Blog Menu


August 30, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:15

A new type of additive manufacturing (AM) service provider is targeting consumers. One of the best examples is Netherlands-based Shapeways, a company that is a part of the Philips Electronics’ incubator program. The company, which launched in Q2 2008, allows customers to upload a design that Shapeways will manufacture using a method of AM. This may sound similar to a conventional AM service provider, although Shapeways focuses entirely on the consumer market. Also, it offers a portfolio of “creator” tools that makes it easier for customers unfamiliar with conventional design tools to create custom products. Prices range from a few dollars for a ring or key chain to $100 for a semi-custom “Lightpoem” lamp. Larger pieces can cost hundreds of dollars.

Shapeways Shops, a service that became available in January 2009, allows artists, designers, or anyone to set up their own “storefront” to sell AM-produced products to the public. Shapeways handles the sales transaction, manufacturing, and shipment to the customer. All manufacturing is done by laser sintering, fused deposition modeling, PolyJet, or ProMetal. Products include sculptures, jewelry, figurines, and a wide range of other consumer-oriented products. To an  extent, Shapeways Shops is modeled after CafePress, a website that is said to be growing by about 2,000 new shops and 45,000 new products per day. The products from CafePress are custom t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, postcards, mouse pads, ornaments, clocks, and a wide range of other items.

I spoke with Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways, about the company’s recent introduction of metal-based products. Custom and semi-custom metal rings are now available from the company for as little as $10-30. A 50-mm (2-inch) custom statue is priced in the range of $40-50. The cost of larger parts rise according to the amount of material used to make them.

Weijmarshausen explained that tens of thousands of items are now available at the Shapeways gallery. He said the company is currently producing and selling thousands of products per month. Given the low prices of many of them, you’d have to sell thousands to begin to cover expenses. It’s difficult to know when Shapeways will become profitable, but at its current growth rate, it could occur sooner than one might expect.

Jay Leno’s Garage

August 15, 2009

Filed under: life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 14:52

I visited Jay Leno’s Garage last week. Jay has a collection of 128 cars and 100 motorcycles. Most are rare, fully restored, and expensive. What’s most interesting is that all of them run and Jay drives them all. The garage is not a museum, yet it spans 100 years of automobile history. Jay buys the pieces because he likes to drive cars and motorcycles.

The person giving the tour of the garage was Rosalie, a sweet woman and wife of Bernard, Jay’s head mechanic. She works at the garage as the detailer and her memory and knowledge of automobiles is fascinating. She named all 228 vehicles by year, make, and model, and discussed the engine specs and other details of many of them. I can see why Jay hired her.

When doing the Tonight Show, Jay usually drove one vehicle a day. Now that he’s in-between shows, he drives up to five a day and makes multiple visits each day to the garage. The facility includes a gourmet kitchen where Jay often prepares meals for his staff.

The garage spans six buildings and consists of 1,579 square meters (17,000 square feet). It is equipped with a complete machine shop, body shop, and spray paint booth. Rosalie said the facility will soon expand to eight buildings. Several exceptionally talented employees keep the vehicles in impeccable shape. It’s impossible to find replacement parts for many of the cars and cycles because they are so old and rare. Consequently, Jay has little choice but to reproduce them in-house. The garage houses a 3D laser scanner from NextEngine and Dimension 3D printer from Stratasys.

Jay’s knowledge of cars and engine technology is impressive. His website includes video clips on most, maybe all, of the vehicles, with Jay showing and discussing each of them. He starts and drives them in the clips, which is a lot of fun to watch and hear. You can tell that he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Visiting the garage was a special experience. Rosalie is a busy person, yet she was very generous with her time. The tour went a full two hours, although it seemed like 30 minutes. I could have spent a full day there and felt fortunate to have visited. I hope to return soon.

Open-source 3D Printers

August 2, 2009

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:01

A relatively recent development that is quietly unfolding could have an interesting impact on the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. Open-source 3D printers are being developed by a number of people and organizations worldwide. The “open-source” concept originated in the world of software development many years ago. One of the best examples is Linux, a version of the Unix operating system.

With open-source software, the source code and certain other rights normally held by copyright holders are provided under a software license that meets the Open Source Definition or that is in the public domain, according to Wikipedia. This allows users to employ, modify, and enhance the software, and to redistribute it, modified or unmodified.

Cornell University, with its Fab@Home project, was one of the first to develop an open-source 3D printer. The machine uses an x-y motion system to deposit materials through a syringe layer by layer. The system enables the use of many types of materials, ranging from chocolate and cake icing to plastics and living cells. Versions of the machine have produced rigid and elastic polymer mechanical parts, electrical circuits, polymer transistors, relays, polymer actuators, alkaline batteries, engineered living tissues, chocolate sculptures, cake decorations, and hors d’oeuvres—all directly from computer data and raw materials.

It’s possible to obtain the plans from the Fab@Home website and build a machine on your own. Alternatively, you can order a kit for $2,600 or an assembled machine for $3,700. An estimated 123 systems were installed in 20 countries in 2007 and 2008.

RepRap and CandyFab are two other open-source developments, with RepRap gaining the most traction to date. The RepRap project originated at Bath University in the UK, with an initial emphasis on self-replication. The goal is to produce a machine that can make copies of itself. The system uses ABS and polyethylene in filament form, similar to FDM from Stratasys. The parts I’ve seen remind me of the very early FDM parts (circa 1990), including a seam where the deposition starts and stops.

RepRap kits are available commercially from A1 Technologies of the UK for £750 (~$1,250) and Makerbot Industries for $750 ($2,500 fully assembled). It is believed that 500–1,000 systems have been sold, although someone closer to the development puts it at 1,500+ machines.

What will be the future impact of these open-source systems? It’s too early to know for sure, but from what I can tell, they could succeed—and to some extent, already have—as a research and development platform. A lot has been published about the makeup the systems, so researchers and others can easily try new materials and apply the machines to a wide range of new and interesting applications. The Fab@Home system is the most versatile for experimentation, but the lower cost of the RepRap development makes it attractive for even the smallest organization or individual.