Form Fuse and Fabulous

The latest release from Formlabs is pretty impressive – maybe too expensive for me right now but definitely a serious thing to consider for the rest of the world.

Think about this for a second. Formlabs started on Kickstarter, made a successful if legally challenged launch, released a follow up to that product commercially as a fledgling company and has now released an SLS solution.

That stands for Selective Laser Sintering – a fancy way to get rid of the support structures and make incredibly clean prints. If you have any experience in 3d printing, you have dealt with supports, the structures that make 3d printing possible with other technologies to compensate for the annoyance of gravity.

SLS is not new, but for many serious prototyping facilities it is the only serious method to get around the laborious and sometimes destructive practice of cleaning off support structures. I typically don’t mind the process but I have become to accept it as a part of getting clean parts.

I have always hated the idea of altering my design to fit the limitations of the technology – this has always been a designer’s problem with regard to FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling, the more familiar melting plastic printing process to most of you.

But SLS technologies are the best current solution to getting clean parts with minimal cleaning out of a printer. The powders used get dusted off the parts as you pull them from SLS printers, kind of like the movie version of the archaeologist’s field work. Indiana Jones never had it so easy. And sure they have their share of issues, the relative ease of personally modifying an FDM printer (the first 2 Ultimakers are open source and famous for this ease) are likely gone.

SO think about it – a company that was crowdfunded has released a consumer model of the best possible way of getting clean 3d printed parts without tedious sanding and tweezer gymnastics other printing tech forces us to accept.

It’s a big move, and I can’t wait until I can justify the expense.

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Printing your own useful stuff

People constantly talk about the future where you will print the things you need or want.

Before I bought my first 3d printer, I watched a video of a young man who printed replacement parts for various things in his kitchen and bathroom.

While I thought these were interesting uses, the economies of scale in time and convenience are still WAY off of being compelling to consumers.

For instance, the inkwell I made – the larger one took six hours to print. That’s nowhere near as economical as shopping for one at a local art store.

One could say that the hours taken to design it, to print it and clean it so that it is usable costs a consumer far more than it would to simply buy one at retail.

But does it?

Pencil_Holder

My new pencil holder for the desk – designed, modeled and printed in less than 10 hours total time.

Consider some of the most basic aspects of manufacturing an object as simple as the inkwell I designed.

For a manufacturer to produce a similar inkwell for retail, commonly they would have to:

  • Acquire design services
  • Solicit retail
  • Secure credit and financing
  • Purchase manufacturing capacity
  • Arrange shipping and customs agreements if made abroad
  • Marketing and advertising budgets including package design

For myself I needed:

  • A weekend to design the object
  • Design software
  • 3d printer and filament to cover prototypes and the final
  • a few days to print prototypes and the final versions

Obviously I am leaving out a LOT of detail. But at a glance what do you think really means more to users of the things 3d printing is actually capable of making right now?

I have some obvious advantages over everyday users. Even with the emergence of 3d ecosystems with thousands and even millions of objects available for printing, I can design and prototype my own objects without ever incurring anything but the time to design anything.

I also have some experience in computer aided design, drafting and product and packaging design – not to mention nearly 2 decades of computer modeling experience.

It’s really easy for me to fire up a modeling program and synthesize nearly anything I want.

The learning curve behind really making new things is still pretty steep. And I remember when people used to talk about how long it would take for 3d modeling software would take before it became commonplace – a household thing. It’s been almost 20 years since I remember people talking about that and there are only recently some useful 3d programs on mobile devices. That took an awfully long time.

Even I am still looking for that 3d printing “killer app” – that thing that will make 3d printing a real game changer for other people because I have to be honest.

I hate the thought of not having one in my house and being able to make nearly any object I want – especially after making a living for years making monsters.

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