Cool Uses For 3D Printing Technology

Rapid prototyping and 3D printing have been on my mind for a number or years, my first exposure to the technology was in college when some graduates students and a professor demoed what would go on to become an award winning board game, Khet. Seeing first hand the ease with which a new component could be made was fascinating. Prior to the demonstration my belief was that every component for a prototype would have to be hand made, either machined, sculpted, or otherwise fabricated. The possibilities provided by, and the speed of 3D printing have since fascinated me.

Photo from Amazon (link to listing - this is not an affiliate thing just attribution)
It seems my admiration for rapid prototyping puts me in good company, recently I wrote about the popularity of 3D printing, and how it has been mentioned with increasing regularity in main stream media. The graphs showing a marked increase of search volume of course are backed by a number of articles about the new technology but what continues to intrigue is the expanding uses for on demand prototyping. So what are these articles and searches turning up? Below are the highlights of a few that have piqued my interest.
This is a small group out of the UK that will make on demand dolls. MakieLab recently recieved signifcant VC funding and have been shipping the dolls now for a few months. As a member of the toy industry it is always exciting to see the way that others are delivering unique play experiences and products.

Combining plastic 3D Printing with Printed Electronics:
It's not just plastics and resins that can be printed. All sorts of materials are now an option, ranging from candy to tool steel. One of the most interesting possibilities is printed electronics. If an object can be printed in three dimensions why can't it be combined with printed electronic components in the same build to really produce something cool. Forbes ran a quick piece looking at a partnership that printed a unmanned flying vehicle.

MakerBot at MakerFaire:
If you are an engineer (or in general a reader of this blog) and have not heard of Maker Faire I suggest you do some Googling. The popular DIY/Engineering/Designers get together has been adding dates and upping attendance for a few years now. It's no surprise that many of these semi-pro hobbyists have caught on to the 3D printing technology. Engadget ran an article following a handful of engineers given the ultimate tasks - make some robots do fun stuff simply because it's fun and people will enjoy it.

The Legality of 3D Printing:
Of course with new technology comes exploitation of technology. 3D Printing offers a new and confusing layer to the IP conversation. What level of design does a designer really own, and where in the process does a replication become an illegal copy. Some of the other noted articles here make it easy for an inexperienced designer to reproduce the work of a seasoned veteran, or simply a product that they like. Wired cover the moral issues and implications of 3D printing in a recent article.

The first time 3DPrinting appeared on 3DEngr was after 2010 Solidworks World. At SWW2010 James Cameron spoke about the role printing played in the fictional world of Avatar. There were also a number of booths in the partner pavilion that were displaying a variety of 3D printing capabilities. With any luck there will be more coverage of 3D printing in the future, some of which may come from my own machine! Prices are coming down the question now is which device offers the most function for the best price, I am after all just a hobbyist. Suggestions on the best options are welcome in the comments.

The Market For CAD In The Cloud Is NOT Tiny: The Future Of Solidworks

Matt Lombard has an inserting article on the future of Solidworks, saying that it is dying. Matt has more information, and generally better insight than I on many industry topics. Though his comments regarding Solidworks as we know it may be correct, with the change of kernels and ground up reprogramming making the future foggy, one comment regarding the replacement of Solidworks seems to go to far.

The Dilemma of Planned Obsolesence

On a recent flight to Hong Kong, to review the upcoming production of the product line I helped engineer and design, the in seat entertainment offered up a documentary called "The Light Bulb Conspiracy". As a product engineer and marketing manager for a consumer device company the primary thesis of the film struck a cord. "The Light Bulb Conspiracy" takes a look at the idea of planned obsolescence. The impact on society, the moral dilemma, and the economic motivations of a defined useful product life cycle provide an intriguing backdrop for a global conspiracy. The 1920's light bulb industry generated the name for the film but the story can be applied to a number of different industries.

Google Docs for eDrawings App

Since I first learned of it Google docs has been my go to storage location for anything that had to be transferred. Initially it was just a document suite for editing and documents with collaborators, but the recent overhaul and renaming (now Google Drive) has positioned Google Drive to act more as a cloud storage and sharing tool. Many people recommend DropBox and other storage options for large file transfer, which is a perfectly fine option, but the integration into GMail and the shared collaboration tools puts it in a different category.

Recently a client on a freelance project and the release of the eDrawings App for iPad (review for app here) had me looking at it to transfer and share some Solidworks files.

For existing files on Google drive you can share the item and email it to someone simply by opening the file and clicking the share link (how about that.... so intuitive!), which they can then open from their email on the iPad

If you happen to be browsing already on an iPad, with the eDrawings app installed, you can navigate to Google Drive and select the item. Instead of showing the "No preview available" screen it will recognize the file type and pop up the below screen asking if you want to open it in eDrawings.

All of that is great - for files that are already on Drive, but there is a problem. In trying to upload the new files for my client Drive continued to fail for all ".SLDPRT" and ".SLDDRW" file types. The settings were set to "Conversion:On" and they were converting to Word files which meant that something in the file was being sensed as a word document. Each upload of the .SLDPRT file type showed up as a "Word" file but still had the ".SLDPRT" or other suffix as a part of the file name.

When trying to view the files this created huge issues. Google Drive would sense the Word file and try to preview as such, instead of sensing the .sldprt, so you could not open in the App. This below is what showed including the text "Sorry, we are unable to generate a view of the document at this time. Please try again later. You can also try to download the original document by clicking here"

So what happens if you turn Settings: Conversion: OFF. While then the file doesn't upload at all. Check the screen show below. With this setting I kept getting the error "This file could not be imported because the contents of the file do not match the file extension." The only thing I can imagine is that the upload is looking inside the file and seeing the same type of thing that makes it convert to .doc, but instead just kicks it back because something further through the file fails.

Manually removing the file extension does not work, Google Drive does not allow you to change the file type. This may be one of the pitfalls of a "cloud" storage device.  I've checked question forums and help menus but still nothing and it's baffling. If anyone has any knowledge of what might be going on here please leave a comment. As soon as I find a solution I'll post an update.

EDrawings iPad App Review

Tablets are everywhere, the iPad has blown up, and it's unlikely that this type of personal device goes away anytime soon. For CAD enthusiasts though there is still a major hurdle to clear as many of the streamlined devices lack the sheer computer power to run full CAE/CAD software suites. In time the processing power and use of "the cloud" will allow for full editing and creation and recently a great leap forward to this reality occurred when Solidworks released their eDrawings viewer for iPad.

In the app store eDrawings for iPad retails for $1.99. I was a bit surprised by this since the eDrawings desktop viewer is free, but given the functionality this seems like a reasonable price. Certainly this isn't a cash cow for Dassault/Solidworks but it may offset some of the development costs slightly.

Popularity Of 3D Printing On The Rise

Designing, prototyping, and manufacturing new components and devices has always been a complicated process. Computer aided design software, such as those CAD software programs reviewed elsewhere on this site, have gone a long way in simplifying the process but recent 3D Printing technology is arguably doing more to shorten the prototyping and manufacturing stages. Often CAD designs describe a perfect case scenario, fits and tolerances, assembly, and part interaction in software simply can not replicate real world objects.

The popularity of 3D printers has greatly increased in the past few years. A number of factors contribute to this. More materials for printed are being added every day with printers now capable of producing one off prints in everything from plastic to tool steel. Some forward thinking research groups have even started working generating even crazier things like chocolate structures and human tissue. As the technology continues to evolve it is breaking out of the research labs and R&D departments and becoming a part of the mainstream culture.

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