Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Innovation in 3D print

Finally here are some really interesting innovative 3D printing projects. Both are linked by the use of employing micro processors in non conventional ways for 3D printing. The Peachy printer uses a sound card to drive a mirror and the other is some schoolboys from South Africa who are have written an app to print from a mobile phone to an extruding 3D printer that they built.

What is so great about the Peachy using a sound card is that the sound card is a highly developed piece of kit that sends small electrical impulses to an electromagnet that drives the speaker mechanism. It is such a neat fit for a device to power a tiny mirror. The elegance of this design solution elevates it to that exalted and over-baked description - awesome.

The Peachy also has a fantastic solution to the moving the build platform using a drip fed saline solution to support the body of resin. This means that the layer thickness can  be very tightly controlled.

This is a 3D printer with no motors! No vibration, no noise, energy efficient, does not require custom made electronics. This is revolutionary.  Well done Rylan Grayston and team.

In the second project, two 15 year olds, Pieter Scholtz and Gerhard de Clercq, from South Africa, created an app to slice and send data direct to their 3D printer from their mobile phone. Now I am not sure how unique this is. I know that some vendors have been talking about accessing 3D printers from mobiles and via html but you have to ask why would anyone ever want to do this? Well these guys have realised that in Africa mobile phones are widespread whereas computers are not. A good reason to build an app to 3D print from a phone. True most mobile phones in Africa are probably not smart phones but it would seem more likely that mobile device usage will develop where PC usage may not.

There has been some discussion of using 3D printers to make items in remote locations and this helps to progress this cause a little further on its way. Additionally with apps like Autodesk's 123D Catch a mobile could potentially capture scan data and then (possibly with some cloud data clean up) print it -  to allow on the spot reverse engineering.

Friday, 25 October 2013

BIM - 3D Printing - Hurdles to overcome

BIM has the one key ingredient needed for 3D printing and that is, 3D.  However, to get to a useful 3D print there are three main hurdles to overcome. 

1. Scaling

Because BIM is not a free-for-all modeler, objects that may be too thin to print at model scale may not easily be edited.  This usually leads to some re-modelling work outside of the BIM software to get to a 3D print ready state.

The image below shows the same data printed at 4 different scales.  Each one needed some editing to work at its particular scale. 

Model House printed at 1:100, 1:200, 1:500 and 1:1000 scales
Despite several attempts by software geniuses, it is still not possible to get a good scaled model from an automated process.  At Lee 3D we manually edit the file spending a good deal of effort to keep the detail clear and the design intent unaltered.  On a large dataset this can be time consuming.

2. Excess Data

A BIM model can become large and unwieldy when exported to a 3D printable format.  3D print data loses all of the object oriented efficiency of a BIM or CAD file.  For this reason the hinges on each of the doors and the text inscribed on each of the hinges can make a file very large indeed.

Where it is possible to export key geometry a good deal of time and megabytes can be saved.

3. Unresolved Geometry

Revit has an aversion to unresoved meeting points where structural parts should join.  Where details have not been fully designed, Revit carefully leaves all parts poised in readiness.  The consequence of this is that many structures contain large numbers of floating joists, beams and columns.  The hurdle is a double one as not only do all parts need to be extended a few mm, but it is very important that none are missed to avoid the model falling to pieces.

The image below illustrates the kind of thing that frequently occurs in Revit.  The beams would not quite reach the columns as this has junction has not been resolved.

In conclusion while BIM is great for 3D printing, there can be some hurdles to overcome in getting a good result.  Excess and unresolved data would seem to be the easiest hurdles to overcome.  How scaling can be addressed so that data can be reliably printed is still unclear.

For more information on 3D printing for AEC visit www.lee3d.co.uk

Thursday, 24 October 2013

BIM - 3D Printing - Introducing the Infomodel

BIM needs 3D printing in the same way that spreadsheets need pie charts.

BIM is a technocratic virtual construction that tends to create distance between its technical participants and the man-in-the-street world outside.  BIM needs interfaces between the information model and the stakeholder.  To do this BIM needs to break out of the virtual computer model into physical reality.  I am sure this is going to be challenging for technocrats that live and work in virtual space but it needs to happen if their work is to be appreciated, understood and made use of to its fullest extent.

3D printing offers BIM the ability to democratise design information.  Physical models allow untrained individuals to visualise and relate information spatially.  It offers a direct link from BIM model to physical artifact. 

In particular, colour 3D printing allows the overlaying of design information on to design geometry. 

New kinds of communication model need to be envisaged for communicating BIM models through the media of colour 3D printing.  Image mapping, keyed colour and shading, labeling and symbols can all be applied to present 3D printed infomodels.

Introducing the Infomodel

We have printed some great models in our time but we have not seen enough use of labeling and annotating of models.  To illustrate this, we made this infomodel to show the kind of results that could be achieved.

To find out more about colour 3D printing, visit: www.lee3d.co.uk

Colour 3D Printing for Marketing

Unique, customised, full colour 3D prints from Lee 3D add impact to events and presentations. 

Unique Gifts
3D printing allows you to make short runs of unique objects to promote your brand. 

3D Prints of Aldwych

Customised Promotional Items
We can 3D print customised objects for individuals creating a positive brand experience for your clients.

Full colour 3D printing is a must to stand out from the crowd.

We currently have a large body of colour 3D print work on show at the Design Museum (until) Jan 12 2014) where we have sponsored Adam Nathaniel Furman, Designer in Residence. 

For more information on how you can use this process to produce unique, customised colour sales and marketing tools call Lee 3D on 07563 243 891 
Visit www.lee3d.co.uk to find out about colour 3D printing

Thursday, 17 October 2013


The first series of colour 3D prints designed by Adam Nathaniel Furman for the Design Museum. All parts printed and finished by Lee 3D.

Yantrament 01
Shown in a custom made acrylic case.

Yantrament 02

Yantrament 03
Big Boss

Yantrament 04

Yantrament 05

Yantrament 06

For enquires about purchasing these pieces please contact the artist at adamnathanielfurman@gmail.com. To see the accompanying blog created alongside the parts visit - http://identity-parade.blogspot.co.uk/

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

Friday, 11 October 2013

What is so shameful about plaster?

In the last few days Asda (Walmart in UK) started advertising a service to 3D scan and 3D print figurines. The press release for this seems to include the description of the process as "The shape is then recreated in 3D form by spraying ceramic fluid in thin layers to build up a solid object." - see both Guardian and Daily Mail.


I need to buy this machine!

Or do I?

It turns out a UK 3D Systems reseller is boldly stating today (11th October 2013) that it is selling Projet Colour Ceramic 3D Printers.

Now I am pretty sure that ceramic is a sexier material than plaster but is this in any way factual?

The 3D Systems MSDS for the powder that they now call VisiJet PXL Core (formerly zp151) states that between 80 and 90% of the material is Calcium Sulphate Hemihydrate. CaSO4·~0.5H2O is more normally known as Plaster of Paris.

I do not know know if the Asda press release and the UK 3D Systems reseller are connected (although the UK reseller sells both the 3D printer and the 3D scanner shown on the Asda 3D printing promotional video) but something is clearly going on here. ZPrinters now known as ProJet x60 are to my knowledge plaster based 3D printers - our ZPrinter 650, by contrast to the Asda machine, sprays water based binding fluid from printheads on to plaster based powder bed.

So what is ceramic? 

A ceramic is, according to the fount of all knowledge Wikipedia, an "inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat and subsequent cooling."

The last part of this definition is important. Ceramics are formed by the transformational action of heat and subsequent cooling. I can find no connection to ceramics and plaster except that plaster moulds are used for ceramic slip casting.

The ZPrinter works by spraying a water based liquid (mostly it is water) onto a plaster based substrate (mostly it is plaster of Paris) and the part is created by in the first instance as a result of the water + plaster reaction.

As a final note the 3D Systems website Cubify is selling parts made in ceramic as Ceramix. These do look like real ceramic parts and 3D Systems do not make any claim to sell a ceramic based 3D printer to produce these parts. It is possible, though I have no specific knowledge that Cubify's Ceramix parts are printed on a legacy ZPrinter using something like ViriClay from Viridis.

And as an even more final note. Axiatec developed a cold ceramic finish to spray onto ZCorp parts. The notion of a cold ceramic precipitated heated debate among ceramicists and the general consensus was that a ceramic is not the physical characteristics of the material but the a product of a transformational process that includes heating and cooling. The Axiatec product looked and felt cold and heavy like a ceramic - Plaster parts feel like plaster parts.

Below is an image of a colour 3D print made at Lee 3D using 3D Systems plaster based powder in a ZPrinter 650 colour 3D printer. Part of a series of work on show at the Design Museum and on show until January 12 2014.

Plaster and proud of it.

(As of March 2016 - the UK 3D Systems reseller continues to sell the Projet x60 range of plaster based 3D printers as ceramic.)

To find out more about Quality Colour Plaster based 3D Printing visit www.lee3d.co.uk

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

7 reasons why plaster beats Nylon for making architectural concept models.

Nylon is better than plaster. Right?

Here are 7 reasons why plaster is better than Nylon for making architectural concept models:
  1. Nylon parts (SLS) cannot show the surface features achievable with plaster. For 2 reasons, first the economics of SLS bureaus dictate they print with the thickest layer they can get away with and second the laser spot size physically prevents printing features smaller than about 0.5mm. This makes the plaster based machine better for printing architectural facade models at scale.
    Part printed on ZPrinter 650 at Lee 3D showing 0.3mm surface detail.
  2. Plaster parts do not shrink or warp. Nylon parts are created at melt temperature which means they shrink as they cool. If the cooling is not even the parts warp and distort. Plaster parts do not warp. Model makers who know the technology have strategies for dealing with warp but it can be a problem when a model arrives for a meeting and the walls are bowing. 
  3. Plaster printing is probably 4 to 5 times faster than Nylon. That is 3 to 4 days that could be better spent designing. We often print same day jobs for clients in plaster which would simply not be possible in Nylon.
  4. Plaster printing can be full colour. Nylon can be dyed and that looks really nice - but it is a single colour. 
  5. Plaster is less wasteful. Now here is contentious issue. I really do not know the facts but if you think that a typical refresh rate applies to an SLS build of 25 - 30% then there may well be a good case for this assertion. Refresh rate means that 25 - 30% of the powder must be replaced after each build either used in a part or thrown in the bin. With the plaster system we reuse pretty much everything that does not go into a printed part.
  6. SLS is very sensitive to geometry. With the ZPrinter you can print multiple, intersecting and touching shells and sharp triangles with no loss of quality to the part. With SLS these can cause double passes of the laser that mark the surface of printed part. If you print a part with sharp triangles these appear on the surface of the part even if it should be flat.
  7. As a consequence of #6 it is much easier to model for a plaster printer. Ever tried getting rid of sharp triangles? 
In summary I would like to remind the reader that these points are made in reference to making architectural concept models.  A concept model by its nature is made quickly at a very early stage in the design process when it is often desirable to show simplified design geometry. Conversely are many reasons that model makers use SLS parts for making presentation models.

Certain technologies fit certain tasks. Nylon is not better than plaster and neither is plaster better than Nylon. Each material has its own characteristics which inform the choice of technology. I have deliberately not included cost in these points but this too will need to be part of the equation.

To find out more about Lee 3D  visit www.lee3D.co.uk

Thursday, 3 October 2013

TCT Show 2013

Each year I come away from TCT with different feelings about the industry.

This time around after being bombarded all year with media interest and social media mania, you could be forgiven for thinking that 3D printing was in a state of perpetual revolution. 

In fact TCT carries the same core professional and production machine manufacturers selling pretty much the same line up of technology at it has for the past 5 years. Seeing this was somewhat reassuring, the ground rules still apply, the industry is evolving, public perception is changing.

On my list of objectives for visiting TCT was to take a closer look at the Blueprinter and Mcor Iris machines.

These 2 machines are could not be more different but they both present technologies that can potentially upset the status quo. 

The Blueprinter uses a thermal printhead to fuse plastic powders. This technology is clearly aimed at the entry level (for now) of the SLS part market. Unlike SLS the lower temperature Blueprinter promises full recycling of materials in each build. Unlike SLS it uses a relatively inexpensive thermal printhead instead of a laser and so the cost of the systems is very much lower.

As a ZPrinter user I am attracted to this system as it is powder based and so it has all of the advantages of a self supporting system. The reality is that 3D printing machines are complex beasts and the road from proof of concept to production machine is a long and perilous one. Like SLS the printer heats the chamber to close to melt temperature. As heat is applied via the thermal printhead some energy is used to fuse powder but some heat energy will flow into the printed part and surrounding powder. Compensating for this additional localised heat imbalance on the next pass of the thermal printhead must be a significant challenge to the designers.

The Iris, full colour paper based 3D printer is built on the back of the single colour machine that is well built and probably pretty reliable. 

Adding the colour element may prove a mixed blessing. There is a difference between a single colour sketch model and a colour presentation model. You can get away with a lot of defects in the former while the latter will be seen in a much more critical light.

My hunch with this machine is that it needs some really good post processing development to transform the raw parts. 

If I were to make a criticism of ZCorporation when they developed the ZPrinter range, it would be that they were too willing to let customers do all of the innovating in the post processing realm. Their engineers were content to focus on the machine and the raw parts - they did not look closely enough at the process and the products that came out of their machines.

Well, I guess that is what we have built our businesses on.  Pre and post production to make parts that are better than the next bureau...


Walking out of TCT into the adjoining Sensor & Instrumentation show, we found an array of colour 3D prints on the Infratec stand. These are massively scaled up versions of their micro assemblies - an interesting reverse on the usually massively scaled down buildings and city models that we produce at Lee 3D. These models were apparently 3D printed somewhere in Germany. www.infratec.de/en.html

3D prints that serve a purpose always seem more interesting than demonstration pieces.

To find out more about Lee 3D visit www.lee3d.co.uk