April 23, 2014

Head in the Point Clouds

Sam Pfeifle

Sam Pfeifle was Editor of SPAR Point Group from September 2010 - February 2013.

Uh oh. Laser scanning might be cool now...

You guys know what "bling" is? I'm guessing so. It's all that jewelry and nonsense that rappers put on (even capping their teeth with diamonds) and it kind of became a thing. At least here in the United States. Could the music industry create a similar boom for 3D data capture?

Hard to believe, I know, but see if you can stomach the video for this new song from will.i.am (of the Black Eyed Peas) and Britney Spears (of, well, a decade ago):


Did you get far enough to notice the 3D printer printing out will.i.am's head? Ok, probably not. I understand that the song is an abomination (although I sort of like the "oh wee oh wee oh wee oh" part). But the part you care about looked like this:


See, will.i.am and Britney are showing how cool they are by showing us the technology they're down with. You see and iPad with the cool typewriter keyboard link up, an iPod underwater, a robot hand, even the latest digital camera hanging from one of the dancer's necks ACTING AS bling. Well, all of that plus a Lamborghini. And a bunch of gold chains. 

But the important part is that you can't make will.i.am's head print out without scanning it first. Or using photogrammetry of some sort, but it looks like a scan to me.

In fact, major music industry commentators have noted that tech has supplanted music as the place where all the envelope-pushers go. As the music is increasingly created with digital tools like MPC players and just plain software, it only makes sense. It used to be that tech rode music's coattails, but now it's starting to be the other way around. Musicians want to ride the latest tech, the apps and gadgets that fascinate us nowadays.

And one of those gadgets is a laser scanner. 

Get used to it. You're cool. But you knew that.

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That presidential mention of 3D printing

You all heard it, right? Here's what U.S. President Obama said in his State of the Union address last night: "Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."

02.13.13.obamaYou'll remember we wrote about that facility back in August. Oh, and back in 2008. And just to be clear: There is no way we can see significant growth in 3D printing without a significant growth in 3D data capture. It's why 3D Systems bought Rapidform and is buying Geomagic and it's why a data capture evangelist like Michael Raphael at Direct Dimensions is cozying up with Bre Pettis at MakerBot and it's why Ping Fu, who founded a software company that works with captured data, keeps getting interviewed about 3D printing.

Sure, 3D printing gets the press because it's sexier and produces something tangible and people are still scared of computers and it looks like the Jetsons, but data capture is what's going to drive the 3D printing industry. I'm quite sure of that.

So that's why it's great to hear the president say things like:

So tonight, I'm announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.

And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get that done.

You'll remember that the Department of Defense invested $69 million in that Youngstown facility. I'm guessing we're talking about similar cash outlays for these other 14 hubs. The total spend on that wouldn't be far from the current size of the entire data capture market in the United States.

(Oh, and if you don't think the markets pay attention to what the president has to say, please note that shares in 3D Systems and Stratasys jumped today after last night's mention.)

But those of you out there in the field doing the laser scanning need to speak up and make your voices heard. Make sure there's money going to capture R&D as much to print R&D. Make sure you're collaborating on workflow with those in the printing field. 

Along the way, it would be nice, too, if everyone remembered to keep the business case and why anyone would actually want to do these things in mind. Don't let it be a bubble like 3D printing has been in the past. 

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Two more Kickstarter projects you need to know about

Yes, start-ups do still get funding the old-fashioned way (begging is popular, I think), but it's now becoming more common for tech firms to go the route of crowd-funding for cash to ramp up operations and 3D-related firms are starting to pop up all over the place there.

The most intriguing one this week is a company called Lynx Laboratories, which is pitching its Lynx A Camera, what they're billing as "the world's first point-and-shoot 3D camera." Whether or not my phone loaded with 123D Catch counts as a "point-and-shoot 3D camera" notwithstanding, they've got a pretty interesting pitch:

It's a light, plastic device shaped like a tablet. It has specialized, front-mounted optics including a 640x480 color camera and a 3D sensor. On the front, there's a large, 14" color LCD screen for an instant and accurate view of imaging results. You can navigate your captured models using joysticks, just like a videogame controller. The device has a powerful graphics card for capture/render and high-capacity storage. The battery is good for four hours. It fixes the annoying stuff (bad battery life, small screens, costly storage) of conventional cameras.

Personally, I haven't found a problem with battery life on digital cameras and "costly storage" is pretty a relative term when you can get 32 gig SD cards for $25 and I'm not sure why're they're comparing this with a conventional camera anyway, but I think that's beside the point. Basically, they've developed a completely self-contained scan-to-model camera that you can buy as part of this campaign for $1,999 (Interesting question: Do you have to pay sales tax if you "buy" something through Kickstarter? Technically you're being rewarded for your pledge. Is this a loophole?).

That's pretty hot.

Already, they've raised $36,187 of the $50k they fund at, and there are 41 days to go, so I'm assuming they'll hit their mark and then some. And why not? While we don't have any good idea of accuracy, there's nothing on the market like this all in one package. No laptop required here. Of course, that's the rub. The accuracy. The results they have as examples on the site are hardly engineering-quality. Are they even good enough for video games? Well, the cool piece there is that they sell a version that comes with motion-capture capabilities. Now THAT could prove useful, considering the way they do motion capture nowadays, with those suits and markers and what not. 

Motion capture with no markers and no post-processing? Someone's got to be into that. 

You can watch the full video of their pitch here:


Also of note this week is the DeltaMaker, yet another 3D printer (hopefully, they won't get sued by 3D Systems the way FormLabs has been). If you get in right now, you can grab one for $1,399, but it looks like they'll eventually sell for $1,600+. 

The pitch here is a combination of form and function. They say it's faster than other extrusion printers for the desktop, but they also try to sell just how pretty it is to watch it work. And, yeah, I guess it does look pretty cool, but I think this might be something of a stretch: "We see DeltaMakers prominently displayed in your living room, as your guests watch a reproduction of Venus de Milo arise over the course of a dinner party."

One thing that's actually really cool about this project is that it incorporates two pieces of technology that, themselves, started as Kickstarter projects, the linear bearing systems and the extrusion head. It's meta-Kickstarter!

And, in case you're wondering which is hotter, scanning or printing, know that this project is already at $95k, on its way to $107k as a goal, with 24 days to go. We'll see which of these projects has the greater momentum. 

For the full details on the DeltaMaker, check the video:


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3D wanted dead or alive at CES

Coverage of 3D's presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week as been pretty schizophrenic: One one hand, the mass media is all over autonomous car news with lidar a key component; on the other, people are declaring 3D "dead." What's going on?

Well, I think it's certainly true, as the above-linked article declares, that the latest round of buzz surrounding 3D display has burned itself out. On one hand, 3D display is no longer all that impressive or futuristic. On the other, the consumer experience still pretty much sucks. So it's not surprising that "every big TV maker at CES has waved a clear white flag on trying to sell 3D TV as an important feature."

But that's good news for us! If it's true that "The 3D TV won its tortured, protracted war — you can buy a 3D TV anywhere and at any time — and nobody could care less," then it's likely the 3D display will no longer be premium priced and those of you who actually enjoy looking at your 3D models and point clouds with a 3D display should be able to get one more affordably. If it's soon just another feature, like the SAP button, that would be a great thing for the 3D data industry.

As for the autonomous cars, well, people are pretty captivated by them. I was listening to sports talk radio last night and the hosts were going on and on about the news that Lexus has their own lidar-equipped prototype (particularly appealing is the fact that you can have the car drive you home from the bar, apparently - and, actually, I can get with that). Pretty sure this is a Velodyne on the roof here:


A world where lots of people are rocking Velodyne-enhanced driverless cars is still far, far away, but it seems likely that even the 2017 or 2018 of my crappy Hyundai Elantra (not actually crappy at all) will have some kind of real-world sensor (lidar or otherwise) that will assist with driving to improve safety. 

But for 3D data acquisition, the company probably making the biggest impact at CES is a company that's largely been out of the limelight, despite having technology in many of your hands: PrimeSense, developer of the technology behind the Kinect. 

They've got themselves a big "World of 3D Sensing" booth at the event and they've released a futuristic video to demonstrate some of the solutions they think are coming down the pipeline thanks to their 3D sensing device. You kinda have to watch it. It's alternately really cool and really cringe-inducing, but it's definitely well done:


I know, I know: Where's the point cloud?!?! Obviously, it's the back-end somewhere, with software churning away to process the data being collected. We've heard often from some quarters about the point cloud taking the place of the model or attaching more intelligence to the point cloud, but what if, as is happening in the close-range scanning field, the point cloud starts disappearing as the data processing happens in the middle to produce the desired deliverable (such as with Creaform's handheld scanners, etc.)? 

One of the majorly featured companies in PrimeSense pavilion is Matterport, whom we've written about previously and who do that very thing: They ingest the data from the Kinect-like collection device and immediately begin to produce a mesh of the environment as you scan. 

Just print it out!

Finally, 3D printing continues to make an impact with the mainstream at CES. Business Insider was pretty impressed by MakerBot's new Replicator 2X, which can print in two colors now and is faster. Plus, it looks like he's got a book I'm going to have to review alongside Ping Fu's. As for 3D Systems, they're not making the hardware impact they made last year, where they really wowed people with the Cubify, but the CubeX is getting some love this year, as it allows for bigger objects to be printed faster (and it comes in pretty colors).

Rather, the big news is the announcement that 3D Systems has unveiled the beta version of what we've all been waiting for since the buy of Hypr3D (and, sort of, Rapidform and Geomagic): Cubify Capture, a service that allows you to upload photos and video that are turned immediately into 3D models that are suitable for printing.

Yes, it's scan-to-print for the consumer market!

Details from the press release:

The company plans to expand the services of its Cubify Capture portal to include a full suite of thematic scan-to-print web and mobile apps. Users can capture on the go and upload pictures or video to Cubify.com where a 3D model is generated automatically and saved in the user's Cubify account. These 3D models can be used for further modeling, customizing or fusing with other elements and readied for printing at home or through Cubify cloud printing, in monochrome, durable plastic or full color.

The company plans to develop a series of Cubify Capture apps starting with Cubify Capture: Faces, designed specifically to capture facial features and seamlessly turn them into customized 3D printable memorabilia. Cubify Capture: Faces for mobile will also be demoed at CES.

"We're thrilled to invite users and educators to explore and experiment with the beta release of Cubify Capture, the first true real-world-to-print capture tool," said Cathy Lewis, CMO, 3D Systems. "We are excited to see what our growing Cubify community will capture and print."

I'm not entirely sure what they are yet, but I'm certain there are commercial applications for this kind of service and we'll be hearing about them in short order.

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A brief history of 3D Systems acquisitions

As I'm working on the story about 3D Systems buying Rapidform, I thought I'd quickly put together a brief collection of 3D Systems' buys in the recent past. Taken together, they paint a picture of a company looking to provide every portion of the scan/create-to-print workflow.

• May, 2011 - 3D Systems begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange, an indication the company is ready to be more aggressive in the marketplace. However, at this point, the company has already acquired in the last couple of months both Freedom of Creation and The3dStudio.com, which give them collections of printable 3D objects, many of them consumer-oriented, along with Print3D, a start-up aimed at the industrial CAD market. The company in this period also split its stock and raised funds for an upcoming shopping spree. Further, the company expanded its headquarters in Rock Hill to allow for more manufacturing of the printers it already had in its portfolio.

• July, 2011 - Alibre, Inc. (purchase price not disclosed), a maker of parametric CAD software. With a full suite of solutions that target both the hobbyist and the professional, this is 3D CAD software designed to be both powerful and easy to use, expanding the number of people likely to create 3D objects for eventual printing.  

• September, 2011 - Formero (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services. Basically acquired to create a beachhead in Asia-Pacific - renamed 3D Systems Asia-Pacific.

• October, 2011 - Kemo Modelmakerij (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services. If 3D Systems believes that the use of 3D printing (and scanning) for one-off custom replacement parts and prototypes has a business future, it makes sense to have an arm that provides this service, thus the buys of Formero and Kemo and conversion to non-U.S. headquarters. Will this scare off potential competitors in the on-demand parts market, who may not want to buy a 3D printer from one of its competitors? Maybe 3D Systems doesn't care, considering its current market share and the small number of companies making this a business currently. This has become 3D Systems Benelux.

• November, 2011 - Huntsman's stereolithography line ($41 million), print materials and actual 3D printers. Basically, buying up a competitor and adding to 3D Systems' line. The buy plays to the industrial and medical markets.

• January, 2012 - Z Corporation and Vidar Systems ($135.5 million), including the purchase handheld scanner technology and manufacturing, along with simply consolidating the industry and purchasing a competitor. An early indication the company was looking to really invest in the capture-to-print workflow.

• April, 2012 - My Robot Nation (purchase price not disclosed), a company with software that allows people to design their own robots and other figurines for 3D printing. Basically, if you're going to have a Cubify, a consumer-oriented 3D printer, you better have some content for people to print. Not everyone can just design their own robot in 3D software (actually, very, very few people can do that...).

• April, 2012 - Paramount Industries (purchase price not disclosed), a company providing direct manufacturing and product development solutions for the aerospace and medical industries. They added industrial 3D printers to capabilities that already included tooling and assembly. 3D Systems got a window into big industries it feels should be using 3D printing for product development.

• May, 2012 - Bespoke Innovations (purchase price not disclosed), a company that targets the medical industry, with technology that allows for the design and print of prosthetics and orthortics. The medical industry has shown itself to be a ripe market for short-range scanning, 3D imaging in general, and 3D printing, and 3D Systems is here making an obvious play to secure a position there.

• May, 2012 - FreshFiber (purchase price not disclosed), a small firm that allows people to buy customized iPhone cases and the like, created with 3D printers. Again, stuff you can print yourself instead of buy from other people, and the kind of customization 3D printing makes much easier. Does this deal make other companies think twice about buying 3D Systems printers to create a similar business, since they'd be competing against their supplier?

• August, 2012 - Viztu Technologies and its flagship product, Hypr3D (purchase price not disclosed), an online resource for users to upload photos and create printable 3D models, not unlike the 123D Catch solution provided by Autodesk, but completely browser-based. If the goal is to make it easier for users to create things they are able to print, this should help them get there.

• October, 2012 - The Innovative Modelmakers (purchase price not disclosed), a provider of on-demand custom parts services, much like Kemo, bought a year prior. Adds to 3D Systems Benelux's capabilities and builds out abilities to provide rapid prototyping and part replacement.

• October, 2012 - Rapidform ($35 million). Working on this right now, but basically brings software specifically targeting the data capture marketplace. Will they merge this with Alibre? Is Rapidform a competitor to Alibre? These are things to watch going forward. EDIT: Here's the story on Rapidform, plus an interview with Rapidform.

Conclusion? That's a lot of companies - 16 since the beginning of 2011. Even the best management team is going to have a task in front of them when acquiring that many companies in such a short amount of time. Can 3D Systems possibly be realizing all of the benefits each of them might bring to the table? Seems like much of this would have to be seen as a work in progress, but the potential is pretty easy to see: Whether you're a consumer or professional, you've got an ability being offered to you to go all they way from the very beginning of a design idea to its actual production and then even its sale online through the Cubify store.

You have to wonder, though, whether a company like Shapeways isn't square in Abe's crosshairs...

EDIT: January, 2013 - Geomagic (price still unknown). A competitor of Rapidform's and also vital to the scan-to-print workflow, according to 3D Systems.


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3D leads the top tech breakthroughs of 2012

Last year I thought it was a big deal when Faro's Focus3D landed on PopSci's list of the "100 Best Innovations of the Year" issue, but Popular Mechanics has an even more exclusive list than that, and 3D data capture takes up a good 30 percent of the "Top 10 Tech Breakthroughs of 2012" (with a little printing thrown in).

• First up is the Lytro camera, which is really a 3D data capture device, in that it's constantly capturing light from all directions. I haven't yet seen someone harness this power for a major advancement in photogrammetry or some other jump forward, but it's only a matter of time, in my opinion. This ability to refocus after the fact has to have an application and there are smarter guys than me working on it, surely.

• Second up is 123D Catch, and that's got to be a nice validation for Autodesk. I 100 percent agree that this is a major step forward for the field of 3D data capture. I mean, this is FREE. Anyone can start creating 3D models from the world around them. This is Star Trek stuff come to life, people. I know many of us take this kind of technology for granted, since we work with it and talk about it all day, but to the world at large this is mind-blowing. I've seen minds blown just from what I show people on my phone. Good on Popular Mechanics for noticing.

Cubify also gets a nod, and for good reason. I'm not personally sure the price point is low enough to create the DIY impact that many think the device will cause, but it's a pretty good start. 3D printing in the home will absolutely drive the desire for 3D data. I'm sure of it. I'm just not sure a $1,300 printer gets into the home very often. But maybe I'm wrong.

• Finally, there is Leap Motion, and I think this is going to be the next big game changer in our little community. Just as the Kinect brought 3D data to a whole new world of developers who hacked the device and created all manner of solutions (including Matterport's handheld device and MIT's new indoor mapper), the new Leap stands to create even more amazing advances. 

Why? Well, it's 200 times more accurate than the Kinect and it costs even less. About $70. Essentially it creates an area of about eight cubic feet where you can have a live point cloud accurate to about .01mm (well, that's what they say, anyway).

Here's a video that might get your mouth watering:


Pretty amazing, right? Sure, they're primarily interested as a company in gesture control as a way to operate your computer, but you don't garner $12.75 million in Series A funding from Highland Capital Partners because you might make the mouse obsolete (well, ACTUALLY, that's probably a pretty good reason to get $12.75 million in funding all by itself, now that I think about it). You get that money because people see a brand-new platform that people can crack open and take a whack at. Already, even though they've only shipped 30 units to NDA-protected developers, they've had 26,000 applications from developers looking for the SDK and a free developer unit.

That's amazing. Check out what potential developers have already pitched for ideas:

Leap applications are full of potential, and software developers are eager to push Leap’s technology towards new and exciting directions. Here is a list of the popular application categories Leap software developers would like to create for:

Games – 14%

Music and video – 12%

Art and design – 11%

Science and medicine – 8%

Robotics – 6%

Web and social media – 6%

Education – 4%

Other popular ideas for the Leap include computer-aided software design, translating sign language, using the Leap to drive a car or plane, supporting physical rehabilitation and physical disabilities and special needs, manipulating photos and videos, and creating new types of art.

And I know what you're thinking: "Great, eight cubic feet..." But you can daisy chain these things! They're $70 and they're smaller than my iPod Classic. Someone is going to come up with something that even 3D data capture pros are clamoring for.




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How to raise $200k in five hours

I've written before about Kickstarter, a web site the supports crowd-funding for everyone from bands looking to make an album to micro start-ups looking to make the next great software package. Last time, I was talking about Holoxica, a company looking to fund its foray into mainstream holographic art. They were asking for $40k and raised only a little more than $1k. That's the definition of "unfunded." This time I'm talking about a project asking for $100k and receiving more than $200k of support in the first five hours. That's the definition of "internet sensation."

So what's causing all this buzz? The company's name is Formlabs and they have developed a prototype of a desktop 3D printer that's very impressive, capable of incredibly high resolution to make very precise models at very small sizes. Here's what it looks like:


Check out their Kickstarter page here (if only to see what their current total is - it was going up at a rate of about $2,500 every 20 minutes last I checked). You'll see that this project literally launched today. I was intending to write about it to encourage you to check it out. Now I'm writing about it say that you better get on board this 3D printing train or it's going to leave you behind at the station wondering where everyone else is headed.

I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, we've seen this before. It's called Cubify. Remember how that was pitched to families to put in their kids' bedrooms? We are not them, Sam. We're, like, engineers and surveyors and what not. Get on the stick, dude." But let me finish. And, first, watch their pitch video (may not work in IE, definitely does in Firefox. Otherwise, just go to that Kickstarter page link above):


Think Jon Hirschtick, founder of Solidworks, is excited about this because he wants to put one in his kid's bedroom? Think all those MIT engineers are geeked about printing out chess pieces? No, they're excited about this as a design and engineering tool, and for good reason. Plus, this is different than Cubify.

Cubify, for example, uses thermoplastic extrusion technology to print objects. Basically, it heats up plastic, and then spits it out in the proper shape. Which is great. And it's very inexpensive. Just $1,300.

Formlabs, however, uses a different printing technology, called stereo lithography, which uses a pool of liquid that's then zapped with lasers (well, you saw this in the video above). This allows for the resolution they can achieve. Further, the software integration is more advanced and designed with commercial and industrial applications in mind (from what I can tell).

This is absolutely for architects trying to put together better and more realistic models of their creations. This is for people like Thad Webster, who's going to be writing for us soon about how he's printing out digital elevation models. This is for manufacturers who'd like to see what parts will look like before entering mass production. This goes hand-in-glove with reverse engineering processes, certainly.

It's for makers and big thinkers and inventors, too, of course. For chemists who want to better visualize molecules. For biologists who want to visualize cells, even. Who knows who else will want to use it. But it's real and tactile and is creating a crazy amount of buzz. That's something the data capture community needs to wrap its arms around in a big way.

That way, maybe the data capture folks can look as happy as the Formlabs people did when they announced they'd hit their funding goal in just 2.5 hours:


Addendum: Just wanted to note that it really is cool how every 3D printing company shows what they can do with the same forms. Here's a pic I grabbed of a castle tower printed by Cubify at SPAR, side by side with the same design printed by Formlabs. Just kind of neat:

 04.17.12.keynote-rook 09.26.12.formlabs-tower 

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3D is driving the new manufacturing surge

Without really thinking about it, manufacturing is fairly obviously a 3D endeavor. When you're making things, it's hard to get away from length, width, or height. So it shouldn't be surprising that new developments in 3D technology are where people are investing as a way to drive the manufacturing industry in the United States and elsewhere. 

As point of evidence, see the new $69 million investment the US federal government is making in Youngstown, Ohio, for a new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. "Additive manufacturing" is code for 3D printing, basically, and the article does a good job of advocating for why 3D printing makes sense in the manufacturing process:

Under Secretary of Defense Frank Kendall, who helped make Thursday's announcement, said the process is 10 times less expensive than conventional materials manufacturing methods, like using molds, adding that cost control and advances in weapons manufacturing are valuable assets for the Department of Defense.

I'm not sure exactly how something can be "10 times less expensive" than anything else (perhaps "one tenth as expensive" is what he meant?), and even that may be engaging in hyperbole, but it's clear that those who can show how to manufacture more efficiently will be the ones that receive investment money. 

Further, Youngstown received the money for this partly because it had shown a pattern of innovating with 3D. The chemistry department at Youngstown State, one of the collaborators in attracting this grant money, is also home to the National Defense Center of Excellence in Industrial Metrology and 3D Imaging. Further, another of the partners who brought in the grant, and who played host for the announcement of the money coming to Youngstown, is M-7 Technologies, which is doing some really interesting work with 3D data capture. 

M-7 started out in 1918 producing bronze castings! Now they've reinvented themselves to take advantage of new workflow possibilites. The company says it's capable of manufacturing 100,000-pound assemblies with accuracies of +/- .0005". They say they're currently researching the obstacles to broad-scale adoption of laser and sound-based measurement - sounds like my kind of research (they've also got a seat on the ASTM E57 committee, which is also my kind of research). 

All of this is to say that developments in 3D are being rewarded. It's not just on the fringes anymore, but being recognized with real dollars as the path forward for manufacturing. How can the data capture community capitalize on that and make sure it continues to be part of the conversation as workflows are converted to take advantage of new 3D printing capabilities?

Also, in case you're interested, a little video on the announcement in Youngstown:


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3D printing trends, in a pretty movie

Sorry to disappoint and not have 1,000 words to offer about this video, but it pretty much speaks for itself. Designer Stephen Murphy has created an elegant little movie to animate the findings of recent large survey of the 3D printing community, and I wanted to share it, so here goes:


The video is drawn from the study done by the Journal of Peer Production, and you can see the full results and analysis here. It's pretty great. Yes, it's a small sample (350 people) and yes it's mostly consumer/DIY-type stuff (I don't think anybody on Ford's manufacturing line is among the respondents, but I might be wrong), but it's the first survey like this I've seen and it's definitely interesting. We see again that there's frustration with 3D modeling software being so difficult to use, which points again to a desire for capture-model-print workflow.

Thanks to Ponoko for pointing this out.

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The impact 3D printing can have

I've written plenty about 3D printing, and any number of laser scanning professionals have wondered why. Many of you are on board with me when I say 3D printing will drive the market for 3D data (as judging by the poll respondents on our home page), but plenty more think it's a technology that has been around for years, and still hasn't taken off. Why now?

Well, because 3D data capture is taking off! (That's me being ironic - see yesterday's post.)

Obviously, the printing technology is improving as well, but many of the gains I'm seeing in 3D printing are related to two things: 1. The increased availability of relatively cheap software with which you can create 3D designs that are printable. 2. The increased availability of systems that allow you to capture reality relatively cheaply and accurately. 

The first is sort of obvious and means the world will never have a shortage 3D printed bracelets and iPhone covers. But the second is just sort of creeping up on us. 

Certainly the news that an entertainment giant like Disney is getting on board is a sign that capture-to-print is gaining steam. Not unlike a cool souvenir offered at the Super Bowl a couple years back, Disney launches today at Disney's Hollywood Studios a keepsake whereby you can have your face scanned and then swapped out with Harrison Ford-as-Han Solo so that it can be you frozen in carbonite and hung on the wall of Jabba the Hutt's den of sin. 

No, seriously, this could be you, for just $99:


It sounds like they're using a version of the Shape Shot technology 

At the Carbon-Freezing Chamber (located adjacent to The American Idol Experience), several cameras will capture multiple angles of your face. The images are then reconstructed in a computer for processing, and in approximately four weeks, the completed figurine is shipped directly to your house.

Man. Just imagine the 3D printers that would have to be cranking 24/7 to accommodate all those people going through Disney (reservations are required, so they're clearly making sure they've got capacity at roll out). Someone made themselves a nice sale!

And I know what you're thinking: "More toys! I'm trying to scan a bridge over here. What do I care about pretending to get captured by Boba Fett?"

Well, maybe you might find it interesting that one blogger, after checking out the AIA convention, is openly wondering: "In architecture, is 3D printing the new normal?"

To quote: "When it comes to computing, the buzz at this year's AIA convention is all about three-dimensional process: 3D CAD, building information modeling (BIM), and - more than ever before - 3D printing."

The author then goes on to outline all the drawbacks, cost highest among them. But why is 3D printing becoming more of a de facto need for architects? Because they're designing in 3D! You can't print out your 2D drawings, obviously. Really, the technology for 3D printing isn't that much different than it was 10 years ago (I've seen the cheesy morning news show footage to prove it, but my YouTube searching abilities are failing me at the moment), but it's much more commonplace for architects to be designing in Revit or other 3D software and to have the inclination (if not yet the ability, necessarily) to just hit print when the design is done.

Here's more on the feasibility of the workflow:

“Now that we have our design drawn in a software package that can handle 2D and 3D representation, wouldn’t it be great if we could hit ‘3D print” and have our design 3D printed to scale?” asks New York based architectural designer and 3D expert Piet Meijs with Rietveld Architects, which uses a 3D printer from Objet. ”That would be great, but unfortunately the technology isn’t there yet.”

I doubt too many architecture firms have a copy of 3DS Max sitting around at the moment, but it might become much more common. 

Regardless, if the competition is making a presentation with a cool 3D printout, you better believe each architecture house is going to start to feel the pressure to not show up with some stuff carve out of foam. And if they feel as though they need 3D printing, they're going to know they need to be designing in 3D. And if they're designing in 3D, you know they're going to want to start with as-built conditions when they're doing a renovation or addition of any sort. 

And that means they're going to need some laser scanning work done. 

See how that works?

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