Tag Archives: 3D printers

5 absurd 3D-printed items

You’ve probably heard of 3D-printed car parts and smartphone cases, but what about the truly weird 3D creations out there? We scoured the internet for the strangest 3D-printed items we could find—and we were not disappointed.

Sure, the health, manufacturing, and technology industries are using 3D printers in astounding ways to revolutionize business and explore the potential for 3D printing, but sometimes, we just want to see what everyone else can come up with. Ranging from amusing to downright bizarre, these 3D inventions are pretty left of centre. And, really, why shouldn’t they be? When you have a new, cutting-edge technology, it just makes sense to make the most of it. If these items are wrong, then we don’t want to be right.

1. Costumes

Winning the company costume contest in years to come may have less to do with who’s willing to spend the most money at the party store and everything to do with who’s the most clever with their printer. A recent roundup of costumes made with 3D printers included something for nearly everyone, including Freddy Krueger’s iconic claws and Iron Man’s robotic helmet. As long as no one starts 3D printing life-sized clowns and leaving them randomly around town, I’d say we’re safe from full-scale terror for now.

2. Food

Tired of regular, run-of-the-mill food? Then you’re in for a treat: A company called Dovetailed has made it possible to 3D print food whenever you’re in the mood for a light snack. Their 3D printer uses fruit-flavoured liquid drops and a process called “spherification” to create shapes that not only resemble, but taste like whichever fruit you’re hungry for—saving you a trip to the grocery store.

3. Life-sized ultrasound baby

2D ultrasound pictures of other people’s babies can be a little funny, but the 3D model fetuses catching on like The Dress in the parent community are downright hilarious. That’s right: The latest keepsake for expectant parents is 3D-printed, life-sized models of their child-to-be. YummyMummyClub reports that not just one, but multiple online retailers now offer these tiny dolls made in the exact likeness of an ultrasound picture. The concept is catching so much steam, it was named one of the top trends for hip parents in 2016.

If you’re willing to shell out $300–$500 for a plastic cast of your unborn baby, you have a plethora of customization options. Not only can you pick between “life-sized” or “half-sized,” you can customize skin tone and position, some even opting to reveal genitalia. If there was ever a coffee-table decoration sure to start some conversations…Just try to avoid the whole “point and laugh” thing.

4. Drugs

The Silk Road may have been shut down, but the drug industry is still booming. Just kidding—we’re talking about pharmaceuticals. As scientists at HP, Structure3D Printing, and other research organizations expand the types of materials we can use in 3D-print applications, 3D-printed pharmaceuticals have become a real possibility. CBC News reports that Aprecia Pharmaceuticals of Pennsylvania is now shipping epilepsy drugs printed in-house using cutting-edge technology. And they’re not just for show—they’re real, working medications that can change lives.

While the life-saving potential for 3D-printed drugs is immense—especially in rural and emergency medical settings—it’ll be cool to watch how this technique can drive down health care costs in the future. That said, it’s no secret this concept has an absurd side, too. Strict regulation will need to keep dangerous drug-making technology out of the hands of non-medical professionals.

5. Chocolate faces

If you thought the wax figures in Madame Tussauds museums were unnerving, wait until you see the chocolate faces that FabCafe can carve up in no time. We’ve crossed the line into ridiculous. In just two classes, the company teaches you how to use 3D-printing technology to capture your face—or a friend’s, for that perfect holiday gift—in chocolate, reminiscent of Han Solo trapped in carbonite.

While most of us have dreamed of having a clone once or twice, at least to manage our email, you probably never even imagined that 3D printing was a path to printing a chocolate doppelganger. But does anyone really need a piece of chocolate with their face on it? We’ll let you answer that question. If there’s anything clear about these strange 3D-printed items, it’s that the potential of this technology is only as limited as your imagination. And, sometimes, that’s not necessarily a good—or bad—thing.

Next-gen tech steps up to the plate

Some next-gen technology has been on the verge of going mainstream for years but never quite seemed to make it—until now. 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) have finally arrived.

The Spiceworks 2017 State of IT report, which surveyed almost 900 IT decision-makers, lists these technologies at the bottom in terms of technology trends adoption. That’s unsurprising, given their nascent status and the fact that companies struggle to understand their commercial potential. But the market is starting to show enough interest to make them significant, and the level of tech development in each of these fields is stunning.

According to the report, 7 percent of respondents currently use 3D printing, with another 5 percent plan on using it. Four percent already use VR, with another 3 percent coming on board soon. Just 2 percent of respondents use AI, with another 3 percent planning to use it—although this may be a special case. AI is increasingly embedded behind the scenes as an enabling technology in applications and services that don’t necessarily foreground it as a feature.

How have these technologies developed in the last few years, and which companies lead the pack?

3D printing

3D printing’s been around since the invention of stereolithography in the early ’80s, but it was traditionally restricted to large firms that could afford the expensive industrial equipment. Then, the first open-source, self-replicating printer, the RepRap, was designed. In 2010, MakerBot debuted its 3D printer, followed in 2013 by Formlabs with its Form 1.

As desktop 3D printing evolved, so did the techniques. MakerBot uses deposition printing, which involves layers of material printed atop each other. Conversely, Formlabs brought stereolithography to the lower end of the enterprise market. In 2016, the industry moved on. MakerBot was acquired by high-end material jetting firm Stratasys in 2013, leaving XYZprinting, Ultimaker, and M3D leading the market for personal 3D printers, as noted by CONTEXT.

Several companies are now focusing on innovation in 3D printing. HP, for instance, is hitting the enterprise market with its 3D-printing technology and operates a marketplace in which third parties can innovate with their own printing materials. Imagine printing parts with embedded components, such as layers with different colours, LED indicators, and even circuitry. Executives envisage a future where 3D-printed parts can report their own stress and thermal conditions by directly connecting to the Internet of Things.

Virtual reality

Modern computerized virtual reality experienced a series of false starts. In 1991, arcade-game firm Virtuality launched its rudimentary VR-based arcade system, and four years later, Nintendo tried its hand in 1994 with the Virtual Boy, but the computing wasn’t fast enough, and the displays weren’t good enough. The next-gen technology lay largely dormant until 2012, when Oculus VR launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding program for its Rift head-mounted display.

The Oculus demos suggested the technology had finally evolved to support virtual reality, and while commercial delivery was delayed, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later, demonstrating its own faith in the concept. Since then, things have exploded on the VR scene. Powerful smartphones with high-resolution displays create impressive VR experiences at the low end of the market, thanks to a partnership between Oculus and Samsung, while HTC provides a similar offering with its Vive headset. Google also jumped aboard in late 2016 with its Daydream VR software platform, followed shortly after by Microsoft, which also unveiled a VR device.

VR is complemented by its cousin, augmented reality, in which computer imagery enhances rather than replaces images of the real world. Microsoft’s Hololens captured the public’s imagination in this space and is now on sale to developers. While Google’s Glass AR system was discontinued, it led a $542 million investment in secretive AR firm Magic Leap, which since expanded its total funding to $1.4 billion—not bad for a company that hasn’t even shipped a product yet. There’s a lot of money floating around the VR and AR market, and the next five years promise unprecedented growth for AR and VR as hyper-scale companies integrate them with a plethora of back-end services.

Artificial intelligence

Toward the start of this decade, the three biggest stories in AI hinted at where we’d end up five years later. IBM’s Watson defeated human contestants in the game show Jeopardy; Google revealed its driverless car technology was already on the road for months; and Apple launched Siri, its digital assistant. Since then, these technologies have all evolved.

Companies constantly push the boundaries in their AI research. Last year, Google’s DeepMind AI division won a game of Go against the world champion in a coup that wasn’t expected to happen for years. Self-driving cars are well on their way to commercial reality, with Elon Musk’s Tesla halfway there already—although ironically, Musk has voiced his concerns about AI’s potential to run away with itself and threaten human existence.

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all jumped on the AI-assistant bandwagon, integrating them into equipment that listens to you as you roam around your home. The idea is to make AI so easy to access that it becomes part of your everyday life, accessible wherever you are. That’s part of AI’s biggest promise and, potentially, its biggest danger: As it becomes increasingly sophisticated, it promises to permeate our lives without us even aware of what’s happening.

It’s been a wild five years for these three technologies, but now that they’ve arrived, the most important part of their journey is only just beginning. What they’ll deliver in 2021 will likely be more amazing still.

3D printing is fuelling a digital revolution

The next digital revolution in Canada is an industrial one: The country is poised for a renaissance in manufacturing as 3D printing disrupts traditional economies of scale.

But this “fourth industrial revolution,” as outlined by Stephen Nigro, HP Inc.’s president of 3D printing, has many moving parts to form a “blended reality.” A number of different entrepreneurial players will participate in this digital revolution, as well—it’s not just 3D-printing players, be it large or small, who will play a role in this reality. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, connected factories, and robotics will be interwoven into the fabric spurred by the commercial and industrial 3D-printing boom, combining the physical and digital worlds.

HP expects the 3D-printing industry will disrupt and reinvent the CAD$16 trillion manufacturing sector and predicts 3D printing to grow at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). By 2021, it will be a CAD$24 billion industry, with plastics expected to be the largest portion of the market, accounting for an estimated CAD$13 trillion in five years.

Increased investment

As the 3D-printing market evolves, it may be better to look as it as additive manufacturing, which combines new and old techniques to rapidly create products. As a larger firm, HP has heavily invested in 3D printing for additive manufacturing, unlike smaller niche players who’ve focused on 3D printing for consumers.

It also forecasts 3D printing to broadly impact work and daily life, as it will shorten and localize the supply chain. This digital revolution will see the shipping of digital designs and raw materials, rather than tangible goods. HP also expects this fourth industrial revolution to impact education, as the classroom must prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, while the on-demand printing of goods will also affect trade and taxation.

Previously, HP tried to avoid the moniker of “printing company,” but when it comes to 3D printing, it embraces the name by leveraging technology the company’s developed over decades as the leader in conventional paper printing. HP has developed massive ink jet printheads configured to handle finely powdered versions of the nylon plastics frequently used for 3D projects. For Canada, it’s an opportunity to reverse its fortunes in the slumping manufacturing sector, as commercial 3D printing technology has the potential to help manufacturers meet demand in real time.

This digital revolution will also enable manufacturing companies to be more nimble, as they maintain virtual inventories—you only need to print parts to support a just-in-time delivery model. This agility will improve customer satisfaction and reduce production costs. Manufacturers could move production to local printing centres to meet customer requests for customization that would not be easily or quickly done in a traditional manufacturing model.

Anticipating adoption

To date, 3D printing has been primarily used for producing detailed prototypes, and although it’s not yet ready for producing items en masse, advances in technology mean that final, usable products can be made cost effectively. There’s also room for large players and smaller startups, as well as public-private collaborations.

In fact, large companies may need smaller businesses if they want to capitalize on the rapidly innovating 3D-printing boom. For example, Walmart Canada turned to a small think tank to test the feasibility of customers designing and printing their own, unique holiday mementos at its new Ancaster, Ontario store in December. Additionally, HP Canada president Mary Ann Yule recently noted that we’ll first witness 3D printing adoption in consumer packaged goods, as well as in the aerospace, automotive, telecommunications, and health care industries.

Efforts are underway to help 3D printing in manufacturing meet its potential in Canada, including collaborative efforts between industry and government. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers promotes 3D printing as a way to help companies return home, as well as encourage manufacturers to build supply chains using mostly homegrown companies. Meanwhile, another initiative to provide grants to Canadian companies so they can develop new 3D printing applications is the SMART program, launched and managed by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

Is your business ready for the 3D-printing revolution? If not, don’t fret—as long as you keep an eye on this evolving trend, you can stay one step ahead of the competition and know when it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.

3D printing and blended reality—the dawn of the next Industrial Revolution?

Until recently, artisans carried out design and production through the painstaking process of handcrafting customized products one at a time. If you wanted to buy a pair of shoes, you’d visit a cobbler, who’d create a perfect pair just for you. Then, the Industrial Revolution happened, which sped up the process and made it highly scalable—but less flexible for customization and further removed from the consumer. This process hasn’t changed for the last 100 years.

Now, 3D printing is poised to unleash a new wave of transformative changes in manufacturing, returning the craft to designers and production to local centres, while taking advantage of radical improvements in efficiency and speed. It will even allow us to design and produce entirely new products that have never been conceived of before—yet alone brought to life.

The next wave of transformative change in manufacturing

In the next 10 to 15 years, 3D printing will converge with socioeconomic forces, advanced design, production innovation, and highly automated printed processes to spark incredible transformations in design and manufacturing that were previously unimaginable. In some ways, this sea of change will herald a return to the norms of old. Products will be manufactured at local 3D production centres, nearer to the customer, and customization will be far easier to achieve.

The new production process will also require minimal logistics management and stockpiling of inventory, permitting products to be designed and produced on demand once more—but at a far faster clip than in the age of our ancestors. 3D printing is also responsive to contemporary concerns about the climate, posing a far lighter carbon footprint than mass production did in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

A revolution in the design process

The most exciting changes 3D printing offers lie in the realm of design. Today, we can unleash our imagination and conceptualize new products to benefit the market by incorporating inspirations from the physical world, whether in 3D or 2D form, into the product design workflow—essentially blending the physical and virtual worlds with agility and ease. For instance, take Sprout—a fully integrated desktop 3D-scanning solution with 3D object capture. Now, anyone can grab something from the real world, manipulate it in the digital world, and bring it to life in physical space.

As greater potential is unlocked, it will be critical to ensure the printing process is capable of creating viable, durable versions of these innovative new products. Unlike the prior method of producing separate 2D parts that were then joined together, the new model of additive manufacturing makes it possible, for the first time, to produce a product completely from scratch, in a single printing run, entirely whole. 3D printers can now generate such products in incredibly fine detail, with robust end part strength, at quicker speed and lower cost.

A new frontier of limitless possibility

In the Industrial era, the processes of design and manufacturing were broken down into discrete parts as part of an assembly line process. Designers can now issue fine-point, detailed direction concerning the aesthetic attributes of a part (e.g., colour and texture) and its physical properties (e.g., strength, elasticity, etc.), clarifying the overall design intent for the product in a unified manner. For that to be possible, designers must have design tools that clearly communicate the printer’s capability needs. The design software and the printer must also perfectly align with common and enriched volumetric language that directly translates into volumetric pixels, or voxels, at the printer level.

Not only does 3D printing democratize and reintegrate the design process, but it also allows for continuous improvement to an original design. In the near future, embedded tracing marks and sensors will make it possible to analyze each stage of the product life cycle from initial design to real world use, providing a wealth of information that can dramatically improve the quality, relevance, and usefulness of each product. A product can be designed digitally, rendered into physical form through the 3D-printing process, and then continually enhanced using digital feedback.

Continuous improvement and product enhancement

This blended reality, blurring barriers between the physical and digital realms, opens the door to the creation of entirely new products that were just beyond our capability not long ago. Health care alone could benefit greatly through the introduction of better hearing aids and heart valve replacements designed and perfected this way. The aviation and automotive sectors, through the collection of data on how parts and products perform and are used in real-world conditions, are also ripe for innovation.

We truly are on the brink of a new Industrial Revolution—one in which design and production take place more quickly and much closer to home. Customization is responsive to local requirements; designers can imagine and print entirely new products never before seen; and the innovations themselves can be constantly improved through the intelligent use of tracking and sensor data. It’s an age of limitless potential and transformative change, and it’s already underway.

Driving 3D printing innovation forward, voxel by voxel

Printing has progressed leaps and bounds since HP unveiled the DeskJet in 1984—the first mass-market inkjet printer. Back then, the DeskJet offered continuous plain-paper printing and higher print quality at an affordable price. This was revolutionary, because it redefined the possibilities of home printing.

Nearly 30 years later, HP still pushes the envelope. By researching and leveraging decades of expertise in precision mechanics, microfluidics, and materials sciences, HP drives 3D printing innovation forward. “We want to change how the world designs,” Steve Nigro, president of 3D printing at HP, told Wired.

In the mind of a 3D printer

When thinking about 3D printing innovation, images of prosthetic limbs, beautiful statues, and on-demand homes come to mind. Each of these applications proves transformative in its own way. While it’s exciting to think about constructing livable houses with the touch of a few buttons, the reality is that 3D printing involves huge amounts of work. A lot (to put it mildly) goes into crafting the 3D printers, not to mention the software that supports them and the prototypes for functional parts. The technical specs are important, but what really makes the product stand out is what’s in the “mind” of the 3D printer.

The first commercial 3D printing solution based on an open platform, the HP Jet Fusion is really an ecosystem of parts and services. Enabled by HP Multi Jet Fusion technology, the solution will create the highest quality physical parts, produce parts up to 10 times faster, and at half the cost of current 3D print systems. HP developed a synchronous architecture around its core Thermal Inkjet arrays, which prints more than 30 million drops per second across each inch of working area.

“While HP Multi Jet Fusion is a new technology, it stands on the shoulders of decades of HP R&D investment in thermal inkjet printheads, inks, agents, precision mechanics, and material science,” said Scott Schiller, VP, global head of market development at HP 3D Printing. “The technology is built on HP’s core competency of rapidly and accurately placing precise quantities of multiple types of fluids on a variety of materials.”

The HP Jet Fusion is also designed to maximize productivity. Like any good assistant, the printer’s “mind” is focused on enabling you to get as much done as efficiently as possible. The Processing Station’s automated material mixing and leading systems streamline workflow and labour time. The Build Unit can be moved for cooling once the job is done, which allows for a continuous printing process. Furthermore, accurate thermal control of every layer in the printer is smart enough to make predictive corrections, which optimizes mechanical properties.

It’s not uncommon in manufacturing for high productivity to cause dips in quality. To prevent this, HP invented a proprietary multi-agent printing process, where the agents are applied by Thermal Inkjet arrays. This ensures the material is properly fused and that part edges are smooth and well-defined. Fusing and detailing agents deliver fine details and dimensional accuracy. The mind of these printers is precise and committed to perfection. All these innovations mean the HP Jet Fusion can control part properties voxel by voxel, addressing more than 340 million voxels per second.

3D printing innovation

Reinventing 3D printing means delivering an integrated, end-to-end solution that overcomes pain points in existing 3D-printing processes. Ultimately, 3D printers are only as good as the information they receive and the experts who manage them, so the technology needs to be easy to use to reach its full potential.

HP’s 3D printer comes with complete, user-friendly, in-box software solutions that streamline the workflow from design to final parts. It removes existing 3D-file format challenges and offers print preparation and job monitoring through accurate build-time estimations, automated packing, and embedded quality checks. An enclosed, automated processing station provides a cleaner materials-loading and mixing experience. It also includes a fast-cooling module and an enclosed unpacking and material-collection system for cleaner extraction.

The HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solution is geared toward the future—toward progress. To this end, HP is offering the unprecedented HP Open Platform to reduce 3D printing adoption barriers by encouraging exploration—improving materials diversity, the range of applications, and performance, while driving costs down.

The possibilities of what 3D printers can do are vast—almost difficult to comprehend. Fusing parts together at such a small level gives them tremendous strength. With the Internet of Things, products won’t only connect to each other; they’ll also connect to every part of every product. A 3D-printed medical implant could even have an embedded wireless RFID chip that provides feedback to physicians on the product and the patient. And this is just the beginning! Buckle up, and prepare for the bright and promising future of 3D printing.

4 tech trends supporting rapid urbanization—doing more with less

Society is congregating into more densely populated areas. This isn’t just due to the overall population growth on our little rock as it flies through space—societal and tech trends share some responsibility, as well. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario: Tech enables societal change, and societal change drives technological innovation.

Rapid urbanization affects everyone, whether they live in a large metropolitan area or out in the country. Megacities—metropolitan areas with a population of 10 million or more people—are springing up across the globe. How will humanity adapt to these massive changes?

To toot our own horns, we are the most technologically adaptable species we’ve encountered to date. New tech trends are becoming apparent with each passing day—from discovering ways to move people and products, new developments in medicine, and more sustainable methods of extracting and utilizing resources to improving connectivity across the globe. Let’s take a look at some of these technologies and examine how they might impact the cities of the future.

1. 3D printing

We’ve talked about the advantages of 3D printing, but it’s important to mention it again. The notion of converting chunks of raw material into something usable has been at the core of human existence since the stone age. Modern scanning technology will let us convert the physical world to digital information with ease, and 3D printing will change supply chain logistics forever.

Generating the components required to assemble a piece of furniture or an entire building on site with the right 3D printer and materials drastically increases agility and versatility on both a personal and industrial scale. Engineers can fashion components with high precision and low cost, and anyone with access to a computer and 3D printer can prototype designs to solve problems as they encounter them—even more easily with the right 3D-scanning capabilities. Soon, we’ll live in a world entirely made out of building blocks.

2. Autonomous zero-emissions cars

According to Engadget, Germany announced that it intends to ban the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030, forcing shoppers to buy vehicles exclusively powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells. Controversy aside, pollution is a real problem when 10 million (or more) people need to get around.

Eliminating emissions is only part of the battle. Traffic is a huge issue in large metropolitan areas as it is, and the amount of time it takes to cross town only grows with increases in population. Humans have naturally slow reaction times and are prone to making emotionally charged decisions, which is why we institute things like driving laws and traffic lights. Autonomous cars have the potential to alleviate the stress on traffic.

If there were no humans actually driving cars, we could do away with traffic lights entirely. Cars could zip between intersections and adjust their speed and timing, so they’d never get into an accident or wait for a green light, sharing information about their location, speed, the conditions of the road, and so on, all at a far quicker rate than humans could ever hope to achieve behind the wheel.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla already supports an improving form of autonomy, and its cars can help you navigate around town in a statistically safer fashion than if you were operating the controls yourself. To mitigate cost, Tesla intends to automate ride sharing, explains Wired. When you’re at work or not using your car, it can drive itself to pick up others and taxi them around on its own, with the profits going toward the cost of the vehicle (and eventually into your pocket).

By 2046, we might regard actually driving a car as a leisure activity in the same way we view horseback riding today.

3. Wearable technology and augmented reality

These two categories are deeply intertwined. Wearables is already gaining momentum as a trend, and augmented reality devices allow you do more with less. Navigating the multidimensional maze of a megacity can be drastically simplified with a screen in front of you, telling you exactly when and where to turn and what elevators to take.

Many folks sport a smart watch. Despite Google Glass being taken back to the drawing board, it showed some promise and created interest in its early stages. A ZDNet article explains how Microsoft is developing the HoloLens, which actively maps your surroundings and displays virtual objects in the real world. These devices have two things in common: They get strapped to your body, take information about the real world, and do something innovative with it.

Again, we might regard navigating a megacity in the future without a wearable augmented reality display in the same vein as navigating a present-day city without a smartphone and GPS—pure madness.

4. Robots!

Last on the list is the automation of labour. Structures could be erected in record time with automated vehicles delivering raw materials to an on-site 3D printer that can create supporting beams, light banisters, and windows to be installed by robotic cranes manufactured by the same on-site 3D printer.

This begs a major question, however: What will those 10 million people do if robots handle all the labour? The utopian answer is one of creativity and culture. People could create new prototypes, spend their time writing music, making movies, exploring philosophy, and trading ideas with one another.

But we’ll be working with the robots for the foreseeable future, before running out of work to do. And that sure beats working against them.