Sunday, November 25, 2012

Embedded Electronics and Rubber: More is Better

One of the most limiting factors of 3D printing is the material. While designs and ideas can be freely transported on the internet, material will always have to be physically there. And of course not any material will work for any project, simple plastics can only go so far. That is why the true expansion opportunity of 3D printing lies in material development. In the past week there have been two announcements that may prove to be major in expanding the potential of 3D printing:
Source: The University of Warwick

1. Embedding sensors on the cheap

Dr. Simon Leigh (right) out of the University of Warwick (MSL & AM Lab) has used conductive plastics to create sensors within 3D printed objects to create everything from simple game controllers to cups that can detect how full they are. The material is a relatively inexpensive plastic composite, dubbed 'carbomorph', that allows for electronic tracks and sensors to be added. The process is nice because it is simple and compatible with current 3D printers. While printing electronics is not new (see here for the press release for a joint project between Stratasys (SSYS) and Optomec Inc. from March this year) making it cheaper would greatly expand the potential it has to impact the 3D economy. Moving forward the project will try and print more elaborate electronics. (For a more comprehensive article on the details of the project, click here, For an interview with Dr. Leigh see here)

a) the CAD design of the printed interface device and the simple circuit used to detect inputs, b) a photograph of the printed device, c) a macro image of the printed sensor pads (scale bar 5 mm), d) the capacitance of each printed sensor pad plotted against time e) an enlarged portion of the graph from part d showing the cross-sensitivity of each sensor pad.  Source: The University of Warwick

2. Rubber to the Road

3D printing materials are rigid, that is until now. Objet announced earlier this week the release of 16 new materials. Bringing their industry leading materials count to 123 (press release). The new materials take the standard plastics that are on the market and manipulate their toughness and elasticity. This expansion allows for the realm of 3D printing to expand in ways that were not previously considered, such as "soft-touch coating, non-slip surfaces, knobs, grips, seals, hoses, and footwear" (See here for a gallery of other possibilities)  that can add that extra comfort and functionality to a your 3D printed dream. This announcement reinforces my point made in an earlier post that when/if the Stratasys-Objet merger goes through the new company will have a strong position in the material development sector of the 3D economy which promises to be huge!

Headphones printed in one session with padding
 around the ears and at the top of the head
Source: Objet

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What did the 2012 election do for 3D Printing?

So for those that have been living under a rock there was this little thing called an election last week. I'm sure there were a lot of aspects of the 2012 election that will influence the 3D economy moving forward, but for now lets look at what the presidential election did.

As we saw the election came down to Ohio. In a previous post I highlighted the recently created National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and how Obama created this 3D printing development center to apply the technology to American manufacturing. At the time I wrote that post I wasn't considering the election in Ohio, but in retrospect locating of the plant in Youngstown, Ohio was also good for the Obama campaign as they fought to solidify they're image as saving manufacturing jobs in the region (see the White House release). There is no counter-factual to say what would have happened if there was no election, but the 3D economy is a clear winner in this potentially politically motivated move. I will leave the judgement of whether it paid off to you.

via Politico
On a less serious note, the election also gave rise to candidate themed 3D printed products. Makerbot launched a last minute poll using file downloads of candidate busts as votes. I can't say these are exact replicas, but the idea is fun. The results: Obama 394, Romney 146.

Obama on Thingiverse

Romney on Thingiverse

and there are earrings on Shapeways by Gilligonia (They also come in "Barack Michelle" and some other fun combos)

See here

See here