3D Printing?

Some museums provide replica objects that you can pick up and examine, rather than just peering at them through a glass case. There is a lot to be said at being able to feel an artefact, and look at the detail. It’s good for visually impaired people too.

Now, imagine being able to download a replica. Not just a 3D model that you can move about on screen, but a real, solid, object. Sounds like a fantasy? Nope. Z Corporation have built a 3D printer. The ZPrinter 310 Plus creates 3D models from pretty much any of the major 3D packages by using a powder printed using Hewlett-Packard‘s inkjet technology. It builds the model up in fine layers, in full 24 bit colour inside a heated build chamber.

ZPrinter 3D printer

So, whilst a physical object isn’t beamed straight onto your desk, it nearly is! You could download a 3D model, send it straight to the 3D printer, and there’s your replica object.

As 3D scanners and printers become more affordable, this could change the way that museums present their collections online forever. Loan boxes could be sent digitally across the world. The possibilities are quite endless.

Currently, the ZPrinter starts at a cool $19,900, so get saving!

6 Responses to 3D Printing?

  1. Alligator Descartes 5 July, 2006 at 10:53 am #

    This is pretty old-hat. We (Archaeoptics) did our first museum replication work back in 2001 and have done small amounts each year since then.

    As always, the major hurdle is money. If the BM, for example, is shutting galleries due to lack of funds to pay security, it’s unlikely they’ll be spending it on replicating artefacts unless there’s a financial gain to do so. Plenty of companies have tried to enter this “lucrative market” (their words, not ours), but have uniformly failed.

    It’s interesting technology and the pipe dream is valid. Unfortunately, due to the shoddy state of funding for museums in the UK (at least), it’s probably unlikely to happen on any large scale. Some small scale projects happen, but they are the exception rather than the norm.

    From a visual impairment point of view, it’s an excellent idea. We replicated some large Pictish stones using CNC machining in 2001 for a Scottish Archaeology Month event and those were a massive hit with the visitors, especially the visually impaired. They were staggered at the detail on the stones that could be presented using the combination of 3D scanning and CNC replication.

    It’s an interesting area though, and worth watching…


  2. Tom 5 July, 2006 at 12:29 pm #

    I know it’s old hat to you guys! It is just a pipe dream, but the blurb that I’ve seen about ZPrinter shows a definite step towards a consumer version – that’s what excites me, and inspired this post, however many years it takes, or whoever manufactures them. This is a “Tomorrow’s World” post!

    You know that I know that reproductions like this have been possible for some years. What I’m doing is a bit of crystal-ball gazing.

    Museum funding will indeed always be an issue. But if you think how much a colour laser printer was when they first came out in the 80’s, tens of thousands in today’s money, you can now get them for a few hundred quid. The same could be true for 3D printers – they’ll get cheaper and better with time, until they become a commodity. Maybe… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Right now, 3D replication isn’t a “lucrative market” because as you rightly point out, there’s just no cash, what with galleries closing (where’s the Iron Age gallery in the BM gone?!), and the equipment being expensive.


  3. Alligator Descartes 5 July, 2006 at 3:11 pm #

    The machines are getting cheaper, for sure. Part of the issue is the cost of producing content for them. That’s going to remain fairly costly, although face scanning output to 3d printers is becoming a bit more of a commodity product. I recall a shop in Amsterdam’s Damrak that did face scanning (actually structured light photography) which could then be pushed into a cystal machine (for all you Tim Blake fans!). The customer/victim could then pick up the crystal an hour later with their face embedded in glorious 3d.

    The other part of the issue is the cost of raw material. Sort of the razors and razor blades business model, I guess.

    The other interesting angle is whether low-cost 3d content can drive the sales of these things. I mean, a a large percentage of cameras today are digital, but the number of people purchasing printers to use with those cameras is proportionately lower (apparently). Personally, I print virtually no images, but take thousands. Would the same thing happen with 3d content? That is, would people acquire the data and then only print a few choice items? Or, would you go crazy and produce millions of little powdery figures to litter around the house? Think of the fun when moving house. Instead of boxes of photographs, it’d be like a car boot sale of free novelty items from cereal packets except of tat in your house/people you know!

    Difficult to tell, but we’ve repeatedly seen that the conceptual leap from 2D to 3D for most is quite a big step to take.

    Although, in a bit of further crystal ball gazing, perhaps that’s because I’m sitting here writing an email (a 2D letter analogy) on a 2D keyboard with a mouse that works in 2D looking at the characters (2D bitmaps) form on a 2D screen. I might watch some 2D TV later or read a 2D book.

    Is there a bigger 2D to 3D leap that needs to be made first? Discuss! ๐Ÿ™‚


    PS: And I know you know. I was just concerned your advancing years may have made you forget. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Tom 7 July, 2006 at 8:42 am #

    I think it depends upon where the scanners/printers go. Perhaps, as you point out, they might not make it into many homes just like today’s photo printers (I bought one yesterday – d’oh!). But then the car was considered a gimmick that would “never last” in its early days ๐Ÿ˜‰

    The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a noveltyโ€”a fad.
    – Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford’s lawyer Horace Rackham. Rackham ignored the advice and invested $5000 in Ford stock, selling it later for $12.5 million.Source: http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/neverwrk.htm

    But then there’s a quote for anything these days!

    The 3D web never took off, and rightly so. We still have 2D everything really on most computer systems. The Space Mouse (a 3D pointing device for those who don’t know) remains a specialist tool. There’s little benefit to 3D text.

    But then the real world is in 3D space. That book has pages that can be turned.

    A machine that allows you to download *stuff* is a pretty cool concept. Even if right now if what’s procuded is a bit… plastic. Or crystal faces. If (and probably when) it becomes commercialised, and the megacorporations start selling things that you ‘print’ yourself, who knows where that kind of investment could take the technology.

    I think that’s where it is distinctly different from the adage of the 3D web and photo printers. They’re very limited. Photo printers make… photos. 3D printers make – well, lots of things. And in the future, I’m sure they’ll be able to do a lot more, a lot better.

    That’s the point I’m trying to make ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Richard 8 July, 2006 at 7:15 pm #

    The Kinetic Models for Design Digital Library (KMoDDL) at Cornell features downloadable CAD files with the idea that people with access to 3D printers would be able to reproduce the models in the library. Even if you can’t print the interactive QuicktimeVR movies of different mechanisms are fun to play with.

    KMODDL is a collection of mechanical models and related resources for teaching the principles of kinematics–the geometry of pure motion. The core of KMODDL is the Reuleaux Collection of Mechanisms and Machines, an important collection of 19th-century machine elements held by Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

    You might also find eMachineShop of interest. You can login, create a design and they’ll fabricate it for you. I wonder if they’d accept some of the Cornell CAD files….

  6. Tom 8 May, 2007 at 8:14 am #

    As soon I say that the Space Mouse never took off, it was simplified, remodelled, and marketed towards users of Google Earth..!


    And it’s now rather successful.

    And someone’s invented a 3D printer that costs less than $5000…