Viewpoint: A Jaw-Dropping Display of Color Models

The 3DP User Group organized the world's most impressive collection of color models produced by 3D printing.

By Terry Wohlers

"Viewpoint" is a monthly column authored by Terry Wohlers for Time-Compression Technologies
This column was published in the January/February 2007 issue.

I had the privilege of attending the 3DP Users Group meeting the past two years. This is the annual meeting of users of Z Corporation's 3D printers. I did not know what to expect before attending the October 2005 event because it was my first. I enjoyed the presentations and other activities, but it was the display of parts that made the biggest impression. The wide spectrum of color models and prototypes, and the range of industries represented, were unprecedented. I had seen many examples in the past at industry meetings and expositions, but the collective impact did not rival what I saw at the 2005 user meeting. The October 2006 meeting was just as impressive, with even more parts and applications over the previous year.

A question in the minds of many is this: How would one take advantage of color to model and prototype new designs? The vast number of examples at these two user meetings helped to answer this question.

The following is a sampling of the estimated 200 models that were on display at the October 2006 meeting. Most were produced on the Spectrum Z510 printer. Images of the parts are at www.zcorp.com/tct. The numbers correspond with the images.

  1. Tammy Schroyer of SAIC Fredrick, Inc. used the Visual Molecular Dynamics software to produce the digital data for this helix molecular model. She worked closely with the scientist to ensure the usefulness of it for visualization.
  2. This is a model of a subterranean chemical plume that is located under an industrial plant. The model was created from soil core samples and represents the actual site. 3D Rapid Prototyping, a division of SolderMask, Inc., created the model for C Tech Development Corp.
  3. I had never seen anything quite like this haunted house. Recent graduates Patricia Beck and David Liversidge of WJ Mouat High School created it with 3D Max. The two have started a 3D animation company called DXLAB.
  4. Patricia Beck and David Liversidge also produced this "man on a stool" creation.
  5. Artist Robert Geshlider created this interesting piece of art, titled Man with a Hat, using SolidWorks. 3D Rapid Prototyping fabricated the part.
  6. 3D Rapid Prototyping also produced this Nemo and Scooby Doo, although little else is know about them.
  7. John Braun of Alchemy Models, Inc. produced this small but striking architectural model.
  8. Leslie Penfield and Richard Langdon of Spirax Sarco, Inc. produced this model of a heat exchanger Package. The product is sold to hospitals, universities and hotels. All parts of the models were produced with a Z Corp. 3D printer, except for the fasteners. Unlike all of the other parts described in this article, this model was hand-painted.
  9. This is a model of Cyclotrons system that is used for treating cancer patients. It was provided by Indiana University.
  10. Blue Sky International did the work for this globe. It was produced from actual satellite imaging data.
  11. Kiewit Engineering used AutoCAD and ZEdit from Z Corp. to prepare the data for this model of a large crane. It was used for marine construction work on the west coast.
  12. Reebok provided the data needed to produce this shoe sole model (bottom). The actual shoe sole is shown at the top of the picture.
  13. Sterlings Custom Fabrications provided the model of this human spine.

In addition, Motorola modeled and printed relatively new mobile phone designs and Brady Peters of Foster and Partners was involved in the design and printing of an intricate design of an architectural structure for a new stylish building.

I spent hours studying the models, asking questions and exploring ways in which one might apply color to modeling and prototyping. Certain types of parts produced by additive fabrication do not benefit from color. As examples, patterns used to produce silicone rubber tooling and patterns for investment casting can be monochrome. Likewise, most parts used for fit and function testing do not benefit much from color. However, when creating models to communicate ideas for new products, it is often more effective to use multiple colors.

Some of the most interesting and exciting applications of color are found in several emerging market areas. Among them are architectural/engineering/construction (A/E/C), geographic information systems (GIS), medicine, figurines and action figures from video games. Without color, the growth of these markets would be slow or they may not develop at all.

The 3DP User Group is providing ideas and inspiration to many that could benefit from the use of color. As the number of examples expands, I am convinced that color will play a critical role in the fabrication of models, prototypes and finished manufactured products. The impressive display of models at the past two 3DP User Group Meetings is compelling evidence. TCT

Industry consultant, analyst and speaker Terry Wohlers is principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA). For more information visit wohlersassociates.com.