Tag Archives: 3D

3D Printing: Myths versus reality; today versus tomorrow

3D printing continues to be one of the most disruptive technologies of the era: it looks set to transform everything – age-old manufacturing techniques, hardware supply chains (why warehouse parts when you can print them on demand?), healthcare etc. Just a few years ago, the hype said everyone might have a 3D printer in their house one day, but the reality is that the technology, while ground-breaking, is still complicated. We take a look at a few areas covered recently under the 3D-printing banner in the popular press.

Can you 3D print organs?
No, you cannot 3D print organs today. There are some printers which can extrude (i.e. print) biological matter, and there are indeed research and development efforts to print human tissue, but, in 2017, these represent a very, very small portion of the $5B 3D-printer market. However, the technology is catching on big-time in other aspects of the medical world. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is that it can be used for mass customisation, meaning that one machine can make many subtly unique things. The best examples of this are hearing aids and clear dental braces, both of which have been made by 3D printers for more than fifteen years.

prostetic-1273183_1920There are many of these items produced, and each is unique to an individual patient. Likewise, orthopaedics is a big market for 3D printing. You are probably aware that plastic limbs are 3D printed, but super-high-end metal printers are being used more and more often to make internal prosthetics as well. Hardly a day goes by without a story being written about the production of a titanium skull section or another bone being replaced with a custom-manufactured metal part. These are realities today, not just R&D projects for tomorrow.

Can you 3D print food?
Sort of. This was one of the things all the hype focused on a few years ago. Most of the printers simply extruded different pastes into shapes. True 3D printing is also sometimes called additive manufacturing (the seven core technologies referred to above are actually defined by a manufacturing body called the ASTM). Today’s food 3D printers are not really used for mass-manufacturing, and the number sold to-date is so small as to be hard to count. So the 3D printing of food is really a PR activity rather than a real market (or even sub-market).

Can you 3D print cars?
While a few companies have showcased their ability to 3D print cars, there isn’t yet a car you can buy that that is completely made this way. That said, there is hardly a car you can buy today which doesn’t use 3D printing for some element or part of its construction: the technology may have been leveraged for prototyping the vehicle at all stages of development, or – more and more often – the intricate metal components may be mass-produced using 3D printing.

The automotive industry at large is ripe to make greater use of 3D printing as the falling cost of technology and materials allows additive manufacturing to move beyond the prototyping that was once its niche application, into the much larger market of general manufacturing or mass-production.

The crossover point, where it is less expensive to use 3D printing than traditional manufacturing techniques (such as injection moulding), can be hundreds of thousands of units or, now, even tens of thousands. Mass production in the automotive industry generally refers to much lower volumes than for manufacturers of say smart phones or televisions: if you consider specific companies and their distinct models of car (many of which do not share common components), then mass production can mean tens of thousands of parts (versus millions) – a volume now viable with the reality of today’s 3D printers.

Can you 3D print buildings?
This one continues to catch a lot of media attention, especially in the Middle East and emerging markets. You can indeed use some of the techniques of traditional 3D printing at VERY large scales to, for example, extrude cement instead of plastic. To be honest, however, this is not really part of today’s 3D printing market, and with the references to “3d printing” made mostly to help describe the technique used to create structures layer-by-layer.

Can you 3D print jet engine parts?
For sure. The best use case of 3D printing today, the poster child if you will, is in GE’s jet-engine fuel nozzle. This complex, unique part can only be made by metal additive manufacturing – traditional techniques are not capable of creating such an object. GE continues to be one of the world’s biggest users of 3D printing and is so bullish about the technology that it is buying metal 3D-printing companies to make machines not only for their own use but also to sell to others. The aerospace industry as a whole is one of the largest markets for 3D printers today, with the technology now being leveraged for true mass-production of parts as well as prototyping.

by CC

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Global Desktop 3D Printer Market Rises +27%

According to our latest figures, worldwide shipments of 3D Printers rose +25% year-to-date (YTD) through the first three quarters of 2016 thanks again to shipments of low priced Personal/Desktop 3D Printers.

Of the total 217,073 3D printers shipped year-to-date, 96% of these were Personal/Desktop printers, carrying an average price of just under $1,000.  This represents a 27% year-on-year growth for this sub-category compared to a decline in shipments of -12% YTD in the Industrial/Professional segment which saw only 7,726 units shipped through the first three quarters of 2016. While the market is still largely defined by the shipment of Industrial/Professional printers – which accounted for 78% of the global revenues – the market is clearly settling into two distinctive segments.

Vendor wise, in the Desktop/Personal 3D Printer segment, Taiwan’s XYZprinting remained the global leader so far in 2016, seeing its share grow to 22% through the first three quarters.  This side of the market saw the exit by the #3 global overall player 3D Systems and the continued repositioning of the #1 global 3D Printer market Stratasys of its MakerBot line away from the lowest end.

The Industrial/Professional segment was marked by the official entrance of HP into the space but printers did not begin shipping until the end of the year. While the Industrial/Professional segment has, in general, cooled off in the past few years, the shipment of additive manufacturing devices capable of printing in metal materials was one major bright spot within this category.  This Metal side was not immune to market changes in recent quarters either however, with a slow-down seen in this sub-segment as well in the 2nd half as General Electric (GE) acquired two of the top five metal making 3D Printer companies (Arcam and Concept Laser).

Projections for the full year 2016 remain reserved for the Industrial/Professional market and bullish for the Desktop/Personal market, largely in-line with trends seen through the first three quarters.  Forecasts turn more bullish in the Industrial/Professional sector in 2017 and beyond as the HP and GE ramp results in a return of growth; the Desktop/Personal market is expected to continue its unfettered growth.

by CC

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3D Printing: Gaining Insights at IMTS and TCT

As head of global analysis and research at CONTEXT I probably spend more time than I’d like in front of a computer screen. But as any analyst will tell you, staring at online spreadsheets is only part of the job. To really understand the industry you need to meet the key players that work in it. Trade shows are a major part of this so it was great to get out recently to two of the biggest around: The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago and TCT in the UK.

I gained some invaluable insight into the industrial and personal IT space, meeting key executives at some of the biggest names in the business, engaging with prospective customers and presenting to attendees.

3DP on the rise
IMTS is a six-day event only held once every two years, so you know it’s going to be big. This year around 115,000 attendees came to Chicago from all over the globe and the focus for many was on 3D printing (3DP) and additive manufacturing (AM). In fact, AM now has its own dedicated front-and-centre section at the show, highlighting the major $5 billion contribution it makes to the total global manufacturing tech market of around $12 billion.

General Electric’s acquisition of the number two and four metal 3D printer makers – SLM Solutions and Arcam AB – for $1.4bn last month continues to validate this market. As did the firm’s joint $81m investment with several other players in plastics 3D printer business Carbon3D. Much of the show focused on where AM goes next – ie whether AM for plastics, which makes up 90% of unit volume and two thirds of global revenues, can move from being used principally for prototyping to short/mid-run manufacturing. We also heard about the role of 3DP and AM in Industry 4.0, which will certainly be one to watch for the future.

The number two 3DP market player, 3D Systems hosted a full day conference at the show where new president and CEO, VJ Joshi introduced an almost entirely new management team to analysts, press and partners. Apart from discovering that he’s brought many of them with him from HP, where he ran the imaging business for two decades, we learned that Joshi has no interest in the 3DP desktop/personal market, which he sees as a distraction.

Meeting and greeting
I’m glad to say the show was a great success in terms of helping to promote what we do at CONTEXT. At the EOS event at IMTS I joined a one-hour Q&A panel on AM, fielding a healthy number of questions and following up with a bunch of interested attendees informally afterwards. I also had meetings with some of the hottest companies around in the space, including HP, Carbon3D, Concept Laser – number two in metals – EnvisionTEC and others.

There was more of the same at TCT in Birmingham, UK. The show focuses on the personal/desktop as well as the industrial/professional market, so there was time to take in showcases from the likes of Ultimaker, Zortrax, MakerBot and Polaroid. Some key takeaways include the delay of the Mattel printer, the forthcoming shipment of Mcor’s repositioned desktop paper/colour printer and new or increased presence from HP, Ricoh and others. On the industrial side, there seems to be a growing number of so-called “hybrid” machines sold by the likes of Sodick which offer AM and traditional manufacturing in one machine.

3dchris1

According to CONTEXT research I presented at the show, the personal/desktop market grew in 1H16 but contracted on the industrial side as management changes and new entrants continue to make an impact. Metal 3D Printing remains a bright spot in that market side along with power-based plastic printers.

CONTEXT will be hosting a 3D Printing Breakfast event at CES in Las Vegas on Thursday, 5th January 2017. To register or for more information, please contact: Theo Gibbons.

by CC

 

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Virtual Rome wasn’t built in a day

Guest blog by Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

I was delighted to present with CONTEXT at the Berlin IFA+ Summit. My own work with digital visualisation and 3D modelling in higher education sits very well alongside CONTEXT’s work surveying the amazing possibilities that Virtual Reality is now opening up. I work at the University of Reading, where I have built a large detailed 3D model of ancient Rome. I use this to generate still and animated images of the city, and also teach my students how to make their own digital reconstructions. Recently I have started using VR in my teaching and public work, turning my digital models into immersive, walk-around experiences. Stepping into these spaces in VR, no matter how well I think I know them, is a truly transformative, engaging experience.

romevirtual

Having to peer around physically, viewing the buildings in proper 3D, makes their scale and splendour much more intuitively visible than viewing them in more traditional 2D illustrations, and opens up the possibility of ‘stepping back into the past’. The potential for engaging students, as both users and creators of this sort of content, is terrific. It seems that the public agrees: I was very interested to see that the recreation of historical events scored highly in CONTEXT’s survey of what sorts of VR experiences are particularly appealing to potential users.

When not presenting, I explored the enormous IFA fair. The VR displays, naturally, were particularly interesting. Here the global market for gaming is the big driving force, enabling huge investments in hardware and software that will also benefit educational users like me. Oculus’ tour bus offered a sample of games and experiences in their Rift headset, including being chased by a T-Rex in a deserted museum, and playing a vertigo-inducing realistic rock-climbing game. Samsung’s lavish exhibit combined headset displays (using their Gear) with motion experiences, including a roller coaster and kayak ride (both using hydraulically-actuated seats), and a bungee jump into a virtual volcano.

Combining real-world motion with virtual graphics has potential for gaming, and also for fairground-style rides like these. It helps overcome two problems long associated with VR – that moving around in a virtual world without real-world physical movement can be disorientating or uncomfortable, and that VR can be perceived as an anti-social sort of activity. I enjoyed all of these ‘rides’; although the amount of physical movement involved was naturally smaller than the huge rollercoaster or bungee arcs suggested by the VR graphics, it seemed to be just enough to fool the body into accepting what the headset was showing.

ride

And of course it had a very high novelty fun factor; as these things become more common, it will be interesting to see what seasoned gamers come to expect in a genuinely thrilling experience. I wonder whether augmented reality, blending digital and real world elements (including other players), will eventually open up more convincing or exciting realms of experience than pure VR.

Elsewhere in the fair VR really seemed to have come of age, and was incorporated into various CONTEXTs – in gaming, naturally, and also in (for example) headsets for drones. Drones are now cheap enough, and easy enough to fly, that they are becoming accessible to non-specialists. I can foresee archaeological uses, for example; drones are already being used in some digs for aerial exploration and also the harvesting of images for photogrammetric site surveying and reconstruction. Feeding real time stereoscopic imagery from a drone into a VR headset would provide a really immersive, exciting vista to the pilot (who would need somewhere safe and secluded to stand while flying it!).

As a university academic in ancient history, this was a very different conference to the sort I usually attend, and very enriching. It’s clear that as the accessibility of VR and 3D continues to increase, both in terms of falling prices and ease of use by non-specialists, the potential for educational uses in many subjects is going to be enormous; it’s exciting to be part of it at the outset.

 

 

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Why Makers are not Consumers in 3D Printing

The mainstream curiosity for 3D printing seemed to hit its apex between 2012 and 2014: a period in which the market witnessed sizable growth with sales of personal/desktop 3D printers doubling each consecutive year. Sales subsided a little in 2015 when there was year-on-year market growth of just 33% rather than the 124% seen from 2013 to 2014. Demand remains, however, as shown by lower prices, new brands entering the market and the emergence of even lower price points. The interest in this area is especially evident from recent Kickstarter campaigns from Tiko and OLO, both of which set records and saw pre-orders in excess of 16,000 units each!

But who is buying these printers? General, at-home consumers? Surely not. To the uninitiated, 3D printing can seem novel and fun and, no doubt, some uninformed consumers have purchased devices only to be disillusioned by how hard they are to actually use. This is what separates Consumers from Makers. Makers like to tinker and “make” things (not just consume them). For example, one of the details of desktop 3D printing that is rarely talked about is the effect that the materials used have on how easy the printer is to use.

I am a maker who purchased a 3D printer over a year ago and I use my printer on a daily basis, with my usage growing all the time. Here is what I’ve learned. I purchased a delta-style FDM printer (the most popular type of desktop machine) and have come to recognize that even when considering only the various plastics suitable for material extrusion printers there is quite a variety and each operates in its own way.

Materials include nylon (very durable, but vulnerable to water), acrylics (for smaller items with much detail), PET and its derivatives (to make plastic bottles and food containers), ABS (made from petroleum products, strong and durable) and many others, such as glow in the dark plastic or even clay for making crockery. Some personal 3D printers can also create objects in “wood” which is, of course, actually a mixture of plastics and wood filament that can be melted without burning.

elephant

The most popular material for personal 3D printers is biodegradable thermoplastic PLA, produced from renewable resources such as corn. It is the best material for beginners as it sticks well to the surface of the printer’s bed (build plate), solidifies quickly, and provides fairly predictable results. I would recommend those who are taking their first steps in 3D printing use the same material until they start to get a feel for their printer. Once someone has chosen to become a 3D printing maker, learning the qualities of different materials is a priority because it is essential that the temperature, printing speed, extrusion rate, retraction distance and so on are adjusted to the correct levels for each material. Many of these adjustments can (or cannot) be done by way of “slicer” software – another nuance of desktop 3D printing that keeps it from becoming more mainstream.

FDM printers not only have different plastics that require different trial-and-error settings, but different brands’ versions of the same materials are often different (because manufacturers may use different additives, for example). The final print result may vary, even when using material from the same manufacturer, when a different colour is used.

As a result, when trying out a new material, there is always a risk of layers sagging or the printer nozzle becoming clogged. The same can happen if the wrong temperature is selected or as a result of inaccurate bed levelling. There is no WYSIWYG in desktop 3D printing, that’s for sure.

While these nuances might be quite frustrating for a general consumer, such tinkering is what makers live for. This is what makes 3D printing a hobby, which I continue to enjoy. The great variety of materials available creates a vast landscape where those who love new technologies and love to experiment can find many exciting turns and challenges and develop new skills. Here designers and engineers can implement their ideas and fulfill their ambitions – the possibilities are limitless!

by NF

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Making the business case for Virtual Reality

We recently covered some of the factors holding Virtual Reality back, citing worries that it is another gimmick like 3DTV, as well as the current lack of high-quality content. As such there are those sitting on the sidelines taking a wait and see approach, but a select few have been brave enough to experiment with the new medium. And it appears that first-mover advantage may once again prove invaluable.

Sport has always traditionally been a place where the latest technologies are tested – HD, 4K and now VR. UEFA has been testing filming in VR during the Champions’ League semi-finals and the final, and at this summer’s European Championships they will be using dozens of Nokia OZO cameras to film 360° footage as testing continues. Their hope is that fans will one day be able to watch an entire game from inside the stadium, completely immersed in VR.

The PGA Tour is also letting golf fans get in on the action, with VR videos of Wentworth showcasing a tour of the clubhouse, players’ lounge, practice range, and even footage of Tommy Fleetwood playing the opening hole. It seems that no sport can resist VR’s allure, as organisers vie for fan attention.

VR seems to have found a natural home with sport. Fans are devoted, and will pay for the latest experience to bring them closer to the action. Organisers meanwhile have the financial clout to test out what works and what doesn’t. VR certainly doesn’t come cheap, with a single Nokia OZO camera costing £40,000. And that’s before you think about the live streaming element, with all its associated infrastructure costs. Closer to home, hobbyist cameras are at a much more attractive price point. The Ricoh Theta retails at around £299, which means everything from a family dinner to a school sports day can be captured easily.

But it’s not just entertainment that is set to benefit from VR. Medical professionals are investigating how VR can help treat various conditions. One company, Brighter SE, has rigged a bicycle to a domed VR screen that displays the local neighbourhood of an Alzheimer patient. Using this technology, called the jDome, the patient can ride around near their childhood streets, stimulating memories and aiding their treatment.

jdome

The Queen of Sweden using the jDome

According to Professor Andrew Glennrester, who is exploring the impact of VR on visual neuroscience at the University of Reading, the potential of virtual reality is limitless. “Using immersive VR, we can change the visual world as an observer moves, something which is invaluable to scientific research into human perception. VR makes it possible to double or quadruple the size of a scene, or move one object towards the observer while shrinking it so that it stays the same size in the image. Finding out what changes are imperceptible to the observer gives us crucial information about what the brain chooses to represent when structuring the scene. This information leads to a better understanding of how the brain represents the 3D world as we move around.”

The business and training applications of VR merit a mention too. Ford has used it to verify 135,000 design details to date on 193 vehicle prototypes. Not only has it proved more efficient, but by conducting all those tests virtually, Ford has radically reduced the environmental costs of physical prototyping. Attensi, meanwhile, has developed VR experiences that mimic retailers’ shops. Employees are then trained on customer service techniques in the virtual world, helping them better understand company best practice.

Businesses are striking out and finding real-world applications for VR beyond gaming and entertainment, and it is already paying dividends. Now that the first generation of consumer headsets make VR very much affordable to enterprises of all sizes, can your business afford not to invest?

by AS

We’re hosting the inaugural meeting of the CONTEXT Virtual Reality Research Group on July 5th at the British Museum. If you’d like to attend, please email Charlotte at: ccornwell@contextworld.com.

At the event you will hear from academics, VR manufacturers and leading retailers – including Brighter SE and Attensi – as they discuss this new technology, its applications and its potential. You will also be able to try out most of the technology mentioned in this post. More information on the event here!

 

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Three ways to control your future smart home

We’re a nation obsessed by smartphones, with 71 per cent[1] of us owning at least one of these indispensable devices. So it will come as no surprise that our research shows that one of the most important factors when it comes to driving smart home adoption is how easy it is to control from our smartphones.

But as the sector develops, we must consider whether we want to use our smartphone to switch off the lights or turn on the TV. Consumers will crave a more natural and intuitive interface, and here we explore three ways the smartphone could be knocked off its throne as default remote of the connected home.

  1. Voice control

Speaking to inanimate objects might seem like an odd concept now, but in a few years the entire smart home could be running on voice biometrics. Online retail giant Amazon has put a lot of effort into its Amazon Echo: a speaker that you can ask about to play music, give you a morning traffic update, or even tell you the latest football score. Other smart products, such as Samsung Smart TVs now have voice recognition built in too. Yes, you can ask it to change channel and turn the volume up and down without touching the remote control, but it also builds a personal profile of you and every member of your family. It will learn what programmes you watch regularly so as soon as you ask it to ‘play the latest England game’, it knows you mean you want to see the latest goal from Sterling not the cricket or rugby.

  1. Actions and gestures  

If the thought of having to ask your coffee machine to start brewing in the morning is too much to face, why not set it off with a simple smile? Intel’s RealSense 3D camera recognises hand and head movements, and even facial expressions. It’s currently targeted at video gamers who can control the on-screen action with their hand rather than the control pad. But it’s soon expected to become more common in our everyday lives with thermostats, TVs, or laptops that you control with a swipe of the hand, a nod of the head, or even a wink or smile.

  1. Mind control

It sounds like science-fiction but your thoughts alone could control the smart home of the future. The connected home will be full of devices able to monitor particular signals in your brain and see what you want to do before you’ve even had the chance to act upon it yourself. Incredibly, it’s already being developed, and in Eda Akman Aydin’s study at Gaza University all participants were able to learn to control a phone, light, TV and heater just by picking up signals from their brain activity. The technology might be slow to respond at the moment, but it’s a promising start. With our research showing that most European consumers expect to have a smart home in three or more years’ time, there’s still time for cutting edge tech like this to develop and grow.

Above all, what these three interfaces offer consumers is ease of use and what could be simpler than a few words, a gesture or even a thought? Retailers know that convenience wins over consumers and with such straightforward systems the question isn’t if the smartphone will be replaced in the smart home, but when.

[1] From Google Consumer Barometer 2015

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