3-D Printing Coming Into Its Own

As manufacturers catch on to the technology as faster and less expensive, 3-D printing is making significant inroads in the arena, applying it to high-volume manufacturing.

The updated methods are being used to produce a five-centimeter tall model of the Eiffel Tower, among a growing number of applications. A new additive manufacturing technology is 25 to 100 times faster than conventional 3-D printing, producing items such as parts that are stronger and less expensive to make.

Carbon3D, a start-up company founded in 2013, developed the method.

Continuous Liquid Interface Production — is a breakthrough technology that grows parts instead of printing them layer by layer. CLIP allows businesses to produce commercial quality parts at game-changing speeds, creating a clear path to 3D manufacturing.

3-D printing creates an object by depositing sequential layers of material. It isn’t as fast or as low-cost as conventional processes, but it lends itself to complex objects. Companies such as Carbon3D say it is fast enough to compete with usual mass manufacturing.

Watching a complex object rise, such as a geodesic ball, seemingly miraculously out of a layer of liquid, is convincing. The object appears continuously, rather than in discrete layers, so a finished item emerges faster. The materials are engineered to solidify when exposed to light. Under earlier 3-D processes, the laser must be turned off after each layer so more liquid can be spread out. This process slows the time to finished product and the interfaces between layers may be weak points in the finished product.

The newer technology is related to stereolithography, with a laser tracing a pattern on liquid. The Carbon 3D researchers, who are affiliated with North Carolina State University, figured out a way to make the process continuous, with no interfaces between layers, eliminating weak spots. Key is a modification in the liquid that prevents immediate solidification when exposed to light. A thin layer of oxygen temporarily stalls the chemical reactions leading to a solid.

Accelerated 3D printing crafts objects from a pool of material.

Accelerated 3D printing crafts objects from a pool of material.


The process has been proven to work with a variety of commercial plastics and the research continues on different liquids. The North Carolina group has raised more than $41 million in venture funding to continue the work.

Predictions that 3-D printing would replace conventional manufacturing in the near future seem to be materializing faster than many would have predicted.

3D Printing, A Technology For Regular Folks?

3D Printing Cube - Displayed on magazine website - Dezeen.com

3D Printing Cube – Displayed on magazine website – Dezeen.com

Predictions that 3D printing is rapidly becoming a reality raise a lot of questions. Does that mean that a printer (or two or more) will join the standard computer in the majority of American homes? Or will the technology create industrial and commercial tools that will affect individuals only as they become users of their products?

It would be easy to envision a whole line-up of 3D printers in the home — one to print out custom makeup for the ladies in the family; one to create toys for the kids, another to whip out golf balls for dad, not to mention the family food printer that would produce elegant pastries as well as standard pasta dishes.

There is plenty of debate already ongoing among the experts in the field regarding the potential for individual applications of the technology vs. broader uses. Before you get carried away with visions of your home’s 3D printing devices, you might like an opinion from one of those who is deep into the development of the prototypes that precede the real thing.

Terry Wohlers, who heads a company involved in analysis and consulting on matters related to the evolution of 3D printing, is a skeptic about the potential of widespread use of 3D printers in the home, but he is certain that in the near future, the technology will be used to benefit all Americans through commercial, medical and industry applications.

He relates the future of 3D to the present saturation of computers. “Just like with computers, you have some computers at home for specific things and computers at work for other things,” he explained. Food is the only thing “manufactured” in the majority of American homes and 3D likely will find its useful place to facilitate that activity, he believes.

Hod Lipson, who is exploring many kinds of eventual 3D printing uses as a scientist with Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab, has a little broader conception of how the technology might affect individuals. He sees people using 3D printers to enhance nutrition and direct health regimens, among other things. A robot conceivably could guide your eating habits.

“You will have a hard time explaining to your grandchildren how you could live without a 3D printer,” he says. “In two decades we’ll wonder how we were able to live without 3D Printing.” Already the term “3D printing” is working its way into the American vocabulary and soon, the phrase will drop off the tongue as readily as the word “computer,” the visionary leaders of the movement predict.

3D Food Printers? Move Over Microwaves

Make room in your kitchen for a gizmo that prints food. Mind-boggling but true. The 3D printing technology is already developed and there are advance-guard food preparation models on the market, selling for $99 to $5,000.

This ravioli mold was printed with a 3D printer.

This ravioli mold was printed with a 3D printer.

Here’s how it works: Suppose you have ravioli in mind. Assemble the ingredients — the first step you always take in preparing meals. Then the machine takes over, “printing” a thin layer of pasta from one of its capsules. Next comes a layer of your tomato-based filling from another capsule, followed by another layer of pasta filling for the standard ravioli design.

The 3D printers do NOT make something from nothing, stresses Lynette Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines in Barcelona, Spain. The company calls its food printer the Foodini, of course. It is scheduled for release in October and will sell for about $1,300 initially. Kucsma predicts that the device will be as common as the kitchen microwave and that it will take less time to catch on with the current tech-savvy public. She feels it will offer a more healthful approach to food preparation, edging out some of the fast foods that are standard American fare these days.

“The point is to get people away from eating processed foods and start cooking again,” she said, but cooking in a Space Age mode. In a time-pressed society, having a mini food manufacturing device in the kitchen will be a more healthful approach, as well as saving time, she predicted.

3D Printed Sugar Seen On 3dsystems.com

3D Printed Sugar


For instance, in the above example, each ravioli takes under a minute. That means 10 in 10 minutes. The food printer is an assembly device that does the tedious work of putting things in order and doing the tedious chores, such as rolling pasta dough. You still must add necessary ingredients and cook the assembled food. Natural Machines and other hopeful competitors in the emerging market are already working on companion pieces that will take care of the cooking.

Cornell Creative Machines Lab, which also is creating a 3D food printer, joins in making futuristic claims for the technology, predicting that dining out as well as cooking in will be significantly affected. The company cites USDA figures that show the average American spends 33 minutes a day on food preparation. Food printing could become a set-and-forget process that could cut the time by 150 hours per year.

Before such devices become standard household equipment, they are likely to enhance fancy items such as pastries for restaurant chefs. But standard microwaves are already shuddering in their shoes as they see the shape of the future in 3D food printing.

Making a sandwich with 3D printer as seen on 3ders.org

Making a sandwich with 3D printer as seen on 3ders.org

Mink 3D Printer Produces Eye Shadows And Makeup

Grace Choi presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014

Grace Choi presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2014

More and more people are looking for ways to make 3D printing pay. Grace Choi is one of those who has found a practical use for the technology. She invented Mink as a way to “print” makeup allowing users to pick designer colors from images.

The Next Big Thing

3D printing is being touted as the next big thing in computer technology, a process in which a computer replicates an item by adding layers of a chosen material, following a digital pattern. It is expected to blossom over the next few years into multiple uses as diverse as body replacement parts and food products.

Choi explained her Mink process to interested critics during the TechCrunch Disrupt NY2014 meeting in early May. It was held at the Manhattan Center in New York and was an opportunity for innovators to share their concepts incorporating 3D printing.

Mink's 3D Printer Prints Eye Shadow, Lipstick And More

Mink’s 3D Printer Prints Eye Shadow, Lipstick And More

Make Up Ingredients

Choi started from the premise that almost all makeup products are created from basic substrates, whether it ends up in pricey high-class shops or on the shelves of the neighborhood has-it-all shopping center. Problem is, these outlets don’t cover the waterfront in color and shade, but tend to cater to a mid-range of customers. Mink allows endless choices.

Computer Generated Color Selections

She looked at the principle that the basic contents of makeup are the same and developed that concept into computer-generated makeup that can employ any color imaginable to suit the maker. Using software that already exists, the operator can print powder, blush, eye shadow, lip gloss or any other type of makeup. Imagine getting up in the morning and custom-designing your makeup to match your clothing selection for the day. (And the gurus predict that some day, 3D printing will be used to produce that dress you want to match, as well!)

3D printer technology allows picking colors directly from digital photos.

3D printer technology allows picking colors directly from digital photos.

Choi told the New York panel that her pre-production research showed that those who buy makeup don’t tend to be resolutely loyal to any particular brand, but are looking for convenience. What’s more convenient than your own home?

Serial Inventor

The young woman innovator, who terms herself a “serial inventor,” said she had plenty of failures as she worked toward Mink. But she is looking forward to putting her product on the market later this year, at a suggested price of $200 per unit. The target buyer group will be those 13 to 21, a demographic that is not firmly set in its makeup-buying habits.

Future Plans

At the same time, she will keep researching and hoping to alliances with companies that can enhance the prospects for success. She will be talking with some of the big printers such as Epson to see if deals can be made that would be rewarding for her and for them as the role of 3D printing increases. She continues to study how she can make Mink competitive with the mass market. Her big selling point is the number and variety of colors that can be used in Mink.

She is keeping a finger on the pulse of fashion and talking with those who influence fashion trends.

Look for more uses for 3D printing as innovators such as Choi really get down to the job.

Visit Coolchecks.net/blog for more 3D Printer stories.

Is There A 3D Printer In Your Future?

Princeton University Creates A 3D Bionic Ear

Princeton University Creates A 3D Bionic Ear

The impact of 3D printers, predicted by the industry to be huge, has stuttered a little, mostly due to patent/intellectual property issues, but be assured it’s coming. The future almost certainly holds 3D applications that will affect individual users and the mass market in ways hard to imagine.

The technology involves using a three-dimensional “pattern” to guide a computer in laying down layers of materials in a process they have dubbed “additive manufacturing.” The expected uses range from the creation of small toys, jewelry, makeup and edible goods to body replacement parts and large-scale manufacturing of a host of items. To date, patents have been issued for 45 different materials intended for use in 3D printing, including ceramics, clay, palladium, paper, rubber, silver, titanium and wax.

The myriad anticipated uses are just coming into being. Likely to be in general use first are these applications:

Medical: Researchers already are using 3D printers to do bioprinting – creating of tiny strips of organ tissue and facial appendages including ears and noses. The predictions envision printed organs such as kidneys and livers. Initially, these printed organs will likely be used for testing drugs and vaccines. Ultimately, they could fill the huge gaps in the availability of viable human organs and the numbers of patients who need them.

Pete Basiliere, a leading analyst of 3D printing potential, predicts that the advances in organ printing will outpace the public’s understanding and acceptance of the technology. 3D organ printing, he assumes, will join similar medical advances, such as organ transplantation and use of stem cells to treat patients, in a learning curve before the public adopts the idea. The same ethical questions that have been raised about artificial hearts and other cutting-edge technologies are likely to be debated: Are humans trying to play God? Are new medical innovations creating “rich men’s remedies” that will exclude the poor? If the past is an indicator, the life-saving benefits of the new technologies will triumph, Basiliere expects.

Another potential medical use is creation of prosthetic limbs. A 13-year-old girl who lost an arm in a boating accident was fitted by students at Washington University with a 3D-created prosthesis that used about $200 worth of materials, a stark contrast to the $6,000 cost of similar devices created by current processes. Another girl from Illinois, who was born without fingers, was fitted with an operating set of plastic fingers at a cost of $5. A high school engineering class created the prosthesis. In Canada, researchers are working toward 3D printing processes to create prosthetic limbs for victims of civil war injuries in Uganda.

The fashion industry dressed models in outfits created by 3D in the New York Fashion Week shows in 2013. Such eminent performers as Lady Gaga have garbed themselves in 3D dresses. She wore the world’s first “flying dress” to the 20133 ArtRave. The world’s first 3D printed bikini, the N12, is named for the material a computer used to create it: Nylon 12.

Some organizations devoted to the war on global poverty see the potential for such things as solving water hygiene problems in Third World countries. They envision needy people using “mini factories” to create products that would provide them a living. 3D may provide simple answers to such pervasive problems as hand sanitation in refugee camps.

There’s a good chance that one of your next automobiles will be created through 3D printing. A prototype, the Urbee, has been designed by Kor Ecologic. The two-seater gets up to 200 miles per gallon of fuel. Estimated cost: about $20,000.

Personal 3D printers are likely to join the standard electronic equipment in the vast majority of American homes. At present, they’re generally expensive and hard to operate. Some require hand assembly. However, there is little doubt in the minds of those who know about such things that the problems will be resolved and that affordable 3D will be available. But there’s a long road ahead until such technology finds its logical and practical uses for most Americans.