3d printing

Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M

Posted by | 3d printer, 3d printing, AM Ventures Holding, ETHZ, Gadgets, hardware, Health, Recent Funding, robotics, science, spectroplast, Startups, TC | No Comments

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

ethz siliconeprinting 1

A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.

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Archinaut snags $73 million in NASA funding to 3D-print giant spacecraft parts in orbit

Posted by | 3d printing, Archinaut, Gadgets, hardware, Made In Space, Space, TC | No Comments

A project to 3D-print bulky components in space rather than bring them up there has collected a $73.7 million contract from NASA to demonstrate the technique in space. Archinaut, a mission now several years in development from Made In Space, could launch as soon as 2022.

The problem at hand is this: If you want a spacecraft to have solar arrays 60 feet long, you need to bring 60 feet of structure for those arrays to attach to — they can’t just flap around like ribbons. But where do you stash a 60-foot pole, or two 30-foot ones, or even 10 six-foot ones when you only have a few cubic feet of space to put them in? It gets real complicated real fast to take items with even a single large dimension into space.

Archinaut’s solution is simple. Why not just take the material for that long component into space and print it out on the spot? There’s no more compact way to keep the material than as a brick of solid matter.

Naturally this extends (so to speak) to more than simply rods and poles — sheets of large materials for things like light sails, complex interlocking structures on which other components could be mounted… there are plenty of things too big to take into space in one piece, but which could be made of smaller ones if necessary. Here’s one made for attaching instruments at a large fixed distance from a central craft:

optimast3Made in Space already has contracts in place with NASA, and has demonstrated 3D printing of parts aboard the International Space Station. It has also shown that it can print stuff in an artificial vacuum more or less equivalent to a space environment.

The demonstrator mission, Archinaut One, would launch aboard a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle no earlier than 2022, and after achieving a stable orbit, begin extruding a pair of beams that will eventually extend out 32 feet. Attached to these beams will be flexible solar arrays that unfurl at the same rate, attached to the rigid structures of the beams. When they’re finished, a robotic arm will lock them in place and do other housekeeping.

You can see it all happen in this unfortunately not particularly exciting video:

Once finished, this pair of 32-foot solar arrays would theoretically generate some five times the power that a spacecraft that size would normally pull in. Because spacecraft are almost without exception power-starved systems, having more watts to use or store for the orbital equivalent of a rainy day would certainly be welcome.

In another print, the robot arm could rearrange parts, snap on connectors and perform other tasks to create more complex structures like the ones in the concept art up top. That’s still well in the future, however — the current demonstrator mission will focus on the beam-and-array thing, though the team will certainly learn a lot about how to accomplish other builds in the process.

Naturally in-space manufacturing is a big concern for a country that plans to establish a permanent presence on and around the Moon. It’s a lot easier to make something there than make a quarter-million-mile delivery. You can keep up with Archinaut and Made In Space’s other projects along the space-printing line at the company’s blog.

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Markforged raises $82 million for its industrial 3D printers

Posted by | 3d printer, 3d printing, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, markforged | No Comments

3D printer manufacturer Markforged has raised another round of funding. Summit Partners is leading the $82 million Series D round with Matrix Partners, Microsoft’s Venture Arm, Next47 and Porsche SE also participating.

When you think about 3D printers, chances are you’re thinking about microwave-sized, plastic-focused 3D printers for hobbyists. Markforged is basically at the other end of the spectrum, focused on expensive 3D printers for industrial use cases.

In addition to increased precision, Markforged can manufacture parts in strong materials, such as carbon fiber, kevlar or stainless steel. And it can greatly impacts your manufacturing process.

For instance, you can prototype your next products with a Markforged printer. Instead of getting sample parts from third-party companies, you can manufacture your parts in house. If you’re not going to sell hundreds of thousands of products, you could even consider using Markforged to produce parts for your commercial products.

If you work in an industry that requires a ton of different parts but don’t need a lot of inventory, you could also consider using a 3D printer to manufacture parts whenever you need them.

Markforged has a full-stack approach and controls everything from the 3D printer, software and materials. Once you’re done designing your CAD 3D model, you can send it to your fleet of printers. The company’s application also lets you manage different versions of the same part and collaborate with other people.

According to the company’s website, Markforged has attracted 10,000 customers, such as Canon, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, General Motors, Volkswagen and Adidas. The company has shipped 2,500 printers in 2018.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to do more of the same — you can expect mass production printers and more materials in the future. Eventually, Markforged wants to make it cheaper to manufacture parts at scale instead of producing those parts through other means.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that Markforged had 4,000 customers. That was an outdated number, the company now has 10,000 customers.

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This light-powered 3D printer materializes objects all at once

Posted by | 3d printers, 3d printing, Berkeley, Gadgets, hardware, holograms, holography, science, TC, uc-berkeley | No Comments

3D printing has changed the way people approach hardware design, but most printers share a basic limitation: they essentially build objects layer by layer, generally from the bottom up. This new system from UC Berkeley, however, builds them all at once, more or less, by projecting a video through a jar of light-sensitive resin.

The device, which its creators call the replicator (but shouldn’t, because that’s a MakerBot trademark), is mechanically quite simple. It’s hard to explain it better than Berkeley’s Hayden Taylor, who led the research:

Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it.

Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.

Using light to print isn’t new — many devices out there use lasers or other forms of emitted light to cause material to harden in desired patterns. But they still do things one thin layer at a time. Researchers did demonstrate a “holographic” printing method a bit like this using intersecting beams of light, but it’s much more complex. (In fact, Berkeley worked with Lawrence Livermore on this project.)

In Taylor’s device, the object to be recreated is scanned first in such a way that it can be divided into slices, a bit like a CT scanner — which is in fact the technology that sparked the team’s imagination in the first place.

By projecting light into the resin as it revolves, the material for the entire object is resolved more or less at once, or at least over a series of brief revolutions rather than hundreds or thousands of individual drawing movements.

This has a number of benefits besides speed. Objects come out smooth — if a bit crude in this prototype stage — and they can have features and cavities that other 3D printers struggle to create. The resin can even cure around an existing object, as they demonstrate by manifesting a handle around a screwdriver shaft.

Naturally, different materials and colors can be swapped in, and the uncured resin is totally reusable. It’ll be some time before it can be used at scale or at the level of precision traditional printers now achieve, but the advantages are compelling enough that it will almost certainly be pursued in parallel with other techniques.

The paper describing the new technique was published this week in the journal Science.

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MIT researchers are now 3D-printing glass

Posted by | 3d printing, construction, Gadgets, MIT, TC, Windows | No Comments

While the thought of a machine that can squirt out endless ropes of molten glass is a bit frightening, the folks at MIT have just about perfected the process. In a paper published in 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing, researchers Chikara Inamura, Michael Stern, Daniel Lizardo, Peter Houk and Neri Oxman describe a system for 3D printing glass that offers far more control over the hot material and the final product.

Their system, called G3DP2, “is a new AM platform for molten glass that combines digitally integrated three-zone thermal control system with four-axis motion control system, introducing industrial-scale production capabilities with enhanced production rate and reliability while ensuring product accuracy and repeatability, all previously unattainable for glass.”

The system uses a closed, heated box that holds the melted glass and another thermally controlled box where it prints the object. A moveable plate drops the object lower and lower as it is being printed and the print head moves above it. The system is interesting because it actually produces clear glass structures that can be used for decoration or building. The researchers take special care to control the glass extrusion system to ensure that it cools down and crystallizes without injecting impurities or structural problems.

“In the future, combining the advantages of this AM technology with the multitude of unique material properties of glass such as transparency, strength, and chemical stability, we may start to see new archetypes of multifunctional building blocks,” wrote the creators.

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3D-printed heads let hackers – and cops – unlock your phone

Posted by | 3d printing, biometrics, face id, facial recognition, facial recognition software, Hack, Identification, iOS, iPhone, learning, Mobile, model, Prevention, privacy, Security, surveillance | No Comments

There’s a lot you can make with a 3D printer: from prosthetics, corneas, and firearms — even an Olympic-standard luge.

You can even 3D print a life-size replica of a human head — and not just for Hollywood. Forbes reporter Thomas Brewster commissioned a 3D printed model of his own head to test the face unlocking systems on a range of phones — four Android models and an iPhone X.

Bad news if you’re an Android user: only the iPhone X defended against the attack.

Gone, it seems, are the days of the trusty passcode, which many still find cumbersome, fiddly, and inconvenient — especially when you unlock your phone dozens of times a day. Phone makers are taking to the more convenient unlock methods. Even if Google’s latest Pixel 3 shunned facial recognition, many Android models — including popular Samsung devices — are relying more on your facial biometrics. In its latest models, Apple effectively killed its fingerprint-reading Touch ID in favor of its newer Face ID.

But that poses a problem for your data if a mere 3D-printed model can trick your phone into giving up your secrets. That makes life much easier for hackers, who have no rulebook to go from. But what about the police or the feds, who do?

It’s no secret that biometrics — your fingerprints and your face — aren’t protected under the Fifth Amendment. That means police can’t compel you to give up your passcode, but they can forcibly depress your fingerprint to unlock your phone, or hold it to your face while you’re looking at it. And the police know it — it happens more often than you might realize.

But there’s also little in the way of stopping police from 3D printing or replicating a set of biometrics to break into a phone.

“Legally, it’s no different from using fingerprints to unlock a device,” said Orin Kerr, professor at USC Gould School of Law, in an email. “The government needs to get the biometric unlocking information somehow,” by either the finger pattern shape or the head shape, he said.

Although a warrant “wouldn’t necessarily be a requirement” to get the biometric data, one would be needed to use the data to unlock a device, he said.

Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, said it was doable but isn’t the most practical or cost-effective way for cops to get access to phone data.

“A situation where you couldn’t get the actual person but could use a 3D print model may exist,” he said. “I think the big threat is that a system where anyone — cops or criminals — can get into your phone by holding your face up to it is a system with serious security limits.”

The FBI alone has thousands of devices in its custody — even after admitting the number of encrypted devices is far lower than first reported. With the ubiquitous nature of surveillance, now even more powerful with high-resolution cameras and facial recognition software, it’s easier than ever for police to obtain our biometric data as we go about our everyday lives.

Those cheering on the “death of the password” might want to think again. They’re still the only thing that’s keeping your data safe from the law.

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Researchers use AI and 3D printing to recreate paintings from photographs

Posted by | 3d printing, artificial intelligence, Gadgets, TC | No Comments

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have created a system that can reproduce paintings from a single photo, allowing museums and art lovers to snap their favorite pictures and print new copies, complete with paint textures.

Called RePaint, the project uses machine learning to recreate the exact colors of each painting and then prints it using a high-end 3D printer that can output thousands of colors using half-toning.

The researchers, however, found a better way to capture a fuller spectrum of Degas and Dali. They used a special technique they developed called “color-contoning,” which involves using a 3D printer and 10 different transparent inks stacked in very thin layers, much like the wafers and chocolate in a Kit-Kat bar. They combined their method with a decades-old technique called “halftoning,” where an image is created by tons of little ink dots, rather than continuous tones. Combining these, the team says, better captured the nuances of the colors.

“If you just reproduce the color of a painting as it looks in the gallery, it might look different in your home,” said researcher Changil Kim. “Our system works under any lighting condition, which shows a far greater color reproduction capability than almost any other previous work.”

Sadly the prints are only about as big as a business card. The system also can’t yet support matte finishes and detailed surface textures, but the team is working on improving the algorithms and the 3D printing tech so you’ll finally be able to recreate that picture of dogs playing poker in 3D plastic.

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The Zortrax Apoller safely smooths 3D prints

Posted by | 3d printing, design, Emerging-Technologies, Gadgets, industrial design, microwave, TC, zortrax | No Comments

The Zortrax Apoller is a Smart Vapor Smoothing device that uses solvents to smooth the surface of 3D-printed objects. The resulting products look like they are injection molded and all of the little lines associated with FDM printing will disappear.

The system uses a microwave-like chamber that can hold multiple parts at once. The chamber atomizes the solvent, covering the parts, and lets the solvent do its work. Once its done it then sucks the excess vapor back into a collection chamber. The system won’t open until all of the solvent is gone, ensuring you don’t get a face full of acetone. This is an important consideration since this is sold as a desktop device and having clouds of solvent in the air at the office Christmas party could be messy.

“Vapor-smoothed models get the look of injection-molded parts with a glossy or matte finish depending on the filament used. With a dual condensation process, a 300ml bottle of solvent can be used for smoothing multiple prints instead of just one. This efficiency means that the combined weekly output of four typical FDM 3D printers can be automatically smoothed within one day without loss of quality,” the company wrote.

Given the often flimsy structural quality of FDM prints, this smoothing is more cosmetic and allows you, in theory, to create molds from 3D printed parts. In reality these glossy, acetone smoothed parts just look better and give you a better idea what the finished product — injection-molded or milled — will look like when all is said and done.

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Researchers discover a new way to identify 3D printed guns

Posted by | 3d printing, Buffalo, design, Emerging-Technologies, Fingerprint, Gadgets, industrial design, Makerbot, printer, printing, TC, technology | No Comments

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that 3D printers have fingerprints, essentially slight differences in design that can be used to identify prints. This means investigators can examine the layers of a 3D printed object and pinpoint exactly which machine produced the parts.

“3D printing has many wonderful uses, but it’s also a counterfeiter’s dream. Even more concerning, it has the potential to make firearms more readily available to people who are not allowed to possess them,” said Wenyao Xu, lead author of the study.

The researchers found that tiny wrinkles in each layer of plastic can be used to identify a “printer’s model type, filament, nozzle size and other factors cause slight imperfections in the patterns.” They call their technology PrinTracker.

“Like a fingerprint to a person, these patterns are unique and repeatable. As a result, they can be traced back to the 3D printer,” wrote the researchers.

This process works primarily with FDM printers like the Makerbot which use long spools of filament to deposit layers of plastic onto a build plate. Because the printers used in 3D printed guns are usually more complex and more expensive there could be less variation in the individual layers and, more importantly, the layers might be harder to discern. However, for some simpler plastic parts could exhibit variations.

“3D printers are built to be the same. But there are slight variations in their hardware created during the manufacturing process that lead to unique, inevitable and unchangeable patterns in every object they print,” said Xu.

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This 3D-printed prosthetic hand combines speed and strength with simplicity

Posted by | 3d printing, Gadgets, hardware, Prosthetics, robotics, science | No Comments

Prosthetic limbs have come a long way from the heavy, solid hands and legs of yesteryear, but it’s still difficult to pack a range of motion into them without complex or bulky machinery. But new research out of Cornell uses a cleverly designed 3D-printed mechanism to achieve speed and strength with simple construction — and it costs a lot less, too.

“Developing prosthetic limbs requires designers to make difficult trade-offs among size, weight, force, speed, and cost of the actuation system,” the researchers say in their paper. For example, they point out, state of the art mechanical prosthetic hands can cost well over $10,000, with the high-end motors inside alone costing hundreds each. Cheaper hands use cheaper components, of course, which might mean that the hand can grip hard but not quickly, or vice versa.

This is partly because a mechanical hand needs to be able to adjust the force it’s applying very quickly on the fly, and this usually involves some kind of variable transmission or dynamic gear ratio. But Kevin O’Brien and his colleagues developed a new way to have the motor adjust its speed and force without using hundreds of finely machined components. In fact, it and the hand it actuates can be almost entirely 3D-printed.

It works like this: The fingers of the hand are controlled, like many other such hands and indeed our own, by flexible cords that run along their lengths. These cords can be tightened or slackened to make the fingers take different positions, and that’s often done by having a spool take up the slack or deal it out. It’s this spool that must move precisely and is the end point of the complex gearing mentioned above in other hands.

But in the ADEPT hand (adaptively driven via elastomeric passive transmissions — we’ll stick with the acronym) these spools have in their centers a flexible cylindrical core, the shape of which can be modified by tightening a separate “tendon” around it. When the tendon is loose, the core is wider and spins quickly, producing fast, responsive movement. When the tendon is tightened, the core is reduced in radius and correspondingly increases in torque while decreasing in speed.

There’s no switching of gears, no meshing of teeth — if the hand determines that it needs just a little bit more torque to hold something, it can get it by tightening the tendon just that little bit. And as soon as it needs to quickly release or catch something, the tendon can loosen up and the fingers move quickly and lightly.

This simplicity and the ease of manufacturing make this much cheaper than other options, while it still provides a great deal of versatility and responsiveness.

“The benefits of elastomeric transmission systems are that they can be 3D printed quickly (50 per hour), cheaply (<$1 per part), and in many compact form factors,” the researchers wrote. A whole hand could be built for less than $500, they estimate.

Unfortunately the materials aren’t quite up to the task just yet — the part that’s constantly having its shape adjusted tends to degrade, though they managed to get it to the point where it could be adjusted about 25,000 times before failing (not catastrophically, just not doing its job well enough any more). That may sound like a lot, but your fingers move a lot. So there’s still work to do before this is a realistic replacement for other mechanical parts.

Still, it’s a promising approach and general enough that it also could be used in artificial legs, arms and exo-suits. You can read more at Science Robotics.

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