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NextEngine 3D Scanner

February 13, 2016

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:59

When NextEngine introduced its first 3D scanner at SolidWorks World 2006, it got my attention. The product is based on the company’s patented MultiStripe Laser Triangulation (MLT) technology. At the time, it was the lowest priced scanner of its kind. If my memory serves me correctly, the price of the new Ultra HD version is the same as it was back then (base price of $2,995), yet the scan quality is now far better.

The small Ultra HD unit is capable of 268,000 points per 6.5 sq cm (1 sq inch), which is very good for such a low-cost product. NextEngine publishes an accuracy of +/- 0.125 mm (0.005 inch), although it is capable of +/- 0.025 mm (0.001 inch) accuracy under optimal conditions, according to Dan Gustafson, director of marketing at the Santa Monica, California company. When running the scanner in “Optional Extended Range Mode,” which covers a scan envelope of 55.9 x 41.9 x 27.9 cm (22 x 16.5 x 11 inches), accuracy is +/- 1.14 mm (0.045 inch).

An interesting tool for comparing low-cost 3D scanning options is located here. Click each of the models near the bottom of the window and play around with them. When selecting one, it splits the window into quadrants, as shown in the following example, with each representing a different scanning solution. Click and drag the circle at the center to increase or decrease the size of the quadrants. Click the small circles near the bottom to create different views of the 3D model.

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The functionality built into the NextEngine website is one of the best and most effective I’ve seen for comparing products. My only suggestion would be to include at least one product that is priced similarly or higher than the Ultra HD scanner. Other than that, the people at NextEngine have nailed it. Congratulations to NextEngine for 10 years of commercializing low-cost 3D scanning products based on MLT technology.

Last Week’s Euromold 2015

September 27, 2015

The 22nd annual Euromold event was held last week in Düsseldorf, Germany. Other than a few companies missing from the exhibition floor, it could not have gone better. More than 450 exhibitors from 33 countries showed their latest products and services. More than one-third of them were from the additive manufacturing and 3D printing space, giving visitors a lot to see and learn. A fashion show on Friday featured models with stunning 3D-printed accessories.

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Large crowd in awe by the work shown at the Euromold fashion show

This year’s Euromold conference program was expanded to three days, with the support of USA-based SME. Jeff Kowalski, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Autodesk energized a packed room at the opening keynote. His comments were inspiring, and people were discussing them days after his presentation. Kowalski said that quality and reliability are holding back 3D printing. He also explained how we are entering the “imagination age,” but it will require completely new software capabilities to help propel the industry forward. His fresh and forward-thinking ideas gave hope to those who feel that CAD software currently hinders their ability to unlock the full potential of 3D printing.

euromold
Left: Jeff Kowalski of Autodesk. Right: Lively panel session on 3D printing software tools and data with Wilfried Vancraen of Materialise, Scott White of HP, Chris Romes of Autodesk, Emmett Lalish of Microsoft, and session chair Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates

Dr. Jules Poukens, a cranio-maxillofacial surgeon, was keynote speaker the second day of the conference. He shared video footage of his team implanting a cranial plate, as well as the world’s first complete mandible (jaw) replacement. Both were custom-designed and 3D-printed in titanium. The full room of people were amazed by this work.

On the final day, Stephen Nigro of HP took center stage as keynote speaker. Nigro is senior vice president at HP and responsible for company’s printing business, which is valued at more than $20 billion per year and involves tens of thousands of employees. On November 1, 2015, he becomes president of HP’s new 3D printing business. Similar to the previous two days, the room was completely packed, with people lining the walls and queued in the doorways. Nigro said the 2D printing business is $230 billion annually, but 3D printing has the potential to exceed it in size. I was flattered when he used Wohlers Associates’ data to illustrate his point. If 3D printing penetrates just 5% of the global manufacturing economy, it will surpass 2D printing by nearly three times.

The three-day conference concluded with an outstanding keynote by Jason Dunn of Made In Space. The company successfully designed, produced, and placed the first 3D printer on the International Space Station. The excellence of Dunn’s information, along with that of the other speakers and panelists, coupled with the number and quality of people in attendance, were, by far, the best in 17 years of running the conference. Thanks to everyone in attendance, and to the teams at DEMAT and SME, for their involvement. We look forward to Euromold 2016, again in Düsseldorf, which is a great place to spend a few days. Please add December 6–9, 2016 to your calendar. I look forward to seeing you there!

Not for Everyone

March 30, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 10:22

Contrary to what some would like you to believe, owning and operating a 3D printer is not for most consumers. It may be easy to buy one, but it’s definitely not easy to create the 3D model data needed to produce a unique design. Also, getting a satisfactory result from a 3D printer is not fast or straightforward.

I’ve owned a pair of downhill (alpine) ski poles that I cannot easily replace. They have molded grips that the ski industry stopped producing more than 10 years ago. I like the poles, but the plastic parts near the tips (called baskets, as shown in the following) are ripping apart. So, I decided: Why not replace them using our 3D printer?

b1

Student intern Tyler Hudson, who graduates in May 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering, learned SolidWorks some time ago, so he produced a solid model of the basket design. Learning to use SolidWorks or another professional-grade CAD solid modeling product is not trivial. Tyler did an excellent job with the basket design, but my guess is that 99% of average consumers would quickly become frustrated with the effort. And, this assumes that they have access to good CAD software.

Tyler printed the first version of the basket in ABS plastic using our UP! 3D printer. It turned out well (see the following image), but the plastic was much too rigid for this application. The basket design snap fits into place, so it requires a flexible or semi-flexible material. We knew about the NinjaFlex materials and contacted the company, which was kind enough to spend us two spools of 1.75-mm diameter filament. The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) NijaFlex material is very strong and tough, with high tear resistance. We later discovered that our 3D printer does not support the higher temperature requirements of this material, so running it on the machine was not an option.

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Colorado State University, in Fort Collins, has an Idea-2-Product lab with several 3D printers, so we contacted the lab to see if it could run TPE material in one of its machines. We learned that it had a LulzBot printer from Aleph Objects that was already running black NijaFlex material. Tyler visited the lab and spent hours getting it to build properly, partly due to his unfamiliarity with the material and its slow build speed. Eventually, he was successful, and he delivered the new baskets to me the evening before our ski weekend. The baskets turned out well and they performed as expected on Saturday and Sunday at Copper Mountain.

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Most consumers would not have been able to produce these relatively simple parts. Creating the data would have been the first obstacle, and then having the right 3D printer and material would have also presented challenges. What’s more, the cost in time would have easily exceeded the cost of buying new poles or buying used ones (with the preferred grips) online. We went into this fairly small and simple project hoping that it wouldn’t require a great deal of time and effort, but also understanding that it could. It turned into a time-consuming effort that spanned more than a week, required a lot of skill and experience, and access to a special 3D printer and material.

Autodesk Tools for 3D Printing

October 26, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 09:47

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

In May 2014, Autodesk acquired the UK’s Within Technologies for $88 million. The acquisition escaped the attention of the media because Autodesk did not announce it. We became aware of the transaction through a conversation with Jeff Kowalski, Autodesk’s chief technology officer. He said that it is not a secret, and the company will probably announce something when it has more detail to share.

Within Technologies is a London-based software company that developed the Enhance software. Enhance is used to reduce part weight and optimize part design by converting a solid part into skins and internal lattice structures. The software allows users to specify loading requirements, and then it automatically optimizes the topology and unit size of the lattice members. It is also capable of varying the size and density of the lattice and skins.

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Optimized spinal implants, courtesy of Within Technologies

Two weeks before acquiring Within, Autodesk acquired the Nastran solver from NEi Software. Nastran is a proven finite element analysis product for analyzing linear and nonlinear stress, dynamics, and heat transfer characteristics. Autodesk has since added two new products—Nastran and Nastran In-CAD—to its simulation software portfolio.

These developments are a positive sign for the additive manufacturing industry. When and if Autodesk integrates the capabilities of Within Enhance into Inventor, Fusion 360, or another software product, AM designers will have new, powerful tools for designing and analyzing models created for additive processes. Currently, good design tools for AM are lacking, so we believe that these powerful capabilities will help accelerate the adoption of additive manufacturing.

Carl’s Workshop

October 12, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,machining — Terry Wohlers @ 16:09

When I first contacted Autodesk in 1983, the vice president of market and sales answered the phone. I doubt the company had more than a couple dozen employees at the time. It was founded just a year earlier. Fast forward to October 2014. Autodesk now employs 10,000 people, generated $2.3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and has a market cap of $12.2 billion. Not bad for a company that started with software for computer-aided drafting.

I had the privilege of spending 1.5 hours, one-on-one, with Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO, last Thursday. He is not your prototypical corporate chief executive. Carl dresses casually, is down to earth, and gives his full attention to you. Not once did he check his phone or seem preoccupied, even though he was going to greet and present to U.S. Navy admirals directly after my departure.

We were less than two minutes into our meeting at the impressive Autodesk Gallery when Carl asked if I wanted to see the company’s Pier 9 Workshop. Gonzalo Martinez of Autodesk had told me about the facility around the time it was being launched, so it has been on my “must see” list since then. Getting to visit it was a treat, but having Carl serve as my personal guide made it even more special.

I was surprised by the size and amount of equipment at the facility. The place is filled with large and advanced CNC machinery, and nearly everything you’d need to manufacture a product in metal, wood, or plastic. The number of high-end 3D printers, alone, was unexpected. See this video and these images to get a look inside. The 120 mostly young and energetic employees at the site made the place buzz with activity. The workshop includes some of Autodesk’s own photopolymer-based 3D printers, which are being developed as a part of the Spark 3D printing effort. The resolution and detail that is possible with the small machine is impressive.

When leaving the Autodesk buildings, I bumped into some business acquaintances on the street and they reminded me that Carl himself uses a lot of the workshop equipment. He knows how to program the CNC machines and run the 3D printers. In fact, he has been running a 3D printer at his home for many years. I asked Carl if he knew how to operate his company’s software products, such as Inventor and 3ds Max, and he replied with a firm Yes. With so much going on and so many people wanting his attention, I don’t know where he finds the time. If I worked for a company, such as Autodesk, I’d want to be close to the Pier 9 Workshop, and have Carl as my boss.

3D-Printed Saxophone

August 17, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:08

Note: The following was authored by Tim Caffrey, senior consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Olaf Diegal has done it again. His latest feat: a 3D-printed alto saxophone. At 575 grams vs. 2.5 kg, the laser-sintered nylon instrument weighs less than a quarter of a metal sax. Consisting of 41 separate parts, not counting the metal springs and screws, a saxophone is an incredibly complex instrument. One can only imagine how time-consuming the modeling of all the 3D-printed parts was using SolidWorks.

Olaf admits his first version had a few small problems. Nevertheless, as a design exercise, his sax is nothing short of amazing. For the second version, he plans to redesign the instrument by integrating all the spring actions into the 3D-printed parts.

Saxophone

The attention Olaf’s sax has drawn on the Internet is also amazing. His YouTube “sneak preview” video has been viewed nearly 200,000 times since it was posted less than three weeks ago.

One reason Olaf decided to tackle the challenge was to show that real-world products beyond trinkets and Yoda heads can be 3D printed. He is actively looking for a new challenge in design and 3D printing and has asked us to help him identify a new project. So, if you have ideas, please pass them along to him or us.

Olaf is an associate consultant at Wohlers Associates and a professor of mechatronics at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. You may be familiar with the stunning 3D-printed guitar bodies that Olaf designs, prints, and assembles into fully functional masterpieces. If you are unfamiliar with them, have a look at the ODD Guitars.

3DRV

August 3, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,manufacturing,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 14:33

Imagine an eight-month RV road trip across the U.S. with more than 100 scheduled stops. The purpose: to collect stories and information from customers of design and manufacturing tools, such as CAD software and 3D printing. Accomplished writer and 3D enthusiast TJ McCue is leading the tour. I’ve gotten to know TJ over the past 2.5 years, and I can say without reservation that Autodesk, the tour’s sponsor, could not have picked a better person to head this effort.

TJ has written extensively for Forbes, Small Business Trends, Yahoo! SMB, and Harvard Business Review. His writing is informative, thought-provoking, and engaging. TJ’s company, Refine Digital, explores design, 3D scanning, and 3D printing, so the tour compliments perfectly with what he’s about. TJ helps companies with go-to-market strategies, content marketing, and business development, so I’m sure he will be in an even stronger position to provide advice after the tour.

tj

TJ wrote, “The 3DRV tour is exploring the cities, towns, and off-the-path byways to uncover a fundamental change in the way things are designed and made, and how this is bringing radical change to business and to society at large.” He continued, “At each waypoint, we are celebrating the creative process, while illuminating the impact of design through firsthand customer stories, consumer creativity, and student innovations.”

rv

The images and descriptions that TJ has assembled are impressive. He has made 38 site visits thus far—all documented at the tour website. He is also shooting video footage, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of it. I’m sure he will have countless stories and examples of design and manufacturing to share with the world. Congrats to TJ for taking on this important activity as an interesting way of promoting and celebrating the world of product development.

Organic Modeling with SolidWorks

May 25, 2014

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 08:33

Note: The following was authored by Olaf Diegel, associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.

Most of my 3D-printed guitar designs include organic 3D shapes. By organic, I mean objects such as insects, animals, and flowers, with lots of flowing surfaces. Many people have asked me how I use SolidWorks, a popular CAD software product, to create these objects.

I begin by breaking down the entire design into as many separate features as I can. I do this whether the part is highly organic, or a regular geometric part. If one looks at a honey bee, for example, its body is a very complex shape that could be a serious challenge to model as a single feature. When breaking the bee’s body into the head, neck, waist, and main body, each individual part is much less complex than the whole, making the object simpler to model. (The head, for example, is further broken into the beak, eyes, etc.) I do it all as a single part, but first model the main body as a feature, than add the waist as the next feature, then the neck, and the head. I usually need a few simple fillets to blend the parts together. And, finally, I add the wings and legs, and voila, … it’s a bee.

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Most 3D CAD software generally offers two approaches: solid modeling and surface modelling. Surface modelling typically allows easier control of complex surfaces, but also requires extra steps to make things that are directly 3D printable. Gaps or overlaps between surfaces can cause problems. When working on complex shapes, I usually use a combination of both solid and surface modeling. I’ll start the overall shape as a surface and, as soon as I have enough completed, I’ll convert it into a solid. From that point forward, I work on it as a solid.

When working on models that will be 3D printed, I try to keep in mind the level of detail that will be visible after 3D printing. If, for example, I create King Kong sitting on the Empire State Building that’s only 10 mm in height, most facial features will not be visible. Therefore, I don’t waste much time on those fine features, although it is easy to sometimes get carried away because it’s fun to add the details.

It is usually only after I have modeled something that I realize how I could have done it in a much easier way, so I often go back and do it again in a completely different way. Trying different ways of doing something, often several times with different methods, is how I learn the best ways of 3D modeling complex organic objects with SolidWorks.

SolidWorks World 2013

February 1, 2013

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 09:07

I attended SolidWorks World 2013 last week in Orlando, Florida, and it was another excellent event. About 4,500 people were in attendance. For me, two of the highlights were presentations by Vijay Kumar, an engineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Elias Knubben, head of Corporate Bionic Projects at Festo.

Kumar shared the impressive work by him and his students. They have designed flying robots that are equipped with sensors and other devices that give them some intelligence. The aircraft, which can fit in the palm of a hand, can fly into buildings and tight places and gather information using small cameras. A likely application is search and rescue after a natural disaster. Another is going into areas where enemies and other threats may exist. Swarms of robots can fly in formation and avoid collision with one another—something I found particularly interesting.

Knubben of Festo showed some extraordinary parts and products, such as robot grippers made by laser sintering, a popular method of additive manufacturing. The gripper itself does not look all that interesting, until it is used. When instructed, the gripper flexes and wraps itself around an object, such as a piece of fruit, before picking it up. Knubben was kind enough to give the gripper to me and I found the design surprisingly simple, but effective.

Knubben’s team at Festo also designed a large bionic bird, called SmartBird, and it flies by flapping its wings. Knubben had the bird with him on stage. When it started to flap its wings, he gently flung it into the air and it began to fly. SmartBird circled the ballroom a couple times before landing in Knubben’s hands. I had never seen anything like it. Similar to Kumar’s small aircraft, many parts of the bird were designed with SolidWorks and produced by laser sintering.

Attending SolidWorks World was again worthwhile. If you want to get an update on the latest in SolidWorks software, applications, and company, it is the event to attend. The morning speakers are usually very good, although no celebrities made appearances this year. The exhibits are also worth some time. SolidWorks World 2014 is January 26-29 in San Diego, California.

COFES 2012

May 13, 2012

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE,event — Terry Wohlers @ 13:51

The Congress on the Future of Engineering Software (COFES) is like no other event that I’ve attended in my 30 years of travel. Most industry events are filled with back-to-back presenters, but not COFES. Instead, the three-day event includes many casual briefings, open discussions, and informal conversations—all by design. The free exchange that occurs at the event is really quite something. COFES 2012 was April 12–15 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley, Arizona—the venue for the past 13 years.

COFES was the brainchild of long-time friends Brad Holtz of Cyon Research (the organizer of COFES), futurist Dr. Joel Orr, and Evan Yares of WTWH Media. I met Brad in July 1984 when he and Joel attended the First Annual International Forum on Micro-based CAD here in Fort Collins, Colorado. Brad and Joel met on the shuttle bus from the Denver airport to Fort Collins. Joel was our keynote speaker.

About 300 attended COFES 2012 and a significant number were top CAD/PLM industry luminaries. Brad has done an impressive job at getting the “Who’s Who” in this industry to attend year after year. Thirty-three spouses attended, including mine. Brad and his small army of staff treated us and others like royalty. The food, entertainment, and all activities associated with the event were first-class. The cost to attend COFES is $1,995 to $2,895, depending on when you register.

COFES 2012 was my fifth, if my memory serves me correctly. At most of them, including this one, Brad has invited me to host a briefing on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. A briefing is a casual gathering of 10-25 people in a hotel suite. Brad asks the hosts to start the meeting with 3-5 minutes of comments and then open up it to discussion. I always bring many AM parts to pass around, so they always generate questions and comments. Interest in the subject of 3D printing at COFES is at an all-time high.

One of the special events at COFES 2012 was a presentation by Dr. Alan Kay. He is one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces. Alan has been a Xerox Fellow, Chief Scientist of Atari, Apple Fellow, Disney Fellow, and HP Senior Fellow. Another special session was a “fireside chat” with Dick Morley. He is the inventor of the programmable logic controller (PLC), anti-lock brakes, and the floppy disk. I had the privilege of serving on a Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ committee with Dick for several years, so I got to know him pretty well.

Indeed, COFES is like no other event, and it is a privilege to attend and participate. People are asked to dress casually (no coats and ties), and many wear shorts and sandals. Brad knows how to create a relaxing atmosphere and get people to contribute constructively on a wide range of subjects. I go away inspired and recharged and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

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