manufactured their wares, generally at the same time. Almost everything was custom created, usually with the designer / manufacturer and the customer in close communication.

With the rise of mass manufacturing, design and engineering separated from manufacturing. This makes sense. Labor and materials were no longer the dominant cost of a good. The major cost shifted to the creation of the manufacturing line and the assorted tooling. In this era, the skills required were different enough, and the risk high enough, that design and engineering tasks specialized away from manufacturing and production. Designers and engineers figured out what would be made. Manufacturers made it. Customers bought it. Simple.

Or not so simple. Obviously this can cause a significant potential problem. Products designed without involving manufacturing and customers run into significant problems. Either they can’t be manufactured for a reasonable cost, or customers don’t want them at any cost. These problems gave rise to ‘Design for Manufacturing,’ ‘User Centered Design,’ and ‘Use Centered Design.’ Fundamentally all of these schools of Design thinking are intended to resolve the problem created by the separation of the designer/engineer from the manufacturer and customer.

There has been a great deal of press lately about how consumer 3D printers are going to change all that. Now consumers will design and manufacture their own goods. To be honest, I doubt it. The vast majority of people don’t have the desire, expertise, tools or the time to do this, and a cheap 3D printer won’t change that.

What could change that is an emerging School of Design called ‘Design for Redesign.’ Consumers don’t want to design their own products from scratch, but they do seem to like customized products. Designers are emerging who create products that allow consumers to redesign those products, without CAD and without investing an extraordinary amount of time. Shoes are being designed for redesign ( Shirts are being designed for redesign ( Cars are even being designed for redesign ( When combined with 3D printing, this design philosophy will open up whole new entrepreneurial opportunities.

This emerging class of designers will reap enormous benefits. Their designs will exist in online marketplaces, where consumers will identify products and designers they like, and then redesign them to meet their needs, all in a browser. Designers will receive royalties when those designs are 3D printed. Feedback will be instantaneous. The designer will be directly linked to the consumer. No more design reviews. No more stages and gates. No more tooling. No more listening to a consultant go on about what your customer needs. Designer, Consumer, Product…Simple.