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Printer Technology

3D Printing For Everyone 183

mmacx writes "Technology Review has up an article about Shapeways, a new online rapid-prototyping service that allows users to upload digital designs which are then printed on 3-D printers and shipped back. A spinoff from Philips Research, the service gives small businesses, designers, artists, and hobbyists access to prototyping tools that were once available only to the largest corporations. The fee for a typical printed object is $50-$150. Their video shows the steps behind the process." We've been talking about 3D printing for years.
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3D Printing For Everyone

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  • Re:yawn (Score:3, Informative)

    by fractic ( 1178341 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:20AM (#24433163)
    You mean like this one []?
  • SLA? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:36AM (#24433501)

    We've had 3D printing for over 15 years to my knowledge. Probably more like 20 years. My high school got one way back when, it was called a "Stereo Lithography Apparatus" or SLA for short. You inserted a disk containing an acceptable 3D wire mesh file format, put in a bucket of "printing goop" and pressed a button. An ultraviolet laser then solidified the goop in the shape of the 3D object you gave it and drained the rest of the goop back into the drainage pan. We used it for rapid prototyping in our CAD/CAM lab.

    The goop used is the same stuff that dentists use for "clear" or "tooth colored" fillings. It is a translucent yellowy resin that solidifies when exposed to ultra violet light.

    The goop was pretty darn expensive stuff. I imagine if demand hasn't increased greatly or if SLAs haven't gone down in price then the goop probably hasn't changed much in price over the years.

  • by ironwill96 ( 736883 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:44AM (#24433663) Homepage Journal

    Not sure on the open source software front but i've always been fond of Rhinoceros 3D for doing modeling since it is relatively in-expensive to buy a commercial copy ($900).

    You can send your 3-D file to lots of companies, i'm not sure why ShapeWays is getting all the press when there are thousands of RP companies called "service bureaus" that will take 3-D models you upload and print them using some RP machine then ship them to you, usually with a 1-2 day turn-around time.

    I used to get some parts done with [] but they focus mainly on high-resolution small parts (such as jewelry pieces). So, if you're designing jewelry i'd recommend them otherwise look for some other companies using Stratasys type machines (there are lots). The costs they quote sound about normal, typical jewelry prototypes were around $100 or so for a ring in .001" resolution.

  • by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:45AM (#24433667)

    It isn't mentioned in the article, but it is clear from the images that they used Blender for the demo items and screenshots, indeed the two images from the article are rather well known among Blender users, one is from 'man in man' a short by Sacha, and the other is Petunia by macuonu which was used for a collaborative animation for the Blender art festival. Also some of individuals involved in Shapeways are major Blenderheads.

    I thought Shapeways was being supported by Phillips but was under the impression that it started externally and hence would not be a spinoff.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:58AM (#24433899)

    Too expensive, and too low resolution/rough. For models, try, the parts are durable enough, and the minimal texture covers fine with primer and paint.

    Cheaper rates, higher res parts, but the max part size is probably smaller than what shapeways can offer.

    I use them to print out masters after designing miniatures figures on my computer, and then molds are made from the masters for spincasting in pewter.


  • Re:Bah... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @10:58AM (#24433901)

    This is old news... Check:

    They have been working on an ultrasound induced suspension of precious metals to be deposited on just about any surface using a laser.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:18AM (#24434245)

    this has been done before quite a bit, there are plenty of places online that let you upload a model to their website and purchase the fabbed plastic result.

    however, more competition will probably bring the prices down. also, more attention to this sort of capability will make it more popular, and bring the prices down/advance the technology.

    i worked at a place where they blew tens of thousands of dollars on a 3D printer, printed one prototype out and then let it sit there. big companies can't think outside the box. they'd probably make a lot of money running an operation like Shapeways. i think the reason they bought a whole machine to make one simple prototype (i'm sure they'll use it in the future as well, it just seems hard to justify not just having it fabbed quickly by someone else who owns one already) is because they were very paranoid about someone stealing their designs, plus they're just fun to use.

    my first hand knowledge watching them use the machine is this; the layering technique using two kinds of material, a white plastic and a black or brown organic substance. in order to make gaps/holes/crevices and other 3D abnormalities the darker substance is used in those areas. when the printing is done they have to place the model in a lye solution to eat the darker matter away.

    you see the fella in the video doing this at the end, it is also why he is using gloves. lye is very dangerous to human skin/flesh. if you've ever seen fight club you'll know what it can do, and you get a pretty detailed explanation and history from tyler about it.

    i think they used borax afterward to clean the lye off and any residuals. the whole process can take a long time depending on how large and how complex your model is. some things are better left in overnight. the cubes they used were the simplest and easiest thing to make with this and they kept their model small, so the duration of the print was short.

    the materials that go into this are expensive and since they only have one (maybe two?) machines this is most likely why they charge alot more for complex/larger models. it all depends on what you send them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:45AM (#24434681)

    Not so fast:

  • Re:direct link (Score:2, Informative)

    by coolhelperguy ( 698466 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @11:51AM (#24434779)
    Printing resolution seems to be 0.5mm to 2mm minimum detail, depending on material. Colors are cream, white, transparent (translucent yellowish, from the looks of it), and bright white. They all have various properties (one bends well, some are weaker, etc).

    Maximum size varies from 20x25x33cm to 35x40x40cm, depending on the material as well. Prices range from $1.87 to $2.89 per cubic centimeter.

    I'm not affiliated, just a beta user. I got my invite the same day(?) I signed up for one, so if you're interested, go sign up. I did look for anything saying that that information might be proprietary, but I couldn't find anything, other than the warning that those prices may be low for the beta. (And that the beta includes no shipping/handling fees, I believe.) Sorry if I shouldn't share!
  • Re:My first order (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2008 @12:56PM (#24436085)

    The parts I need to build this [].

  • Re:direct link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mithrandir ( 3459 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:52PM (#24437103) Homepage

    FWIW, I'm the lead dev on all the 3D portions of the site. I had no idea these guys were going to get it posted to /. today! I wake up late to find my inbox filled with emails about it....

    Anyway, on to answer your questions. Two ways:

    1. there's some simple editors built in for specific object types (and more on the way)

    2. Upload from your favourite modelling tool. Right now support is for X3D, Collada and STL files. More formats are on the way, but are not, as yet, fully tested.

    There is also some restrictions on the basic structure of the models. The system tries to correct a lot of problems, but it is by no means perfect as it is all automated.

    Costs are like the article summary states - $50-$150 per piece. However, that is dropping very, very rapidly as volume increases. Only this time last year, costs were an order of magnitude higher for exactly the same pieces. We're expecting a similar sort of drop in prices over the next 12-18 months as bulk manufacturing really starts to drive prices down.

    Turn around time is usually a couple of weeks. The actual printing process is still relatively slow and manually managed. We'd love t automate it, but the printer hardware companies are not giving us that capability yet.

  • by Mithrandir ( 3459 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @01:58PM (#24437193) Homepage

    Most of our users are using Blender to create their own model. In fact, one of the principles of the project is the former head of the Blender Foundation.

    The difference here and the other companies is that this one is going for the mass market. The others are looking at niche areas. They are also looking at doing Cafe-Press-style stores and so on.

  • by pxuongl ( 758399 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:20PM (#24437581)
    why do they insist that you log-in before seeing anything on their site? I was interested until i had to register.
  • Re:direct link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mithrandir ( 3459 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @02:35PM (#24437793) Homepage

    Hmmm... don't know much about SE and what formats it can export. If you can get STL, then you should be fine. There's very few CAD apps that can't do at least STL. Many have Collada support already. Between those two you should be OK. If not, have a dig for software called PolyTrans (Okino Graphics). That's a huge file format conversion tool that supports almost every known 3D file format. I believe they have a free demo download.

    Bounds constraints vary wildly and also vary by material type. A material may only be available on a specific printer (manufacturer and model), that will then limit what size model can be printed. For example, selecting an ABS material can be printed on all the machines, but 720 Fullcure is only available on one. Each machine has a limited production size. However, as an absolute max, no machine is capable of printing something greater than 1m cube - at least right now.

  • by eggnoglatte ( 1047660 ) on Friday August 01, 2008 @03:41PM (#24439275)

    Actually, you can print on the volume diagonal, so the correct formula is sqrt(3*50^2), or about 87cm (34 in). Ouch indeed.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling