Tuesday, 15 July 2014

3D Printing - Beyond reprinting the past.

It is sometimes useful when trying to get a guide as to where a technology is heading to get back to basics and take a look at the core principles of what we are dealing with.

What is 3D printing? 

One answer is that it is an umbrella term sheltering a wide variety of technologies applied in a wide range of markets.  At this level it is at its most confusing and least easy to pin down. 3D printing is allegedly being used to build living tissue, fabrics, electronics, prosthetics, it is being test in space, there are projects to print using moon dust on the moon and on it goes. 

So what is 3D printing? It is not a specific manufacturing process. It would seem reasonable to say that 3D printing is a system made up of two elements that are needed to justify its name tag. Firstly it is an additive process and this usually means building up one layer at a time and secondly the object made is defined by a 3D software model or slice file.

Neither of these conditions are unique to 3D printing. Stone masons and brick layers have been manually building walls and arches layer by layer for thousands of years. CNC milling requires a 3D software model to define the cut. Putting the two together though is new and does make up a new manufacturing system.

So when we talk of 3D printing we are using the word printing in its modern computerised sense. Until a few years ago printing would have meant physically pressing ink laden typeface to leave an imprint on paper. Each impression would be the same unless the plate was reconfigured manually. It is an important point to consider when talking of 3D printing that the word printing is entirely based on a technology that is little older than additive manufacturing. Inkjet printers were developed for computers in the late 70s and the first 3D printers were built in the mid 80s. 

It is worth asking the question what we would have called 3D printing in the unlikely event that computerised printing had never been invented. For may years 3D printing was known as rapid prototyping which for many years adequately described what the technologies were used for. More recently the term additive manufacturing has been coined to describe a new era of using the technologies to actually manufacture usable parts.


We used the term 3D printing in the early days of making mainly architectural models using the ZPrinter process that use inkjets to literally print binding fluid on to layers of plaster powder. We used the term 3D printing to distinguish the process from rapid prototyping which was then used to refer to high end production machines like SLS and SLA making functional or semi functional prototypes. It was a useful distinction to make commercially and also adequately described how the ZPrinter worked.

The term 3D printing has been useful helping the public identify the 3D version of the process with its already widely known 2D "equivalent". However the term is loaded with expectations and limitations. 2D inkjet printing has not surpassed the quality of lithographic printing and does not offer a complete rethink of what printing could be.

3D printing on the other hand has all of the potential to go much further than its namesake in disrupting the established order of the things humans make. 

So again what is 3D printing? A question arises if a machine is created and optimised to make single parts or materials, additively and from a 3D slice file. I raise the question because as 3D printing is incorporated into other industrial processes, new hybridised process will emerge with some of the characteristics that we are familiar with but with very different outcomes. In short 3D printing offers us the opportunity to redesign existing processes to incorporate the level of complexity that 3D printing offers.

It would seem that 3D printing may become as much about a process for making materials as it is for making objects at the moment. A hybrid or multi material 3D printer could create a sophisticated matrix of materials with different properties and behaviours. And these intelligent materials may be in sheet form just as it might be in the complex geometries that we know we can produce using 3D printers today.

The future of 3D printing may well be not the revolution in finding novel ways of reprinting the past and manufacturing reproductions of existing products but a revolution in making entirely new products with entirely new capabilities. This would signify a new industrial revolution but it seems likely that the 3D printer will not be found in the home but rather they will be hybrid manufacturing lines found in the lab and in the hi-tech factories of the future. 



Lee 3D specialise in 3D printing architectural models and colour 3D printing for the creative community. For further information please visit www.lee3d.co.uk









Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A smashing new art work!

When Adam gave us the brief for his new work titled "You & Me", I was not just taken aback, I was simply shocked. 

He showed us a sketch of the piece and explained that we would print two identical parts but one would be broken up and stored in a large glass vessel. The two parts "You & Me" would then stand together making up the whole artwork.

I spend all my working life trying not to break the work, from consideration of print files to careful handling of parts, our mission is not to damage, not to break, to deliver the cleanest, smartest, most blemish free part that we can. This even goes to the extent of mentally rehearsing the whole process on the way in to work each morning. So it really goes against the grain to make a piece and then wilfully break it.

It goes further, each of these pieces are over 700mm tall and require four full machine builds to make. Making parts of this size that fit tightly together, retain good colour and generally avoiding defects is a real challenge. It really, really goes against the grain to make a piece as monumental as this and then break it.


You & Me from Adam Nathaniel Furman on Vimeo.

For a time I tried to persuade Adam to consider less violent alternatives but I quickly saw that he was resolved on the matter. 

Over several weeks we did the work and made the parts, finished and assembled the two sculptures. Then the time came the artist stood lump hammer in hand, paused, took a deep breath and demolished one of the pieces.

Despite my reservations the end result proved a real treasure. Standing next to the rather majestic whole piece, the glass vessel came to life when filled with bits of its broken other. The pair stand well together.

This kind of high stakes poetry is not you average 3D print job but then Adam Nathaniel Furman is not your average customer.  You & Me is in many ways the culmination of years of Adam's output of amazing and colourful 3D printed designs, many of which we have had the pleasure of helping to bring into being. As a physical object the ambition of this piece and the final result are beyond anything that I have been involved with in this business. But this is the work of a poet and an artist too, the title, the initial sketch, the idea, the design and the execution. A work of poetry encapsulated in a work of art, recorded in a moment of theatre. Bravo Adam!



You or Me? Detail of upper parts.


Two sculptures together


After the action


You & Me



You & Me was exhibited at London's Hospital Club in 2014.

For more information about Lee 3D's colour 3D printing service visit www.lee3d.co.uk






Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Design Studio 13 - 2014

This year we printed a number of models for architecture students at Westminster University and in particular for diploma Design Studio 13. 

The project was set in a development zone in Shenzhen. The brief seemed pretty open, located within an area with no existing context and produced a wide range of proposals. Three of the DS13 projects are featured below. There were many other 3D printed models on display across the show and many of them interesting in their own right. 

Perhaps the most intriguing was the Anything Factory designed by Bryan Ratzlaff whose scheme calls for a multi-storey block split into 3 parts dividing logistics, data services and production. Interestingly Bryan previously worked as a 3D print production engineer and understands commercial 3D printing workflow, he also know to model details to the exact capability of the ZPrinter which shows in the detail of the model.

The premise for the project is the notion that 3D printing can shift manufacturing from far flung factories to local made on demand products. So the design speculates on a future where large machines are centralised in corporate additive manufacturing centres. Presumably an array of technologies producing parts that are assembled locally or sent out for assembly. 

Models printed using limited colour; white, grey and black. 


A 2D illustration of the concept

Image showing the surface texture modelled to the capability of the printer with a 1mm black rail representing the conveying line weaving between departments delivering consumables to machines and bringing creations back for inspection and shipping. This black rail is carefully modelled to pick up support from the structure enabling the 3D printer to produce this fine detail running through the core of the building.



Buildings will undoubtedly be built specifically to house additive manufacturing which often requires specialist environmental servicing in a similar way to conventional factories and labs. What would a suitable building typology for additive manufacturing look like? What kind of products would such a centre produce? What materials would they need to store? Could an additive manufacturing centre design and build itself? Will it require human intervention?

Certainly a project that asks as many questions about the future of additive manufacturing as it answers. Quite where this leaves the personal 3D printer is not addressed. It would seem to me that large multi material commercial 3D printers will always out compete the capabilities of the personal printer but that does not mean there will not be a place for both. 


Alexander Sun, who we bumped into at the opening night of the China Design Centre, printed a 1:2000 space frame as part of a huge shipping terminal - the 8th Wonder Cruise Terminal. Ambitious to the point of gratuitous engineering, an overwhelming city entrance or modern day triumphal arch, a proclaimed "international spectacle" and a statement of Chinese confidence.



The geometry of this model would usually cry out for printing in Nylon on an SLS machine. So this is not your typical plaster printed model but the result looks great. Personally I prefer the opacity of plaster models compared to the light absorbing Nylon material but I certainly acknowledge the increased strength and resilience of Nylon. In this case Alex did not have time to get the model made on SLS and opted for plaster. The part size of the structural members was 0.9mm diameter. 


The red ship was printed by Alex on a filament extruder. He also showed some very small scale master plans printed on his home machine. For student work or for any architect these machines can make a convincing contribution to presentations.  They are slow and cannot print all geometry but I expect to see a lot more extruded building models in future.




Ryan Kingsnorth's law court designed to promote openness and transparency in the functioning of the law in China. An example of British meddling in other people's business? An ironic statement on British law and trial's held in secret? From my cynical view I see this "transparent" building quickly surrounded by security fencing (for the best of reasons). Is architecture really able to influence human behaviour in this way.  Humans have a way of  shrugging off buildings that do not fit their requirements and replacing them or moving (back) to ones that do.




Anyway from a presentational point of view this model exhibits a nice use of minimal 3D printing in a less costly but highly effective context model. We often have clients requesting 1:200 models because that gives the level of detail they expect from sketch models made in the office from card and foam. I am not suggesting that 1:1000 is always a good scale for detail models but with 3D printng the smaller scales can show a great deal of design detail. 






Lee 3D was proud to contribute towards DS13's final show along with PLP Architecture, Allies and Morrison, Urban Future Organisation, Dust Architecture and Base Associates.


For more information about Lee 3D please visit www.lee3d.co.uk



Friday, 2 May 2014

3D Printing the KREOD pavilion

KREOD produced a trade pavilion for the London Olympics and plans to do the same for Brasil 2016. Lee 3D produced a model of KREOD's London pavilion which will initially be exhibited at the new China Design Centre which launched on the 1st May 2014. 

The 3D model of the pavilion was made using tools such as Rhino, Grasshopper and Evolute. This very neat structure naturally lends itself to 3D printing with the finest of margins. In this case the main construction is made up of elements that are 0.7mm in thickness. This allows a good amount of light to pass through the model expressing the geometry and the design intent.

The pavilion is made up of three moveable pods

The pavilion in the closed position

The ZPrinter 650 used to build these parts even picks up the floor detailing with gaps of just 0.125mm. Of course it is not all down to the machine. These parts are very fragile until they hardening resin is applied and require delicate handling and a certain amount of experience to remove powder from the surface of the parts with out breaking the models. Once hardened the parts can be handled with ease. 

The pods connected end to end
Interior view
KREOD's Chun Qing Li was suitably impressed and I think a little bit relieved when he came to pick up the model on the day before the China Design Centre launched. Lee 3D is now looking forward to working with KREOD to produce models of the proposed Brasil pavilion which will first be shown at the Clerkenwell Design Week later this month.

The China Design Centre showcases the unique design vision emerging from a country with a long history and rich culture, and whose dynamic economy is generating a new wave of talent in Architecture, Art and Craft, Furniture, Products and Materials. 

Terry Farrell speaking at the grand opening
of the China Design Centre in London

China Design Centre - chinadesigncentre.com
KREOD - www.kreod.com

For more information about Lee 3D visit www.lee3d.co.uk


Monday, 21 April 2014

3D printed art - a pointless exercise?

Making art pieces using a 3D printer may in some respects seem a pointless exercise. "won't it just get 3D scanned and copied?" is a common response. If you can copy it then it is not unique and it has less inherent value.

In theory yes you could scan and 3D print a copy of a 3D printed artwork, but there are a number of reasons why this is not a likely outcome. Some reasons for this are:
  • A functional prototype is finished to a different standard to an art work. In one the physical attributes of the part are key where as the other surface finish is key. Achieving quality surface finish is likely to be achieved more with human labour than with the 3D printing system alone. All 3D printing currently requires post processing which usually involves physical human input and additional processes that make parts unique. With colour 3D printing, parts needs cleaning up and a strengthening resin applied and possibly further finishing to protect the part. Not all colour 3D printer technicians use the same techniques and finishes and each produces parts that have a distinct appearance to the trained eye.
  • 3D Scanning an artwork is likely to be difficult, the presence of occlusions would mean that it would take a lot of time would be needed with the piece. Some areas of parts may not be possible to scan. You could not just scan an artwork while wandering around a gallery. The quality of scans makes it difficult to reproduce a part to to the same standard as the original. 
  •  3D Print technology is constantly changing after 5 to 10 years it would be difficult to find an original 3D printer running the right materials to reproduce a part. After 20 years it would be almost impossible. 

It would certainly be possible to make an imitation 3D print, but it would be as difficult to make a true copy of a 3D printed art piece as it is of a traditional print or even a contemporary painting. It could be done but it would not be easy. It would take an amount of time and expense that would raise the bar to a counterfeiter undertaking this work. Considering that most art pieces take many years to rise in value it may become more difficult to achieve as pieces rise in value and technology becomes obsolete.

Techniques that may be used to make more difficult for counterfeiters include adding signature or watermark voids into the part that cannot be seen without special equipment, adding unique chemicals to binders or resins, inserting RFID tags etc. 



Many of the 3D printed pieces that we made for Adam Nathaniel Furman's "Identity Parade" will be on public view at the Hospital Club from 22nd April for 2 months. You can make up you own mind how easy or difficult it would be to reproduce this amazing collection.

The Hospital Club
Endell Street
London
WC2

For more information about Lee 3D visit www.lee3d.co.uk




Thursday, 20 February 2014

3D printing - its all about the service

It is a common mistake with 3D printing to get distracted by the technology and pay too little attention to the process and the outcome.

The mechanised action of the 3D printing process is a very simple one. The human processes of converting a 3D software model to a physical model using a 3D printer is a more complex process. The principle is straightforward but there are many ways for a simple job to go wrong.

Our True Value
Our job as 3D print service providers is to protect the customer from the many opportunities for human error that exist along the path from digital to physical model. Errors in files, unrealistic print geometries, inappropriate materials, failed builds, poorly printed parts, broken parts, parts that arrive late, incorrectly sized and scaled and a whole bunch of other things that can go wrong along the way. Knowledge gained from years of experience doing this single operation over and over again is what the customer is really paying for when they commission work from Lee 3D's service bureau. 

Success Through Service
As a small company, we are keenly aware that helping our clients to be successful in the long run ensures our success. As a service company repeat customers are an affirmation of our success. Enough said.

Understanding Customers 
As we have entrenched architectural backgrounds at Lee 3D, we really do appreciate the time it takes to get design work done and out the door.  So when the client calls a meeting at almost no notice with their overworked architect, we are ready to pull out all the stops to get a model on the table for the meeting.

Incremental Improvements
When you think you know what you are doing it can be easy to get stuck in the same old way of doing things.  Keeping an open mind and being willing to take risks allows those incremental improvements.  And owning the business certainly sharpens the instinct to innovate. 

And the award goes to...



To find out more about Lee 3D visit www.lee3d.co.uk or call George on 07563 243 891










3D printing in architecture - update

The ever changing world of 3D print truly is a dizzying place at the moment. Late last year Fripp Design announced a full colour silicon based printer. Recently, I heard of the Mark One which allegedly 3D prints in Kevlar, carbon and glass fibre. 3D Systems recently announced 3D printers that print in candy, chocolate, ceramic and a full colour plastic 3D printer. Stratasys announced that the Connex3 will print multi materials in a palette of colours.

And yet with all this change the old ZPrinter range that was designed by ZCorporation and acquired by 3D Systems two years ago is still the number one 3D printer for many architectural models. What is it that makes this printer continue to hold this position?

The ZPrinter 650 (relaunched by 3D Systems as the ProJet 660) has three significant features that lend it to making architectural concept models:

Speed
Quite simply, the machine makes same day or next day models. The longest build you could print would be completed in about 20 hours.

This means architects can design right up until the night before a presentation and have a model in their meeting in the morning.

Size
This machine has a build size of 380 x 250 x 200(z)mm, giving a footprint a little smaller than the A3 paper size.

This allows a good size architectural model to be printed in a single build. Larger models can be tiled to make larger models.

Powder
This may seem an odd characteristic. This gives two important advantages over other machines. Firstly, powder is self supporting so you do not need to build a support structure and then remove it afterwards. Secondly, parts can be hollowed thus reducing the amount of material used in the model.

Self supporting means just about any geometry can be created and hollowing parts mean much lower costs.

Oh, and it is a full colour printer too. Actually, most of the models we print are white but colour models photograph better!

3D printed at Lee 3D on ZPrinter 650



To find out more about 3D printing of architectural models visit www.lee3d.co.uk or call George on 07563 243 891