3DPrinting NOT Revolutionary?


Printed robot at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. (flickr/Mads Boedker)



A new digital revolution is coming, this time in fabrication. It draws on the same insights that led to the earlier digitisations of communication and computation, but now what is being programmed is the physical world rather than the virtual one. Digital fabrication will allow individuals to design and produce tangible objects on demand, wherever and whenever they need them. Widespread access to these technologies will challenge traditional models of business, foreign aid, and education.

The roots of the revolution date back to 1952, when researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) wired an early digital computer to a milling machine, creating the first numerically controlled machine tool. By using a computer program instead of a machinist to turn the screws that moved the metal stock, the researchers were able to produce aircraft components with shapes that were more complex than could be made by hand. From that first revolving end mill, all sorts of cutting tools have been mounted on computer-controlled platforms, including jets of water carrying abrasives that can cut through hard materials, lasers that can quickly carve fine features, and slender electrically charged wires that can make long thin cuts. 

Today, numerically controlled machines touch almost every commercial product, whether directly (producing everything from laptop cases to jet engines) or indirectly (producing the tools that mold and stamp mass-produced goods). And yet all these modern descendants of the first numerically controlled machine tool share its original limitation: they can cut, but they cannot reach internal structures. This means, for example, that the axle of a wheel must be manufactured separately from the bearing it passes through. 

The aim is to not only produce the parts for a drone, for example, but build a complete vehicle that can fly right out of the printer.

In the 1980s, however, computer-controlled fabrication processes that added rather than removed material (called additive manufacturing) came on the market. Thanks to 3DPrinting, a bearing and an axle could be built by the same machine at the same time. A range of 3DPrinting processes are now available, including thermally fusing plastic filaments, using ultraviolet light to cross-link polymer resins, depositing adhesive droplets to bind a powder, cutting and laminating sheets of paper, and shining a laser beam to fuse metal particles. Businesses already use 3DPrinting to model products before producing them, a process referred to as rapid prototyping. Companies also rely on the technology to make objects with complex shapes, such as jewelry and medical implants. Research groups have even used 3DPrinting to build structures out of cells with the goal of printing living organs.

Additive manufacturing has been widely hailed as a revolution, featured on the cover of publications from Wired to The Economist…

This is, however, a curious sort of revolution, proclaimed more by its observers than its practitioners. In a well-equipped workshop, a 3DPrinting might be used for about a quarter of the jobs, with other machines doing the rest. One reason is that the printers are slow, taking hours or even days to make things. Other computer-controlled tools can produce parts faster, or with finer features, or that are larger, lighter, or stronger. Glowing articles about 3DPrinting read like the stories in the 1950s that proclaimed that microwave ovens were the future of cooking. Microwaves are convenient, but they don’t replace the rest of the kitchen.

The revolution is not additive versus subtractive manufacturing; it is the ability to turn data into things and things into data. That is what is coming; for some perspective, there is a close analogy with the history of computing. The first step in that development was the arrival of large mainframe computers in the 1950s, which only corporations, governments, and elite institutions could afford. Next came the development of minicomputers in the 1960s, led by Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP family of computers, which was based on MIT’s first transistorized computer, the TX-0. These brought down the cost of a computer from hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of thousands. That was still too much for an individual but was affordable for research groups, university departments, and smaller companies.

The people who used these devices developed the applications for just about everything one does now on a computer: sending e-mail, writing in a word processor, playing video games, listening to music. After minicomputers came hobbyist computers. The best known of these, the MITS Altair 8800, was sold in 1975 for about $1,000 assembled or about $400 in kit form. Its capabilities were rudimentary, but it changed the lives of a generation of computing pioneers, who could now own a machine individually. Finally, computing truly turned personal with the appearance of the IBM personal computer in 1981. It was relatively compact, easy to use, useful, and affordable.

Just as with the old mainframes, only institutions can afford the modern versions of the early bulky and expensive computer-controlled milling devices. In the 1980s, first-generation rapid prototyping systems from companies such as 3D Systems, Stratasys, Epilog Laser, and Universal brought the price of computer-controlled manufacturing systems down from hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of thousands, making them attractive to research groups.

The next-generation digital fabrication products on the market now, such as the RepRap, the MakerBot, the Ultimaker, the PopFab, and the MTM Snap, sell for thousands of dollars assembled or hundreds of dollars as parts. Unlike the digital fabrication tools that came before them, these tools have plans that are typically freely shared, so that those who own the tools (like those who owned the hobbyist computers) can not only use them but also make more of them and modify them. Integrated personal digital fabricators comparable to the personal computer do not yet exist, but they will.

Personal fabrication has been around for years as a science-fiction staple. When the crew of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation was confronted by a particularly challenging plot development, they could use the onboard replicator to make whatever they needed. Scientists at a number of labs (including mine) are now working on the real thing, developing processes that can place individual atoms and molecules into whatever structure they want. Unlike 3DPrinting today, these will be able to build complete functional systems at once, with no need for parts to be assembled. The aim is to not only produce the parts for a drone, for example, but build a complete vehicle that can fly right out of the printer. This goal is still years away, but it is not necessary to wait: most of the computer functions one uses today were invented in the minicomputer era, long before they would flourish in the era of personal computing. Similarly, although today’s digital manufacturing machines are still in their infancy, they can already be used to make (almost) anything, anywhere. That changes everything.


I first appreciated the parallel between personal computing and personal fabrication when I taught a class called “How to Make (almost) Anything” at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which I direct. CBA, which opened in 2001 with funding from the National Science Foundation, was developed to study the boundary between computer science and physical science. It runs a facility that is equipped to make and measure things that are as small as atoms or as large as buildings. 

We designed the class to teach a small group of research students how to use CBA’s tools but were overwhelmed by the demand from students who just wanted to make things. Each student later completed a semester-long project to integrate the skills they had learned. One made an alarm clock that the groggy owner would have to wrestle with to prove that he or she was awake. Another made a dress fitted with sensors and motorized spine-like structures that could defend the wearer’s personal space. The students were answering a question that I had not asked: What is digital fabrication good for? As it turns out, the “killer app” in digital fabrication, as in computing, is personalisation, producing products for a market of one person.

Inspired by the success of that first class, in 2003, CBA began an outreach project with support from the National Science Foundation. Rather than just describe our work, we thought it would be more interesting to provide the tools. We assembled a kit of about $50,000 worth of equipment (including a computer-controlled laser, a 3DPrinting, and large and small computer-controlled milling machines) and about $20,000 worth of materials (including components for molding and casting parts and producing electronics). All the tools were connected by custom software. These became known as “fab labs” (for “fabrication labs” or “fabulous labs”). Their cost is comparable to that of a minicomputer, and we have found that they are used in the same way: to develop new uses and new users for the machines.

Starting in December of 2003, a CBA team led by Sherry Lassiter, a colleague of mine, set up the first fab lab at the South End Technology Center, in inner-city Boston. SETC is run by Mel King, an activist who has pioneered the introduction of new technologies to urban communities, from video production to Internet access. For him, digital fabrication machines were a natural next step. For all the differences between the MIT campus and the South End, the responses at both places were equally enthusiastic. A group of girls from the area used the tools in the lab to put on a high-tech street-corner craft sale, simultaneously having fun, expressing themselves, learning technical skills, and earning income. Some of the home-schooled children in the neighborhood who have used the fab lab for hands-on training have since gone on to careers in technology.

The digitization of material is not a new idea. It is four billion years old, going back to the evolutionary age of the ribosome.

The SETC fab lab was all we had planned for the outreach project. But thanks to interest from a Ghanaian community around SETC, in 2004, CBA, with National Science Foundation support and help from a local team, set up a second fab lab in the town of Sekondi-Takoradi, on Ghana’s coast. Since then, fab labs have been installed everywhere from South Africa to Norway, from downtown Detroit to rural India. In the past few years, the total number has doubled about every 18 months, with over 100 in operation today and that many more being planned. These labs form part of a larger “maker movement” of high-tech do-it-yourselfers, who are democratizing access to the modern means to make things.

Local demand has pulled fab labs worldwide. Although there is a wide range of sites and funding models, all the labs share the same core capabilities. That allows projects to be shared and people to travel among the labs. Providing Internet access has been a goal of many fab labs. From the Boston lab, a project was started to make antennas, radios, and terminals for wireless networks. The design was refined at a fab lab in Norway, was tested at one in South Africa, was deployed from one in Afghanistan, and is now running on a self-sustaining commercial basis in Kenya. None of these sites had the critical mass of knowledge to design and produce the networks on its own. But by sharing design files and producing the components locally, they could all do so together. The ability to send data across the world and then locally produce products on demand has revolutionary implications for industry.

The first Industrial Revolution can be traced back to 1761, when the Bridgewater Canal opened in Manchester, England. Commissioned by the Duke of Bridgewater to bring coal from his mines in Worsley to Manchester and to ship products made with that coal out to the world, it was the first canal that did not follow an existing waterway. Thanks to the new canal, Manchester boomed. In 1783, the town had one cotton mill; in 1853, it had 108. But the boom was followed by a bust. The canal was rendered obsolete by railroads, then trucks, and finally containerized shipping. Today, industrial production is a race to the bottom, with manufacturers moving to the lowest-cost locations to feed global supply chains.

Now, Manchester has an innovative fab lab that is taking part in a new industrial revolution. A design created there can be sent electronically anywhere in the world for on-demand production, which effectively eliminates the cost of shipping. And unlike the old mills, the means of production can be owned by anyone. 

Why might one want to own a digital fabrication machine? Personal fabrication tools have been considered toys, because the incremental cost of mass production will always be lower than for one-off goods. A similar charge was leveled against personal computers. Ken Olsen, founder and CEO of the minicomputer-maker Digital Equipment Corporation, famously said in 1977 that “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” His company is now defunct. You most likely own a personal computer. It isn’t there for inventory and payroll; it is for doing what makes you yourself: listening to music, talking to friends, shopping. Likewise, the goal of personal fabrication is not to make what you can buy in stores but to make what you cannot buy. Consider shopping at IKEA. The furniture giant divines global demand for furniture and then produces and ships items to its big-box stores. For just thousands of dollars, individuals can already purchase the kit for a large-format computer-controlled milling machine that can make all the parts in an IKEA flat-pack box. If having the machine saved just ten IKEA purchases, its expense could be recouped. Even better, each item produced by the machine would be customized to fit the customer’s preference. And rather than employing people in remote factories, making furniture this way is a local affair.

This last observation inspired the Fab City project, which is led by Barcelona’s chief architect, Vicente Guallart. Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, has a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent. An entire generation there has few prospects for getting jobs and leaving home. Rather than purchasing products produced far away, the city, with Guallart, is deploying fab labs in every district as part of the civic infrastructure. The goal is for the city to be globally connected for knowledge but self-sufficient for what it consumes.

The digital fabrication tools available today are not in their final form. But rather than wait, programs like Barcelona’s are building the capacity to use them as they are being developed.


In common usage, the term “digital fabrication” refers to processes that use the computer-controlled tools that are the descendants of MIT’s 1952 numerically controlled mill. But the “digital” part of those tools resides in the controlling computer; the materials themselves are analog. A deeper meaning of “digital fabrication” is manufacturing processes in which the materials themselves are digital. A number of labs (including mine) are developing digital materials for the future of fabrication. 

The distinction is not merely semantic. Telephone calls used to degrade with distance because they were analog: any errors from noise in the system would accumulate. Then, in 1937, the mathematician Claude Shannon wrote what was arguably the best-ever master’s thesis, at MIT. In it, he proved that on-off switches could compute any logical function. He applied the idea to telephony in 1938, while working at Bell Labs. He showed that by converting a call to a code of ones and zeros, a message could be sent reliably even in a noisy and imperfect system. The key difference is error correction: if a one becomes a 0.9 or a 1.1, the system can still distinguish it from a zero.

Digital fabrication could be used to produce weapons of individual destruction.

At MIT, Shannon’s research had been motivated by the difficulty of working with a giant mechanical analog computer. It used rotating wheels and disks, and its answers got worse the longer it ran. Researchers, including John von Neumann, Jack Cowan, and Samuel Winograd, showed that digitizing data could also apply to computing: a digital computer that represents information as ones and zeros can be reliable, even if its parts are not. The digitization of data is what made it possible to carry what would once have been called a supercomputer in the smart phone in one’s pocket. 

These same ideas are now being applied to materials. To understand the difference from the processes used today, compare the performance of a child assembling LEGO pieces to that of a 3DPrinting.

First, because the LEGO pieces must be aligned to snap together, their ultimate positioning is more accurate than the motor skills of a child would usually allow. By contrast, the 3DPrinting process accumulates errors – as anyone who has checked on a 3DPrint that has been building for a few hours only to find that it has failed because of imperfect adhesion in the bottom layers can attest.

Second, the LEGO pieces themselves define their spacing, allowing a structure to grow to any size. A 3DPrinter is limited by the size of the system that positions the print head.

Third, LEGO pieces are available in a range of different materials, whereas 3DPrinters have a limited ability to use dissimilar materials, because everything must pass through the same printing process.

Fourth, a LEGO construction that is no longer needed can be disassembled and the parts reused; when parts from a 3DPrinter are no longer needed, they are thrown out.

These are exactly the differences between an analog system (the continuous deposition of the 3DPrinter) and a digital one (the LEGO assembly).

The digitization of material is not a new idea. It is four billion years old, going back to the evolutionary age of the ribosome, the protein that makes proteins. Humans are full of molecular machinery, from the motors that move our muscles to the sensors in our eyes. The ribosome builds all that machinery out of a microscopic version of LEGO pieces, amino acids, of which there are 22 different kinds. The sequence for assembling the amino acids is stored in DNA and is sent to the ribosome in another protein called messenger RNA. The code does not just describe the protein to be manufactured; it becomes the new protein. 

Labs like mine are now developing 3D assemblers (rather than printers) that can build structures in the same way as the ribosome. The assemblers will be able to both add and remove parts from a discrete set. One of the assemblers we are developing works with components that are a bit bigger than amino acids, cluster of atoms about ten nanometers long – an amino acid is around one nanometer long. These can have properties that amino acids cannot, such as being good electrical conductors or magnets.

The goal is to use the nanoassembler to build nanostructures, such as 3D integrated circuits. Another assembler we are developing uses parts on the scale of microns to millimeters. We would like this machine to make the electronic circuit boards that the 3D integrated circuits go on. Yet another assembler we are developing uses parts on the scale of centimeters, to make larger structures, such as aircraft components and even whole aircraft that will be lighter, stronger, and more capable than today’s planes: think a jumbo jet that can flap its wings.

A key difference between existing 3DPrinters and these assemblers is that the assemblers will be able to create complete functional systems in a single process. They will be able to integrate fixed and moving mechanical structures, sensors and actuators, and electronics. Even more important is what the assemblers don’t create: trash. Trash is a concept that applies only to materials that don’t contain enough information to be reusable. All the matter on the forest floor is recycled again and again. Likewise, a product assembled from digital materials need not be thrown out when it becomes obsolete. It can simply be disassembled and the parts reconstructed into something new.

The most interesting thing that an assembler can assemble is itself. For now, they are being made out of the same kinds of components as are used in rapid prototyping machines. Eventually, however, the goal is for them to be able to make all their own parts. The motivation is practical. The biggest challenge to building new fab labs around the world has not been generating interest, or teaching people how to use them, or even cost; it has been the logistics.

Bureaucracy, incompetent or corrupt border controls, and the inability of supply chains to meet demand have hampered our efforts to ship the machines around the world. When we are ready to ship assemblers, it will be much easier to mail digital material components in bulk and then e-mail the design codes to a fab lab so that one assembler can make another. 

Assemblers’ being self-replicating is also essential for their scaling. Ribosomes are slow, adding a few amino acids per second. But there are also very many of them, tens of thousands in each of the trillions of cells in the human body, and they can make more of themselves when needed. Likewise, to match the speed of the Star Trek replicator, many assemblers must be able to work in parallel.


Are there dangers to this sort of technology? In 1986, the engineer Eric Drexler, whose doctoral thesis at MIT was the first in molecular nanotechnology, wrote about what he called “gray goo,” a doomsday scenario in which a self-reproducing system multiplies out of control, spreads over the earth, and consumes all its resources.

In 2000, Bill Joy, a computing pioneer, wrote in Wired magazine about the threat of extremists building self-reproducing weapons of mass destruction. He concluded that there are some areas of research that humans should not pursue. In 2003, a worried Prince Charles asked the Royal Society, the United Kingdom’s fellowship of eminent scientists, to assess the risks of nanotechnology and self-replicating systems.

Although alarming, Drexler’s scenario does not apply to the self-reproducing assemblers that are now under development: these require an external source of power and the input of nonnatural materials. Although biological warfare is a serious concern, it is not a new one; there has been an arms race in biology going on since the dawn of evolution.

“A more immediate threat is that digital fabrication could be used to produce weapons of individual destruction. An amateur gunsmith has already used a 3DPrinter to make the lower receiver of a semiautomatic rifle, the AR-15.”

This heavily regulated part holds the bullets and carries the gun’s serial number. A German hacker made 3- copies of tightly controlled police handcuff keys. Two of my own students, Will Langford and Matt Keeter, made master keys, without access to the originals, for luggage padlocks approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. They x-rayed the locks with a CT scanner in our lab, used the data to build a 3D computer model of the locks, worked out what the master key was, and then produced working keys with three different processes: numerically controlled milling, 3DPrinting, and molding and casting.

These kinds of anecdotes have led to calls to regulate 3DPrinters. When I have briefed rooms of intelligence analysts or military leaders on digital fabrication, some of them have invariably concluded that the technology must be restricted. Some have suggested modeling the controls after the ones placed on color laser printers. When that type of printer first appeared, it was used to produce counterfeit currency. Although the fake bills were easily detectable, in the 1990s the U.S. Secret Service convinced laser printer manufacturers to agree to code each device so that it would print tiny yellow dots on every page it printed. The dots are invisible to the naked eye but encode the time, date, and serial number of the printer that printed them. In 2005, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends digital rights, decoded and publicized the system. This led to a public outcry over printers invading peoples’ privacy, an ongoing practice that was established without public input or apparent checks.

Justified or not, the same approach would not work with 3DPrinters. There are only a few manufacturers that make the print engines used in laser printers. So an agreement among them enforced the policy across the industry. There is no corresponding part for 3DPrinters. The parts that cannot yet be made by the machine builders themselves, such as computer chips and stepper motors, are commodity items: they are mass-produced and used for many applications, with no central point of control. The parts that are unique to 3-D printing, such as filament feeders and extrusion heads, are not difficult to make. Machines that make machines cannot be regulated in the same way that machines made by a few manufacturers can be. 

here is some barrier to entry to using the intellectual property and if infringement can be identified. That applies to the products made in expensive integrated circuit foundries, but not to those made in affordable fab labs. Anyone with access to the tools can replicate a design anywhere; it is not feasible to litigate against the whole world. Instead of trying to restrict access, flourishing software businesses have sprung up that freely share their source codes and are compensated for the services they provide. The spread of digital fabrication tools is now leading to a corresponding practice for open-source hardware.

RepRap and Bowyer


Communities should not fear or ignore digital fabrication. Better ways to build things can help build better communities. A fab lab in Detroit, for example, which is run by the entrepreneur Blair Evans, offers programs for at-risk youth as a social service. It empowers them to design and build things based on their own ideas.

It is possible to tap into the benefits of digital fabrication in several ways. One is top down. In 2005, South Africa launched a national network of fab labs to encourage innovation through its National Advanced Manufacturing Technology Strategy. In the United States, Representative Bill Foster (D-Ill.) proposed legislation, the National Fab Lab Network Act of 2010, to create a national lab linking local fab labs. The existing national laboratory system houses billion-dollar facilities but struggles to directly impact the communities around them. Foster’s bill proposes a system that would instead bring the labs to the communities. 

Another approach is bottom up. Many of the existing fab lab sites, such as the one in Detroit, began as informal organizations to address unmet local needs. These have joined regional programs. These regional programs, such as the United States Fab Lab Network and FabLab.nl, in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, take on tasks that are too big for an individual lab, such as supporting the launch of new ones. The regional programs, in turn, are linking together through the international Fab Foundation, which will provide support for global challenges, such as sourcing specialized materials around the world.

To keep up with what people are learning in the labs, the fab lab network has launched the Fab Academy. Children working in remote fab labs have progressed so far beyond any local educational opportunities that they would have to travel far away to an advanced institution to continue their studies. To prevent such brain drains, the Fab Academy has linked local labs together into a global campus. Along with access to tools, students who go to these labs are surrounded by peers to learn from and have local mentors to guide them. They participate in interactive global video lectures and share projects and instructional materials online.

The traditional model of advanced education assumes that faculty, books, and labs are scarce and can be accessed by only a few thousand people at a time. In computing terms, MIT can be thought of as a mainframe: students travel there for processing. Recently, there has been an interest in distance learning as an alternative, to be able to handle more students. This approach, however, is like time-sharing on a mainframe, with the distant students like terminals connected to a campus. The Fab Academy is more akin to the Internet, connected locally and managed globally. The combination of digital communications and digital fabrication effectively allows the campus to come to the students, who can share projects that are locally produced on demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that in 2020, the United States will have about 9.2 million jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to data compiled by the National Science Board, the advisory group of the National Science Foundation, college degrees in these fields have not kept pace with college enrollment. And women and minorities remain significantly underrepresented in these fields. Digital fabrication offers a new response to this need, starting at the beginning of the pipeline. Children can come into any of the fab labs and apply the tools to their interests. The Fab Academy seeks to balance the decentralized enthusiasm of the do-it-yourself maker movement and the mentorship that comes from doing it together.

After all, the real strength of a fab lab is not technical; it is social. The innovative people that drive a knowledge economy share a common trait: by definition, they are not good at following rules. To be able to invent, people need to question assumptions. They need to study and work in environments where it is safe to do that. Advanced educational and research institutions have room for only a few thousand of those people each. By bringing welcoming environments to innovators wherever they are, this digital revolution will make it possible to harness a larger fraction of the planet’s brainpower.

Digital fabrication consists of much more than 3DPrinting. It is an evolving suite of capabilities to turn data into things and things into data. Many years of research remain to complete this vision, but the revolution is already well under way. The collective challenge is to answer the central question it poses:

How will we live, learn, work, and play when anyone can make anything, anywhere?

Water Cooled RepRap > > >

Adrian Bowyer, inventor of the world’s most popular home 3DPrinter genus, the RepRap, has been experimenting with a water-cooled print head.

Whilst the fan-cooled heads are a highly successful design, having a very short melt zone and high-power to respond to changes in load, the fan is often deemed relatively bulky.

The application of water cooling, which has emerged as a subtle but growing trend in the home computing world, has an outcome much lighter and more compact.

Best of all the cooling is more efficient.

A brass block that replaces the normal aluminium cooling block that attaches to the fan.  The brass has water channels drilled in it, and some soft silicone tubing connecting it to a small 12V gear pump.  The inflow and outflow temperatures are only a fraction of a degree different, meaning that multiple heads could be chained in series and all cooled by the same flow.

Here is a video from the inventor’s labs to whet your intrigue…

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/45756426″>RepRap water-cooled head</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user403878″>Adrian Bowyer</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

More: http://reprappro.com/Special_Blog?cmd=post&id=6

Pulling A Rabbit Out Of A Printer > > >

Liz Neely, Director of Digital Information & Access at the Art Institute of Chicago, had been one of those experimenting with 3D Printing and 3D Scanning. Here is a Q&A session between she and Seb Chan of Fresh and New:

Q – What has Art Institute of Chicago been doing in terms of 3D digitisation? Did you have something in play before the Met jumped the gun?

At the Art Institute before #Met3D, we had been experimenting with different image display techniques to meet the needs of our OSCI scholarly catalogues and the Gallery Connections iPad project. The first OSCI catalogues focus on the Impressionist painting collections, and therefore the image tools center on hyper-zooming to view brushstrokes, technical image layering, and vector annotations.

Because the Gallery Connections iPads focus on our European Decorative Arts (EDA), a 3Dimensional collection, our approach to photography has been decidedly different and revolves around providing access to these artworks beyond what can be experienced in the gallery. To this end we captured new 360-degree photography of objects, performed image manipulations to illustrate narratives and engaged a 3D animator to bring select objects to life.

For the 3D animations on the iPads, we required an exactitude and artistry to the renders to highlight the true richness of the original artworks. Rhys Bevan meticulously modelled and ‘skinned’ the renders using the high-end 3D software, Maya.

We often included the gray un-skinned wireframe models in presentations, because the animations were so true it was hard to communicate the fact that they were models. These beautiful 3D animations allow us to show the artworks in motion, such as the construction of the Model Chalice, an object meant to be deconstructed for travel in the 19th century.

These projects piqued my interest in 3D, so I signed up for a Maya class at SAIC, and, boy, it really wasn’t for me. Surprisingly, building immersive environments in the computer really bored me. Meanwhile, the emerging DIY scanning/printing/sharing community focused on a tactile outcome spoke more to me as a ‘maker’. This is closely aligned with my attraction to Arduino — a desire to bring the digital world into closer dialogue with our physical existence.

All this interest aside, I hadn’t planned anything for the Art Institute.

Mad props go out to our friends at the Met who accelerated the 3D game with the #Met3D hackathon. Tweets and blogs coming out of the hackathon-motivated action. It was time for all of us to step up and get the party started!

Despite my animated—wild jazz hands waving—enthusiasm for #Met3D, the idea still seemed too abstract to inspire a contagious reaction from my colleagues.

We needed to bring 3D printing to the Art Institute, experience it, and talk about it. My friend, artist and SAIC instructor Tom Burtonwood, had attended #Met3D and was all over the idea of getting 3D going at the Art Institute.

On July 19th, Tom and Mike Moceri arrived at the Art Institute dock in a shiny black SUV with a BATMAN license plate and a trunk packed with a couple Makerbots.

Our event was different from #Met3D in that we focused on allowing staff to experience 3D scanning and printing first hand. We began the day using iPads and 123D Catch to scan artworks. In the afternoon, the two Makerbots started printing in our Ryan Education Center and Mike demonstrated modelling techniques, including some examples using a Microsoft Kinect.

Colleagues began dialoging about a broad range of usages for education programs, creative re-mixing of the collection, exhibition layout planning, assisting the sight impaired and prototyping artwork installation.

Q – Your recent scan of the Rabbit Tureen used a different method. You just used existing 2D photos, right? How did that work?

In testing image uploads onto the Gallery Connections iPad app, this particular Rabbit Tureen hypnotised me with its giant staring eye.

Many EDA objects have decoration on all sides, so we prioritised imaging much of work from 72 angles to provide the visual illusion of a 360 degree view like quickly paging through a flip book.

It occurred to me that since we had 360 photography, we might be able to mold that photography into a 3D model. This idea is particularly exciting because we could be setting ourselves up to amass an archive of 3DPrintable models through the museum’s normal course of 2D sculptural and decorative arts photography.

This hypothesis weighed on my thoughts such that I snuck back into the office over Labour Day weekend to grab the full set of 72 image files. Eureka! I loaded the files into 123D Catch and it created a near perfect 3D render.

By ‘near perfect’, I mean that the model only had one small hole and didn’t have any obvious deformities. With much Twitter guidance from Tom Burtonwood, I pulled the Catch model into Meshmaker to repair the hole and fill in the base. Voila-we had a printable bunny!

The theory had been proven: with minimal effort while making our 360 images on the photography turntable, we are creating the building blocks for a 3DPrintable archive!

Q – What do you think are the emerging opportunities in 3D digitisation?

There are multitudes of opportunities for 3D scanning and printing with the most obvious being in education and collections access.

To get a good 3D scan of sculpture and other objects without gaping holes, the photographer must really look at the artwork, think about the angles, consider the shadows and capture all the important details.

This is just the kind of thought and ‘close looking’ we want to encourage in the museum. I’ve followed with great interest the use of 3D modelling in the Conservation Imaging Project led by Dale Kronkright at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum.

Q – Is 3D the next level for the Online Scholarly Catalogues Initiative?

A group of us work collaboratively with authors on each of our catalogues to determine which interactive technologies or resources are most appropriate to support the catalogue. We’re currently kicking off 360 degree imaging for our online scholarly Roman catalogue. In these scholarly catalogues, we would enforce a much higher bar of accuracy and review than the DIY rapid prototyping we’re doing in 123D Catch. It’s very possible we could provide 3D models with the catalogues, but we’ll have to address a deeper level of questions and likely engage a modelling expert as we have for the Gallery Connections iPad project.

More immediately, we can think of other access points to these printable models even if we cannot guarantee perfection. For example, I’ve started attaching Thing records to online collection records with associated disclaimers about accuracy. We strive to develop an ecosystem of access to linked resources authored and/or indexed for each publication and audience.

Q – Has anyone from your retail/shop operations participated? What do they think about this ‘object making’?

Like a traveling salesman I show up at every meeting with 2 or 3 printed replicas and an iPad with pictures and videos of all our current projects. At one meeting where I had an impromptu show and tell of the printed Art Institute lion, staff from our marketing team prompted a discussion about the feasibility of creating take-home DIY mold-a-ramas! It was decided that for now, the elongated print time is still a barrier to satisfying a rushed crowd. But in structured programs, we can design around these constraints.

At the Art Institute, 3D scanning and printing remains, for now, a grass-roots enthusiasm of a small set of colleagues. I’m excited by how many ideas have already surfaced, but am certain that even more innovations will emerge as it becomes more mainstream at the museum.

Q – I know you’re a keen Arduino boffin too. What contraptions do you next want to make using both 3DPrinting and Arduino? Will we be seeing any at MCN?

This should be interesting since MCN will kick off with a combined 3DPrinting and Arduino workshop co-led by the Met’s Don Undeen and Miriam Langer from the New Mexico Highlands University. We will surely see some wonderfully creative chaos, which will build throughout the conference.

These workshops may seem a bit abstract at first glance from the daily work we do. I encourage everyone to embrace a maker project or workshop even if you can’t specifically pinpoint its relevance to your current projects. Getting your hands dirty in a creative project can bring and innovative mindset to e-publication, digital media and other engagement projects.

Sadly I won’t have time before MCN to produce an elaborate Arduino-driven Makerbot masterpiece. I’m currently dedicating my ‘project time’ to an overly ambitious installation artwork that incorporates Kinect, Arduino, Processing, servos, lights and sounds to address issues of balance…’

Adapted from an article by Seb Chan


KamerMaker: Game Changer? > > >

A massive mobile 3DPrinter to print architecture on demand… the stuff of science fiction again becomes reality with 3Dprinting.

While in one direction 3DPrinters, from heom desktop prtiners to nanoscale lab machines, are printing ever smaller objects, in ever finer details, things are moving at the other end of the scale as well.

We’ve seen concepts of monolithic printers that can 3DPrint entire homes, but, currently,, they appear to be for the future. However, in the now, we are seeing real printers getting larger, and DUS, a Dutch architecture firm, has produced a printer prototype large enough to print  structures that can actually shelter people!

The KamerMaker, and is based upon DUS’s normal-sized 3DPrinter, the Ultimaker, with a print range increased to huge 2.2m x 2.2m x 3.5m!

The unit is mobile, a traveling pavilion, where on-demand architecture can respond to local needs. Think of such a printer home modules on-site, to provide permanent or temporary housing, perhaps even using recycled plastic. Here’s DUS’s amazing video:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/36027546″>KamerMaker</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user9732280″>DUS Architects</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Kinect 3D Scan with ‘Skanect’ >

Scan it. Watch it made for you… Microsoft Kinect purchase Skanect takes 3D scans and turns them into designs for 3DPrinting.

Skanect is a low-cost 3DScanner based on Kinect. While the Kinect is moved around, it captures new views of an object or a room and automatically computes a metric 3D model, in real-time. Skanect can detect planes, such as floors and walls, and perform automatic ground alignment.

Skanect’s output can be imported into popular 3DSoftware further examination, measurement and refining.

Skanect 0.2 can be downloaded for free and is available for Windows (32 & 64 bit) and Mac OS X 10.6 & higher: http://manctl.com/products.html

COMPARISON: ReconstructMe, KinectFusion & Skanect…

A quick demonstration of different software with Kinect to gather 3D spatial data. The first software is ProFactor ReconstructMe, then KinectFusion, and finally,  Skanect…



Manctl is one of 11 startups that won $20,000 (£12,300) of funding and support from Microsoft as part of its Kinect Accelerator program, the same as startup-in-law Ubi Interactive, and similarly remains independent as a business.

French startup Manctl has created a working answer to the question, “Have you ever wanted to produce a full-colour 3D model of your house?” Its solution was to use Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows, coupled with its own 3D mapping software.

Manctl’s first product, Skanect, allows anyone with a Kinect to rotate it around a room, providing the Skanect software with visual information that it stitches together to form a complete 3D image. Much like a Computer Aided Design (C.A.D.) drawing, the user is then able to zoom in or out of, rotate and navigate an on-screen 3D version of whatever was scanned.

“Our mission is to enable the masses to capture the world in 3D,” said Burrus “We’re working on a scanner that lets you scan people, objects and rooms,” co-founder and CTO Nicolas Burrus explained to Wired.co.uk previously. (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-05/27/skanect)

‘Manctl is a startup comprising CTO Burrus, who holds a PhD in computer vision technologies, and CEO Nicolas Tisserand, formerly a software architect working with computer DJ applications. “We’ve been friends for ten years,” said Burrus, “after meeting at university.

“We’re still figuring out our best business model, but what we definitely want to provide is a free version for consumers and enthusiasts to start scanning their children, their house, their animals and share it with their friends.

“It’ll be limited to online sharing; you can’t post-process it, as that’s for another category of people, like those in the prototyping industry, artists and people working in robotics.”

 “You can either use complex modeling software that’s used by the movie industry, or use a capturing device such as a laser scanner. This works, but costs [up to] $40,000 (£25,500), so it’s not for the mass market.” ‘

3DPrinting & Copyright: Future War? >


The next great technological disruption is fermenting away, out of sight, in garage workshops, college labs, and basements. Hobbists with machines that turn binarys into molecules are pioneering a new way of making, everything. One that could well rewrite the rules of making and manufacturing, in much the same way as the PC revolutionised the world of computing… and the world.

The machines, called 3DPrinters, have existed in industry for years. But at a cost of $100,000, few individuals could ever afford one.  But, as with all technology, their price has fallen – industrial 3DPrinters can now purchased for $15,000. Home versions for little more than $1,000, or half that in kit form…

“In many ways, today’s 3DPrinting community resembles the personal computing community of the early 1990s,”
– Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at Public Knowledge

As an expert on intellectual property, Mr Weinberg has produced a white paper that documents the likely course of 3DPrinting’s development – and how the technology could be affected by patent and copyright law.

He is far from certain about its potential. His main fear is that the fledgling technology could have its wings clipped by traditional manufacturers, who will doubtless view it as a threat to their livelihoods, and do all in their powers to nobble it. Because of a 3DPrinter’s ability to make perfect replicas, they will probably try to brand it’s produce piracy to protect their brand.

But while the pirates’ labour rates and material costs may be far lower, the tools they use to make fakes are essentially the same as those used by the original manufacturers. Equipment costs alone have thus limited counterfeiting industry growth… but given a cheap 3DPrinter coupled to a laser scanner, and pirated goods may indeed proliferate.

Intellectual property is unconcerned with the 3DPrinter itself, but before it can manufacture, it needs a file of the object to be produced, along with specialised software to tell the printer how to lay down the successive layers of material, designed on a computer using CAD software, or downloaded from open-source archives.

But many may be copied from an existing product, using a scanner that records the 3D measurements from various angles and turns that data into a CAD file. This is where claims of infringement start, unless the object is in the public domain, copyright law could well apply. This has caught out a number of unwitting users of 3DPrinters who have made reproductions of existing products.

Earlier this year, for instance, one hobbyist worked out how to print the popular “Penrose Triangle”, an optical illusion that cannot exist in normal three-dimensional Euclidean space, and released a video challenging others to say how it was done.

Another 3D modeler not only figured it out but uploaded the CAD file of his own solution to Thingiverse. Whereupon the initial designer threatened Thingiverse with legal action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998.

The issue was only resolved when it was pointed out that someone else actually invented the Penrose Triangle (a Swedish artist in the 1930s), and the optical illusion itself could be considered a useful object—and therefore did not qualify for copyright protection which covers only non-functioning intangibles such as pictures, philharmony and prose.

The designer subsequently dropped the copy-write case and dedicated the rights to the community. There are now five versions of the Penrose Triangle on Thingiverse.

Manufacturers are likely to behave much like the record industry did when its own business model – based on selling expensive albums that few music fans actually wanted, instead of the cheap single tracks they saught – came under attack from file-swapping technology and MP3 software: embrace copyright, rather than patent, law, because many of their patents will have expired.

Patents apply for only 20 years while copyright continues for 70 years after the creator’s death.

So expect manufacturers to lobby for their own form of DMCA, with copyright protection expanded to cover functional objects that contain elements of design. “This would create a type of quasi-patent system, without the requirement for novelty or the strictly limited period of protection,” says Mr Weinberg.

The biggest lesson the record industry learned from its copyright battles with file-swappers was that going after individual infringers was prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Instead, the record companies lobbied to get copyright liability extended to cover not only individuals who infringe, but also those who ‘facilitate infringement…’  Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the file-swapping websites themselves.

The record industry was very successful. Today, websites and ISPs have to block or remove infringing material whenever they receive a DMCA takedown notice.

Google reckons that more than a third of the DMCA notices it has received over the years have turned out to be bogus copyright claims.

Over a half were from companies trying to restrict competing businesses rather than law-breakers.

Under the banner of piracy, established manufacturers could likewise seek to get the doctrine of “contributory infringement” included in some expanded object-copyright law, as a way of decimating the home manufacturing movement early in it’s development.

Being free to sue websites that host 3D design files as “havens of piracy” would save them the time and money of having to prosecute thousands of individuals with a 3DPrinter churning out copies at home.

“You’ll have people going to Washington and saying we need new rights,” Weinberg frets. Laws that keep 3D printers from outputting anything but objects “authorised” by megacorporations – DRM for the physical world. To stave this off, Weinberg is trying to educate legislators now.

Lets hope he is successful. After all, 3D printers aren’t just about copying. They’re a powerful new tool for experimenting with the design of the physical world, for thinking, for generating new culture, for stretching our imaginations.

Today’s 3DPrinting community needs to keep a keen eye on such policy debates as they grow.

“There will be a time when impacted legacy industries demand some sort of DMCA for 3DPrinting,” says Mr Weinberg.

Adapted from: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2012/09/3d-printinghttp://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-05/31/3d-printing-copyright