Ultimaker Cura Adaptive Layers – Reduce Printing Time Without Sacrificing Quality

In Ultimaker Cura v3.2.0, a new feature has been introduced called Adaptive Layers. This feature is a great way of reducing print time without sacrificing print quality.

The Adaptive Layers setting will automatically adjust the layer height throughout the object depending on the geometry of what’s being printed. Areas with significant curves will be printed with thinner layers, while areas without significant variations will be printed with thicker layers. This way, curved surfaces still look nice and smooth, but the overall print time is less than it would be if you just used a small layer height for the entire object.

In the video we produced to demonstrate this feature, we printed a chess piece with and without the Adaptive Layers setting. Without this setting, the print took 2 hrs 13 min. With the setting enabled, it took 1 hr 33 min – a reduction of 40 minutes (30%).

Check out the video demonstration here:


To use this feature, you must have Cura v3.2.0 or later. You can download it here: https://ultimaker.com/en/products/ultimaker-cura-software

Then, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure you’re in “Custom” mode, not “Recommended” mode.

2. Go to Preferences / Settings, and use the search box to find the Adaptive Layers settings and enable them.

3. Setup your print job and select the Adaptive Layers setting under the “Experimental” settings group.

4. Optionally, configure the advanced Adaptive Layers settings:

Adaptive layers minimum variation: This setting controls the maximum allowed layer height difference compared to the base layer height setting (as defined under Quality / Layer Height).

Adaptive layers variation step size:  The difference in height of the next layer compared to the previous one.

Adaptive layers threshold: Determines how likely thinner layers will be used. Smaller values result in more thinner layers, while larger values result in a tendency toward thicker layers.

5. After the print job slices, change the view mode from “Solid object” to “Layer view”, and change the color scheme to “Layer thickness”

6. Print!


Ultimaker 3 Error: Difference between detected height of both PrintCores exceeds realistic values

Ultimaker 3 users sometimes encounter an error that says “Difference between detected height of both PrintCores exceeds realistic values”. This is especially common during initial setup, or when the active leveling function is used.

This error can be caused by several things, but the most common cause is that the bed is positioned too high, so when the bed is raised, the nozzles are hitting the bed sooner than expected. The fix is a simple matter of lowering the bed position using the three adjustment screws on the underside of the build plate. 

Here’s a short video to show how to deal with this error:

Introduction to the XYZ Nobel 1.0A SLA 3D Printer

We recently put together a video overview of the XYZ Nobel 1.0A SLA 3D printer. This video covers everything from the initial setup and calibration to preparing a print job and doing post-processing.

Overall, we’ve been very pleased with the results using our Nobel 1.0A. Prints stick to the bed reliably (which was an issue with the first generation Nobel printers). The quality of prints is very high, with a smooth surface and no visible layering effects.

Here are some samples of prints we’ve done with the XYZ Nobel 1.0A:

The printer is very quiet, making it a nice option for an office or classroom, where a noisy printer would cause a disturbance.

This model has automatic resin management capabilities, so if the resin tank runs low during a print job, the printer will automatically add more from the resin bottle without any user interaction. If a bottle runs out, the printer will pause the print job so the user can install a new bottle. This makes the printer very easy to use.

As discussed in the video, the process for preparing print jobs for an SLA printer is a little different than an FDM printer. Since objects are printed solid, it’s important to hollow out larger objects before printing. You’ll also want to add drainage holes so you can easily clean out excess resin that may be left inside the object. This is shown in the video, but we’ve also prepared a separate tutorial for this process, which you can find here.

For more information about the XYZ Nobel 1.0A, or to order one for yourself, please visit shop3duniverse.com.

How to Prepare Objects for SLA Printing

When printing objects on an FDM 3D printer (those that extrude melted material through a nozzle), the slicing software will take any solid object in STL format and automatically create an infill pattern according to your settings. This way, you can determine how solid you want the object to be in order to obtain the ideal balance between material usage and object strength.

With an SLA printer (those that use a laser or other light source to cure a photopolymer resin), the process is a little different. If your STL file is a solid 3D object, then the printer will print it solid, using far more resin than necessary.

In order to optimize an STL file for SLA printing, you’ll want to do two things:

  1.  Hollow out the object
  2.  Add draining holes on the bottom of the object (so any resin trapped inside can be drained out after printing, and so the alcohol used for cleaning the part can flow throughout the inside of the object)

First, you’ll want to download the free Autodesk Meshmixer software (available for Windows and Mac). You can download it here.

Open Meshmixer and click on Import to import your STL file.

Rotate your object so you can see the bottom (the part sitting on the print bed). 

On the View menu, uncheck “Show Printer Bed” so you can see the object bottom clearly.

Click the Edit button in the left-hand toolbar, then click on Hollow.


Configure the settings as desired. The Offset Distance determine how thick the object’s walls will be. 2mm is a good setting in most cases. I suggest setting “Holes Per Hollow” to 2 (which will create 2 holes for drainage) and “Hole Radius” should be at least 2mm in most cases. Then click on Generate Holes, and you’ll see red spheres that appear on the object to indicate where the holes will be placed. You can click and drag these red spheres to reposition the holes. Place them on the bottom of the object, preferably close to the edges, so it will be easy for the resin trapped inside to drain out.

Your object will now be hollowed out, and you will see holes in the bottom of the object where you placed them.

Now just choose Export from the File menu, give your new file a name, and select STL Binary as the file format. Load that file into your printing software for your SLA printer, and you’re ready to print!

Looking for a high quality, affordable SLA printer? Check out the XYZprinting Nobel 1.0A!

Ultimaker Announces Major Improvements for Cura Software

Today, Ultimaker announced some major upcoming improvements to their Cura software, which will be called Ultimaker Cura moving forward. The next version of Ultimaker Cura will be launched on October 17th, 2017. This version will feature seamless integration with SolidWorks and Siemens NX CAD software. It will also feature a new plugin platform allowing third-party developers to more easily create new plugins for Ultimaker Cura.

Even more exciting is something called Cura Connect, which will be added to Ultimaker Cura on November 7, 2017. Cura Connect will allow users to queue multiple print jobs for their Ultimaker printers. More importantly, it will enable the management of multiple Ultimaker printers. For example, if a university has a print farm with 20 Ultimaker printers, a user can queue up a print job, and Cura Connect will automatically identify which printer has the appropriate material loaded and will queue the job up for that printer.

The Cura Connect solution operates entirely within the local area network and does not require outside Internet connectivity. This means that in most cases, the IT department will not need to be involved with enabling the solution.

This opens up significant new possibilities for small-scale manufacturing and other commercial applications. Many companies are weighing the choice of buying a single SLS 3D printer (at a six-figure cost), or purchasing dozens of Ultimaker printers. With the addition of Cura Connect, the latter option is looking a lot more attractive.

To download Cura software, visit: https://ultimaker.com/en/products/cura-software

To shop for Ultimaker printers and products, visit: https://shop3duniverse.com/collections/ultimaker-3d-printers

Getting Started with the e-NABLE Volunteer Community

Over the last four years, the e‑NABLE volunteer community has grown into a global movement, with over 10,000 volunteers using 3D printing technology to make free assistive devices for anyone who needs them. Thousands of 3D printed hands and arms have been delivered to people all over the world.

Often, people have questions about how to get started with e‑NABLE. This guide provides an overview and some suggestions for those who want to get involved with this amazing community.

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with e‑NABLE’s Code of Conduct

It’s important that you understand and follow some simple rules when working with e‑NABLE. This is to protect you, as well the people you make devices for (many of whom are minors). Please read e‑NABLE’s Code of Conduct carefully.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the current e‑NABLE designs available

Spend some time browsing the designs on enablingthefuture.org. We try to keep that site up-to-date with the latest designs available. Each design page includes a link for downloading the files for 3D printing.

If you’re unsure which design to start with, the Unlimbited Phoenix is e‑NABLE’s current recommended design. It’s relatively easy to fabricate and assemble and is one of the most popular designs currently.

Step 3: Make a test device

Once you pick a design to start with, you should create a test device and submit it for approval. Since this device isn’t being created for a specific recipient, it can be made in any size, but we recommend that you use a scale of 120-135%. At 100% scale, the device will be too small for most people, and it will be harder to assemble at that size. 120-135% is a common size range for younger recipients, and it will be easier to assemble the device.

Most of the designs featured on enablingthefuture.org include links to instructions and/or video tutorials to help you get started.

3D Universe offers assembly materials kits for some of the most popular e‑NABLE designs. Assembly materials can also be purchased individually from various online or local sources. 

Step 4: Submit your test device for approval

Once you have 3D printed and assembled a test device, fill out this form to submit your evidence and request the appropriate badge. There are three badges you can claim. Under the e-NABLE Community Participation Badge category, you can claim the “Test Device Approved” badge. Then, under the e-NABLE Device Specific Badge category, you can claim the Fabrication and Assembly badges for the device type you produced.

Step 5: Learn how to properly size e‑NABLE devices

Before you start making devices for actual recipients, it’s important to learn how to properly size a device. Please watch the video tutorial series created by Peter Binkley, found here.

To follow this process, you’ll need to download a free copy of Blender, which can be found here.

You’ll also need to download Peter Binkley’s e‑NABLE Device Sizing Blender File, here

Watch the videos carefully. Then watch them a second time, following along and pausing the videos as you follow each step of the process.

Step 6: Create an account on e‑NABLE Web Central

e‑NABLE Web Central is a web-based application used to connect individuals seeking to receive e‑NABLE devices with volunteers offering to make them. Visit e‑NABLE Web Central and create an account for yourself.

Be sure to select the “Fabricator” and/or “Device Assembler” roles during the registration process (or you can select them from the Edit Profile screen), or you won’t be able to see the volunteering related pages within e‑NABLE Web Central.

Step 7: Find Someone Who Needs a Device and Offer to Help

e-NABLE Web Central is a self-service matching platform. So once you’ve created an account for yourself, you need to go to Browse Cases (under the Volunteering menu) and find a case that looks like something you can assist with, ideally in your geographic area. Once you find a case, you can click the “Offer to Help” button to offer assistance in one of several roles for that case.

The Experienced Volunteer role is responsible for reviewing the sizing photos and determining the most appropriate device type and size.

The Fabricator role is responsible for 3D printing the parts for a device.

The Device Assembler role is responsible for assembling a device and delivering it to the end-user.

You are welcome to offer to help with any or all of these roles for any given case.

Once you have made an offer to help, the case creator will need to review and accept your offer. Then you can proceed with producing the device.

Before making a device for a recipient, we recommend that you have them sign a Release and Waiver of Liability and a Photo/Video Release Agreement.

Step 8: Join e‑NABLE’s Google+ community

e‑NABLE’s Google+ community is a good place to ask questions if you need further assistance. 

Step 9: Join a local e‑NABLE chapter – or start a new one

A list of e‑NABLE chapters can be found here. Feel free to reach out to nearby chapters to see how you can get involved with them. You can also start a new chapter in your area.


Tutorial: Build a Customized Bose Bluetooth Speaker with 3D Printed Side Panels

Looking for a fun 3D printing project, or a nice gift for someone special? Bose offers a “BoseBuild” speaker cube that you can build yourself. And you can 3D print your own custom side-panels for it in whatever design you like.

At $149, the BoseBuild speaker cube isn’t exactly cheap (but it is a Bose speaker, after all). You can purchase the kit here.

Once you receive the kit, you can download the BOSEbuild Sound app for your smartphone. This contains a guided tutorial for assembling the speaker. The kit includes plain side-panels, as well as cut-out templates you can place over the panels to create interesting lighting effects (the speaker has multi-colored LED lights inside and can light up different colors in response to your music).

But to really customize your speaker, you’ll want to 3D print your own side-panels. 

Start by downloading the STL file for the side panels here. You can also download an STL file for the clips that hold the panels in place here.

Now, it’s time to customize the side panels! There are lots of ways of doing this, but here’s the approach I used:

Using Selva3D, you can transform any 2D image into a 3D STL file. I used this to convert our 3D Universe logo into a printable STL. Make sure to set the height of the STL file to a high enough value that it will extend all the way through the speaker side panel.

I found that the STL file for the side panels from Thingiverse had some odd artifacts in it when I tried to edit it in TinkerCAD, so I ran it through the MakePrintable STL repair service. The resulting file was clean but rather large, so I used NetFabb (free license for students here) to reduce the number of triangles in the STL file by a little over half. This reduced it to a file of about 5MB – small enough for TinkerCAD to handle without much trouble.

Next, open TinkerCAD, create a new design, and import the optimized speaker side panel STL file:

Then import the STL file of your custom design (created using Selva3D) and position it on the panel:

Now, select the object you just imported and use the upwards pointing arrow to raise the object above the workplane by 1mm. This way, the design will be cut into the speaker panel, but won’t go all the way through it.

Then, change the object from “Solid” to “Hole” in the Shape window.

Next, select both objects (CTRL-A on Windows or CMD-A on Mac) and click the Group button. This will result in our customized speaker panel!

Click Export to download the new STL file, and you’re ready to start 3D printing!

The BoseBuild speaker has internal lighting, so you’ll want to use a transparent filament for the optimal effect. I used Ultimaker CPE+ Transparent, but you could also use Polycarbonate, Nylon, or some other transparent material.

Now just clip the new speaker panel(s) in place using either the clips that came with the kit or your own 3D printed clips (in your choice of colors).

Now you’re ready to play some music!

Introducing e-NABLE Web Central – A New Matching App for e-NABLE

We’re pleased to introduce the first release of the 
e-NABLE Web Central app!

3D Universe has been working for the last two months on an eagerly anticipated and very much needed “Matching” app solution for the global e-NABLE Community. While we still have another 2-3 months of full-time work to put in on this project, we have released the first version in hopes of getting things started, getting some feedback on bugs that you might encounter and to start seeing how this app will change the way the e-NABLE Community can better serve recipients and others in need of a “helping hand.”

If you are seeking an e-NABLE device or looking to make one for someone who needs one, this application is for you!

e-NABLE Web Central (EWC) can be accessed from any web browser, including mobile devices. You can login using your existing Google account, or you can create an account using an email address and password.

EWC leverages Credly Badges to determine which volunteers are authorized to make each type of device, so if you’re a volunteer, please setup your Credly account and claim the appropriate badges in order to take full advantage of the application.

This is only the first release of an application that will continue to evolve to address the community’s needs. This first version includes all the basic functionality needed for individuals to submit device requests and for volunteers to assist in making those devices. The following are the specific features and capabilities included in this release:

  • Login with email/password or Google Authentication
  • Registration process
  • Profile editor
  • Privacy controls (ability to choose which info to share)
  • Address verification using Google Maps API
  • Ability to create a new Device Request (Case)
  • Ability to edit Case details
  • Device Requests home page (to monitor the status of your device requests)
  • Volunteering home page (to monitor the status of the Cases you’re helping with)
  • Ability to browse available Cases (including map showing locations)
  • Ability to filter Cases when browsing (i.e show only cases without a specific role filled, show only Cases in the current map view, or show only Cases with device types you’re approved for)
  • Volunteers can offer to help on a case (in one or more roles)
  • Credly badge integration (determines which volunteers can offer help on each Case, according to device type being made)
  • Users can accept/decline volunteer help offers
  • Volunteer acting as expert on a Case can make a recommendation for device type and scale
  • Users can accept an expert’s recommendation or provide feedback and request a new recommendation
  • Volunteers can create a new device for a Case and provide details and photos of the device
  • Messages can be exchanged within a Case (Messages are visible to all Case participants)
  • Contact, What’s New and Documentation pages added
  • Placeholder pages for Matching, Chapters and Events
  • Ability to translate the application into various languages using the Google Translate widget

Getting Started

Here’s a video walkthrough for e-NABLE Web Central to help you get started using the application:

When you create a new login for e-NABLE Web Central (EWC), you will be guided through the registration process. During this process, you can indicate whether you are seeking help, offering to help, or both. This will determine the types of functions you can access within EWC. Everyone has a “Device Requests” page, which will serve as your home page in EWC. Here, you can request a new device and monitor the status of your active device requests.

Once you are finished with the registration process, you should go to the Profile Editor page to verify your address and setup your information sharing preferences. You can also upload a profile photo (optional). Any device requests you create will not be visible to volunteers until your address has been verified.

If you are looking to receive an e-NABLE device, your next step is to create a new Device Request. This can be done during the initial registration process or by clicking on the “New Request” button on the Device Requests page.

Once you have created a device request, you need to upload **sizing photos before e-NABLE volunteers will be able to get started. Click on the Case ID on the Device Requests page to go to the Case Details screen. From there, you can click on Add Photo (and optionally, Add Video) to upload your sizing photos and videos.

**In order to get a proper fit for devices and to ensure that the sizing is correct, it is imperative that you take images that are at the correct angle and orientation and in a high enough resolution with good lighting. Please make sure to watch the “Taking Recipient Photos For e-NABLE” video before taking images to submit.

Once you are finished uploading sizing photos/videos, click on the “Ready for Expert Review” button. This will make your case available to e-NABLE volunteers who can then choose to assist with your device request.


Important Note for Volunteers

If you are a volunteer, please note that you will not see the Volunteering home page in the menu (where you can browse device requests submitted by others) unless you have selected the “Fabricator” and/or “Device Assembler” roles during registration. You can edit your selected volunteer roles by going to the profile editor:


After clicking Edit Profile, you can select the appropriate volunteer roles:


Understanding Roles

EWC provides a range of different functionality and is intended to support different types of users. The roles you’re assigned will determine which parts of the EWC application are accessible.

User: A User is the most basic role in EWC. Anyone using the application is considered a User. In some cases, a User may be a device recipient or a family member requesting a device for someone else. In other cases, a User may be a volunteer. All Users have access to the Device Requests screen, where you can create a new Device Request. In some cases, the User requesting a device may be a volunteer who will then work with the device recipient to ensure proper fitting and testing. For example, an e-NABLE volunteer working as part of an e-NABLE chapter could create a number of different Device Requests for different recipients. So the User does not always refer to the person receiving the device. It just refers to whoever created the Device Request on behalf of the recipient.

Fabricator: The Fabricator role is for those who wish to 3D print e-NABLE devices. This role will provide access to the Volunteering page, where you can browse available cases and offer to help. Note that you will only be able to offer to help on cases seeking device types for which you have the corresponding Credly badge (see “Credly Badges” below for more information). Once the fabricator has finished fabricating parts for a device, the parts will be sent to the Assembler. In most cases, the Fabricator and Assembler roles will be filled by the same volunteer, but not always.

Assembler: The Assembler role is for those who wish to assemble e-NABLE devices. This role will provide access to the Volunteering page, where you can browse available cases and offer to help. Note that you will only be able to offer to help on cases seeking device types for which you have the corresponding Credly badge (see “Credly Badges” below for more information). Once assembled, the Assembler will send the finished device to the end-user for testing and feedback.

Expert: The Expert role is for those who are familiar with a wide range of e-NABLE device designs and the proper methods for determining the correct sizing for those devices. Experts are responsible for reviewing the sizing photos/videos uploaded by Users and making recommendations for the e-NABLE device designs and scales that would be most appropriate for the recipient in question. Experts are also responsible for reviewing test devices submitted by other volunteers and deciding whether they should be approved for that device design.

Matcher: The Matcher role is for those who help to match e-NABLE volunteers with individuals who are seeking devices. The Matcher also monitors cases to ensure they are progressing and can intervene if needed to help move a case to completion.

Chapter Lead: A Chapter Lead is an individual who manages an e-NABLE chapter. Chapter Leads have access to a My Chapter page in EWC where they can approve/decline requests to join the chapter, match volunteers who are members of their chapter with individuals looking for devices, and monitor the status of cases within their chapter.

Other Roles: As development continues, additional roles will be added, as guided by the needs of the e-NABLE community.


Credly Badges

The Credly badge platform is used to determine which volunteers are authorized to make or assemble the various e-NABLE designs. Badges exist for each supported e-NABLE design. For each design, there is a Fabricator badge and an Assembler badge. So you can be approved for the fabrication and/or assembly of each different device design. This will determine which cases you are able to offer help on. If a particular case needs a, Unlimbited Phoenix design, but you don’t have the corresponding Credly badge, you will not be allowed to offer help for that case.

All volunteers can browse all cases, regardless of which badges are needed to actually get involved in those cases. This allows you to see which device types are being requested, so you can pursue the appropriate badges based on demand.

In the near future, you’ll be able to submit a new test device within the EWC application. After an expert reviews your submission, the appropriate Credly badges will be issued automatically. Until that functionality is added, you can submit Credly badge claims from the Credly website to obtain new badges. Be sure to claim the device-specific badges (for example, “Fabrication – Raptor Reloaded” or “Assembly – Unlimbited Phoenix”).


Managing Cases

Once a case is created, volunteers can make offers to help with that case. Each case needs three volunteer roles – Expert, Fabricator, and Assembler. In some cases, all three roles will be fulfilled by a single volunteer. In other cases, multiple volunteers will be involved in a single case. Each case moves through a series of steps, culminating in the recipient accepting a new e-NABLE device. As EWC is developed further, the user and volunteers will be guided through these steps, with status and next steps being described each step of the way. For now, the process is a little more manual, with the volunteers providing status updates and next steps via the Case Details screen.

New Case: When a new case is created, the first step is for the user to upload sizing photos/videos so the e-NABLE volunteers can determine the appropriate device type and scale for the recipient. Within the Case Details screen, the User can add photos/videos and then click the “Ready for Expert Review” button. Only after that is done will the case be available for volunteers to get involved.

Expert Recommendations: Once a User uploads sizing photos/videos, an e-NABLE expert needs to review those photos/videos and provide a recommendation for the best type of e-NABLE device and the scale required for the recipient. An expert may recommend more than one device type, along with guidance for the User. Once an expert recommendation has been made, the User needs to review the recommendation and either choose one of the proposed device designs, or provide additional feedback and request a new recommendation.

Volunteer Matching: Each case needs three volunteer roles to be filled: Expert, Fabricator, and Assembler. Experts can get involved in any cases and offer their recommendations based on the sizing photos/videos provided. Fabricators and Assemblers can offer to help on cases for which they have the appropriate Credly badges (depending on the device type being requested), but these offers need to be approved by the User. If a Fabricator wishes to offer help on a case that has not had an Expert review, the Fabricator will need to take on the Expert role, reviewing the sizing photos/videos and making a recommendation to the User for device type and scale.

Device Fabrication: Once a Fabricator match is approved by the User, that fabricator will begin fabricating the device according to the chosen device type and scale (which will appear on the Case Details page). The Fabricator can click the “Add Case Device” button within the Case Details page to add a record for the device being fabricated. The Fabricator will specify details about the device, such as device type, scale, colors, material being used, etc. When fabrication of the parts has been completed, the Fabricator can upload photos to the Device Details page. The parts will then be sent to the Assembler (unless the same volunteer is filling the Fabricator and Assembler roles).

Device Assembly: Once parts have been fabricated, the Assembler can assemble the e-NABLE device. Once assembly is completed, the Assembler can upload photos/videos of the completed device to the Device Details page. The device will then be shipped to the User.

Device Testing and Acceptance: Once the device is received, the User will work with the recipient to test the device and provide feedback about fit and function. The User can either accept the device and close the case, or the User can provide feedback and request a change.

Change Request: If a User requests a change, the Expert for that case will review the change request and determine the appropriate course of action. If a new device is needed (i.e. the device didn’t fit properly), then the Fabricator will be asked to start fabricating a new device. If the existing device can be used but requires adjustments to the assembly (i.e. adjusting tension of cords, etc.), the Assembler will be asked to make the appropriate adjustments.


Coming Soon

We have an exciting roadmap of features that will be added to EWC in the coming months. Here’s a summary of the features we’ll be adding soon:

Case Process Flow Improvements

  • Case Status and Next Step will be updated automatically by the application based on Case activities
  • Appropriate buttons will appear within Case Details screen to allow User/Volunteers to trigger next steps
  • Clearer indications of who needs to take the next step for a Case, and what that next step is
  • A Case “roadmap” to indicate where the Case is in the overall process
  • An activity history will be added to the Device Requests page and the Case Details page, making it easier to see what’s been done and what comes next

Available Devices Page

  • This page will provide a distributed inventory management system for unallocated e-NABLE devices
  • Volunteers can submit a device that is available for whoever needs it (along with photos/videos)
  • Users and volunteers can browse available devices and submit a request for an available device, with comments describing why it’s being requested
  • Volunteer who created the device can approve or decline any request

Sample Device Photos

  • Wherever a list of e-NABLE device designs appears (i.e. when creating a new device request), we’ll provide photos of each device type to make it easier for those not familiar with all of the designs

Email Notifications

  • Option to receive an email notification when a new device request is submitted within X miles of your address (for any device type you’re approved for)
  • Option to receive an email notification when you need to take the next step in a case you’re assigned to (or for a device request you created)

Test Device Submissions and Approvals

  • Volunteers can submit a device for approval (with photos/videos)
  • An expert can review the submission and decide whether the volunteer should be approved for fabrication and/or assembly of that design
  • If approved, the appropriate Credly badge(s) will be issued to the volunteer automatically

Volunteer matching

  • Matchers will be able to view all cases waiting for volunteer matches
  • An interactive map will show volunteers in proximity of each device request
  • Matchers will be able to propose matches between volunteers and users requesting devices
  • Matchers will be able to monitor case progress and intervene if cases aren’t progressing

Chapters page

  • Browse chapters (including an interactive map)
  • Request to join a chapter
  • Register a new chapter

My Chapter page (for chapter leaders)

  • Review and accept/decline requests to join the chapter
  • Propose matches for chapter members
  • See all active cases for chapter members and monitor case progress

Event management

  • Create a new event
  • Define device types and quantities needed
  • Volunteers can commit to making devices for the event
  • Track quantities needed/committed/received

Recipient feedback collection and reporting

  • Recipients can submit feedback about devices received
  • Recipients can rate the usefulness of devices received, with repeat ratings over different time periods
  • Reporting/charts for usefulness ratings over time for various device designs

Charts and statistics

  • Device deliveries over time
  • Average time for case completion
  • Device deliveries by chapter
  • Device deliveries by device type
  • Case status summary (number of cases in various stages)
  • Credly badge statistics

We are looking forward to seeing this app fill up with requests and volunteers eager to fulfill them!

Thank you to everyone that is helping to test this new system and thank you for your patience as we debug and get to work on making this the Matching App the community has been dreaming of all these years!

If you have any questions or suggestions for the application, please email us at support@3duniverse.org and we will do our best to assist.

Library Workshop – Creating a 3D Printing Time Lapse

I recently did a workshop with my local library, the Algonquin Area Public Library District. Working with a group of about a dozen 4th through 8th graders, we selected an object to 3D print and then created a time-lapse video of the project. This provided a great opportunity to introduce the kids to 3D printing in a fun and exciting way, and it also introduced them to a variety of video production skills.

This workshop was conducted in two parts. The first part took place on a Friday. The second part took place the following Monday.

First, I showed them about a dozen objects from Thingiverse.com and let them vote on which one to print. While they were at first very excited about some of the Pokémon characters available, they ended up voting for this fun marble machine, by Tulio:

We then proceeded to get the print job setup. Since we were using an Ultimaker 3 3D printer for this project, we used the Cura slicing software to prepare the print job. 

This model was printed in PLA filament at 0.2mm layer height. No supports were needed.

Once the print job was setup, we positioned a webcam on a tripod in front of the 3D printer. Using a program called EvoCam, we took a snapshot of the print job every 15 seconds.

After getting the print job started and verifying that the snapshots were saving properly, we adjourned for the day and allowed the print job to run. As configured, the print job took about 39 hours to complete.

When we returned on Monday, we had a very nice print waiting for us:

Using a program called Zeitraffer, we combined the many snapshots of the print job into a time lapse video. At 30 frames per second, we ended up with a video of a little over 5 minutes. This would later be adjusted in the video editing phase to produce a shorter video.

Next, I provided the kids with choices of music to accompany their time-lapse video, and they voted for an upbeat piece called “Club Rock” which you’ll hear in the final video.

Using Final Cut Pro X, I showed them how to assemble the various pieces to produce the final video. We used some title slides, the above screenshots of Thingiverse and Cura, then the time-lapse video, shortened to about 1 minute, and then we inserted some footage showing the kids assembling and testing the marble machine. After adding our chosen music and inserting transitions, we were ready to produce our video and publish it to YouTube!

The kids had a lot of fun with this workshop, as did I. If you’re looking to introduce kids to 3D printing in a fun and engaging way, I recommend a project like this. Too often, the things produced by 3D printers are just static objects. In this case, you end up with a fun marble machine with moving parts that the kids can actually play with.

The “marbles” we used in the marble machine are 9.5mm steel ball bearings, which you can purchase at your local hardware store.

Here’s the final video:

You can find the Marble Machine 3D printable model here: http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1385312

To learn more about the Algonquin Area Public Library District, please visit: http://www.aapld.org

3D Print Accurate Terrain Models Using Space Shuttle-Collected Elevation Data


You can now generate STL files from actual topographic map data using this nicely-constructed online tool http://jthatch.com/Terrain2STL/. Navigate to any location on the planet earth, select the target area, and you can immediately download ready-to-slice STL’s.

The underlying data is the result of an 11-day Space Shuttle mission in early 2000 to collect elevation data for over 80% of the earth. Additional post-processing of the data was performed by the Consortium for Spatial Information. The dataset has an X/Y resolution of 90 meters at the equator, with a maximum vertical error of 16 meters. You can learn more about the data at http://www.cgiar-csi.org/data/srtm-90m-digital-elevation-database-v4-1.

To demonstrate this unique web tool, we chose to generate an STL of Mount Ranier and its surrounding area. From this screenshot, you can see that the map is centered on Mount Ranier itself, to locate the main peak in the center of the geometry:


Finding the target location was simply a matter of dragging and zooming, then hitting the “Center to View” button, then downloading the model. Exact latitude and longitude coordinates can be entered manually into the tool, as well.

Important note: any time you maneuver the map by dragging, you must always hit the “Center to View” button to update the lat-long coordinates.


We then loaded the STL into Cura, configured my 3D printing settings and was ready to print. It really is this easy. Here’s the finished 3D print job:



To download your own topographical data STL files, please visit: http://jthatch.com/Terrain2STL/

MiniMaker Software Lets Kids (or Adults) Easily Create 3D Printable Action Figures

We recently had the opportunity to try out MiniMaker, a new software program from Digimania. MiniMaker makes it easy to create 3D printable action figures with just a few mouse clicks.


MiniMaker is fun and easy to use. It’s a great tool for introducing kids to 3D printing because it makes it easy for them to create action figures that are completely customized to their liking.

Each aspect of the figure can be customized, including:

  • Hairstyle / hat / helmet
  • Facial expression
  • Glasses
  • Clothing (upper body)
  • Clothing and shoes (lower body)
  • Accessory being held
  • Platform type
  • Positioning of figure


All of these options can be controlled with simple mouse clicks and drags. Positioning can be controlled with a simple slider, or by rotating individual control points in any direction.


Once the figure has been customized to your liking, you can generate a 3D printable .OBJ file with a single click.


For only $49.99, you get two versions of the software – one for creating boy figures and another for creating girls.

The resulting action figures require supports for 3D printing. While traditional supports can be used, this software really excels when paired with a dual extrusion 3D printer, like the Ultimaker 3. With the ability to use water-soluble PVA supports, you can produce nice, clean prints, like these:



Check out our video demo to see the software in action:


To purchase the MiniMaker software, please visit: https://shop3duniverse.com/products/minimaker-software

To learn more about the Ultimaker 3, please visit: http://www.3duniverse.org/2016/10/18/introducing-the-ultimaker-3-and-ultimaker-3-extended/ 

Testing Polycarbonate 3D Printing Filament

This last month we experimented with Polycarbonate filament, a member of Ultimaker’s recently released batch of engineering materials. In addition to being able to produce some really nice looking prints, Polycarbonate also possesses some favorable properties. We tested the material on an Ultimaker 2+. While Ultimaker’s Cura slicing software is optimized for usage of Polycarbonate on an Ultimaker 3D printer, any other 3D printer that accepts 2.85 mm filament should be able to print fine with it.

The recommended applications for Polycarbonate are: “molds, tools, functional prototypes and parts for short-run manufacturing”. It’s also been said that Polycarbonate is suitable for making lamp shades, due to its flame retardant characteristics. But, until we have a chance to verify the safety of this use case, we recommend not doing so.

Using Cura’s built-in material profiles, Polycarbonate proved to be a relatively easy material to work with. It was simply a matter of dragging the STL files into Cura, selecting the material (PC), and saving the sliced piece. We opted to enable the “Spiralize Outer Contour” feature in Cura for our “Twisted Gear” vase print, which greatly enhanced the appearance of the finished print. For first layer adhesion, we used a glue stick. Additionally, while it’s recommended to print Polycarbonate with an enclosure (not unlike ABS), we managed to produce some high-quality prints without actually doing so:

img_0087   img_0088   Polycarbonate 2.85 mm

In the following video, we demonstrate one of the key differences between Polycarbonate and PLA (Polylactic Acid) 3D printing filaments. Polycarbonate maintains dimensional stability up to 110° Celsius. In plain English, Polycarbonate pieces can withstand higher temperatures than other filaments without melting or falling apart. To illustrate, we submerged one of our Polycarbonate prints in 96° Celsius water and it emerged unaffected. A PLA piece of the exact same geometry immediately wilted under the exact same heat stress.

Thus, to summarize: Polycarbonate is nice material for producing high-quality prints, and along with it being able to withstand more heat stress than the average spool of PLA, Polycarbonate can be useful for a broader range of applications.

To purchase Ultimaker Polycarbonate filament, please visit the 3D Universe online store.

Object model credits:

Introducing the Ultimaker 3 and Ultimaker 3 Extended

Today, Ultimaker launches their new Ultimaker 3 and Ultimaker 3 Extended desktop 3D printers. Some of the key new features are as follows:

1. Dual extrusion → Ultimaker has introduced an ingenious new method for producing clean dual extrusion prints. A mechanical switch lifts one extruder so that it’s out of the way when the other extruder is printing. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for printing complex geometries using PVA water soluble filament, as well as dual color printing capabilities.

2. Swappable print cores → With the Ultimaker 2+ there used to be only swappable nozzles. With the Ultimaker 3, the user can now replace the entire print core to easily switch between materials in seconds.

3. Connectivity → The user can start prints through the network, update firmware and easily integrate with printer networking solutions.

4. Active bed leveling → The new Ultimaker 3 can compensate for minor bed leveling issues by automatically adjusting the amount of filament extruded for the first several layers in the appropriate parts of a printed object.

5. NFC (Near Field Communication) → There is a chip on the filament holder and a reader on the spool holder of the printer that identifies which material is being put on. Cura, the slicing software, adjusts the settings automatically to the best settings for this material.

6. Built in camera → The user can now watch your print through Cura when located on the same WIFI network.

7. USB → If the user does not want to start prints through the network, they can load gcode onto a USB stick and print from there.

Check out our video for a comprehensive tour of all the new features in the Ultimaker 3 and the new and improved Cura software!

You can purchase the Ultimaker 3 here: http://shop3duniverse.com/products/ultimaker-3

And you can purchase the Ultimaker 3 Extended here: http://shop3duniverse.com/products/ultimaker-3-extended

Upgrade Your Ultimaker 2 to an Ultimaker 2+

I recently installed Ultimaker’s Extrusion Upgrade Kit on my Ultimaker 2, upgrading it to an Ultimaker 2+. I couldn’t be happier with the results! It’s like a whole new 3D printer!

I’ve been using the Ultimaker 2 for a couple of years now, and I was very happy with the printer overall. Out of all the desktop 3D printers I’ve tested, the Ultimaker 2 stood out as one of the best available. However, I occasionally would run into issues with the feeder mechanism. Sometimes, the filament would slip or the feeder would grind into the filament. This would sometimes lead to failed prints. I noticed this problem especially on prints with heavy retractions.

As an example, check out the photo below. I tried printing this on my Ultimaker 2, before installing the upgrade kit, and the print failed about half-way through. When it got to the part with all those small arches, it had too many retractions for the printer to handle. The filament was ground down by the feeder mechanism, leading to an “air print”.

After installing the Extrusion Upgrade Kit, this was the first print I tried, and it worked flawlessly! Since then, I’ve printed all sorts of things, with almost no failed prints. The difference the upgrade kit made is very noticeable.

Castle Printed on the Ultimaker 2+

The Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit retails for $395 in the USA, and each kit includes the following:

  • Fully assembled print head
  • Swappable nozzles aka Olsson Block (includes 0.25mm, 0.4mm, 0.6mm, and 0.8mm nozzles)
  • Geared feeder motor
  • Geared feeder
  • Print head shafts
  • Ultimaker calibration card
  • Filament reel holder
  • Axis tools
  • Build plate clamps
  • New ‘+’ stickers

Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit

Detailed installation instructions can be found here: https://ultimaker.com/en/resources/19641-installing-the-extrusion-upgrade-kit

Just follow the instructions, and you’ll be finished with your upgrade in about an hour.

If you have an Ultimaker 2 or Ultimaker 2 Extended, I strongly encourage you to consider the Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit! It’s like having a completely new printer!

Buy your Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit here:

Ultimaker Extrusion Upgrade Kit


Star Wars Fans Create BB8 Models Using 3D Printers

This article is shared from 3Ders.org. You can read the full article here.

BB8 Builder’s Club, is growing organization of 1800+ that is focused on building home-brewed BB8’s. As of “October the BB-8th”, they are now officially recognized by LucasFilm Ltd. Moreover, they have publicly released the STL files for 3D printing the parts. You can learn more, and even join, the BB8 Builder’s Club here.


Also, completely independent of the BB8 Builder’s Club, “part-time makergeek” Jean-René Bédard has developed his own BB8, as well. His droid is 3D-printed, remote-controlled,  managed by Arduino circuits and stands on its own two wheels. You can read the full story here, at 3ders.org.

This article features Ultimaker 3D printers, which are available for purchase from Shop3DUniverse.com.

5 Ways 3D Printing Will Benefit Us All

3D printed ring case for iPhone 67.
3D printed ring case for iPhone 6.

Things I Like About 3D Printing Culture

When I first started exploring 3D printing, I learned quickly that the key word describing this technology is “disruptive.” It’s an interesting word, and for someone who likes the comfort of familiarity and stability, it struck an odd chord with me.

Here’s what I think about when I hear “disruption”:

  1. To throw into confusion or disorder.
  2. To interrupt or impede the progress of.
  3. To break apart or alter so as to prevent normal or expected functioning. (From The Free Dictionary)

I don’t like confusion and disorder. I get frustrated when people or events interfere with my progress toward a goal, and I get really, really frustrated when things don’t work as I expect they should.

If one picture frame in a room is tipped ¼”, my eye rushes to the picture, and I can’t rest until I set things “right.” I like to do the same things each morning when I get up, and that includes making my coffee the way I always have and putting it into a cup that works the way it has always worked. In fact, I still have a cup I liked and bought for myself forty-five years ago!

That, I guess, is why I’m not an inventor or a maker. I think inventing and making requires someone with a very special personality, someone who delights in surprises, who takes interruptions and detours as a spur to new questions, who doesn’t get frustrated but instead gets curious, who takes odd or unexpected functioning as opportunities to learn.

So I get that there’s a mindset associated with 3D printing technology that I can admire even though I don’t really share it. I am fascinated and inspired by the innovation I see everywhere, and I’m excited by the ways I expect I will benefit from this inventiveness despite myself.

Here are some other things I like about the 3D printing culture: sharing and collaboration, expressed in the open-source movement and via the internet. I’ve worked in a number of different environments and “industries,” and in all of them, the norm is to protect one’s own interests. Creating a new program or seeking donors? Keep your information to yourself — these are “trade secrets.” Academic discoveries? Mum’s the word. Did you create a new dish that people particularly like? Don’t share it!

This culture of secrecy is understandable but alien to me. It even seems counter-productive in some ways. I may not invent “things,” but I do invent good recipes from time to time. I know that my recipes are built on a foundation of those who came before me, and that’s even more the case now in these days of Pinterest. I also know that no one will make my recipe exactly like me. They may even make it better and share that improvement with me. And most of all, I doubt that anyone who eats in my cafe is going to think, oh, I have that recipe, I think I’ll go home and make it myself instead of eating here.

So I appreciate this 3D printing culture that highlights the benefits of open sharing. Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker BV says, “It’s important to share what we know, not expecting something back but feeling confident that something will come back. The beauty of community is that we might get something back that we didn’t expect! Or something for which we didn’t even ask!”

Of course there are limits to open sharing. Inventors who choose should be able to protect their inventions. Often they invest resources in the hope of a return on their investment, which can’t happen if someone else goes to market with their idea. The hope of rewards can stimulate innovation and creativity. Still, an environment of sharing is a welcome counter-balance to the environment of heightened secrecy and security awareness that prevails these days.

Ways We Can All Benefit from the 3D Printing Revolution…Maybe Be Part of It

So here are some ways I believe I will benefit from 3D printing even though I am not myself an inventor. I believe we will all benefit:

  1. As people invent and disrupt and explore and discover, many new tools, materials, procedures and “things” will result. One of these inventions or discoveries may be just the one we need to extend our life or the quality of our life. We’re on the verge of creating operating human organs from cells.
  2. Innovations in 3D printing might make familiar but imperfect things and procedures work better. Dental implants are one of those items that occurs to me.
  3. Vastly expanded opportunities for collaboration provided by the internet and idea-sharing on an open source platform will stimulate a different kind of cultural environment, at least in the world of 3D printing. But these kinds of things never stay put. This style of thinking and creating will become part of our general culture.
  4. In Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson wonders, “Can Makers make jobs?” pointing out that as output doubled over the past four decades, manufacturing employment fell by about 30 percent over the same period. For Anderson, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” as the Maker movement democratizes manufacturing. We will all benefit from this boost to the economy.
  5. With this new “industrial revolution,” we are poised for an age of discovery. Indeed, we see examples of these discoveries tumbling in every day. People are excited and energized to tinker. It’s great to be alive in an era of creativity and inventiveness in human history. It will infect and stimulate us all. Even me. I can let that picture hang crookedly for awhile until I figure out what caused it to tip.

Here’s a story about how 3D printing can change us all, even those of us who aren’t big on being “disrupted” and don’t consider ourselves inventors.

Last week I picked up a post from 3dprint.com about a “3D Printed Ring Case for iPhone 6” that “gives users a better grip.” The phone case included a large ring on one side that would fit a belt clip.

I used to operate a cafe, and my hands were always buried in some kind of food. Anytime my phone rang or beeped, I had to pull my hands out of whatever I was working on, rinse and dry them, and begin a hunt for my phone. Once I found it, I had to unlock it and find the button to answer. By the time I got the message, it was usually too late. I really would have preferred not to stop at all and just let the phone signal away, but what if it was something really important? And I couldn’t tell if it was or wasn’t until I went through that procedure.

Many times I thought, I wish someone would invent a phone case I could wear as a pendant on a necklace or on my belt in a way easy to remove. I’d like to know who’s on that phone before I go through this whole procedure!

So yesterday I came across that article. Here was my idea, sleek and beautiful and very effective! So you know what? Maybe I’ve been acculturated already! Maybe I, too, am an inventor . . . I just don’t yet have the skills to move myself from idea to actual thing-in-my-hands.

But I can get there, especially as things become easier, which they surely will. Remember MS-DOS?

Boomers, Now Hear This: 3D Printing Is Arriving in Dentistry!

The Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer from Stratasys prints amazingly realistic dental models with multiple materials.
The Objet260 Dental Selection 3D Printer from Stratasys prints amazingly realistic dental models with multiple materials.

Rock concerts and sugar really did a number on the Boomers, and it seems as though Medicare anticipated our issues. What are the two things most of us need about now that Medicare doesn’t cover? You’ve got it! Hearing aids and dental implants, both costly items.

Hope is on the horizon, though, thanks to 3D printing, which has been part of both the hearing aid industry and the dental industry for a long time, and advances are happening every day in both areas. This post focuses on the most recent advances of 3d printing in the dental industry.

As tempted as I am to contemplate the future when we will be able to grow our teeth in a lab, without the need for porcelain or composite fixtures, I’ll focus on a few recent reports, things that are happening right now, or are about to happen, in dental offices.

In an in-depth report on 3D printing in dentistry from SmartTechPublishing, “3D Printing in Dentistry 2015: A Ten Year Opportunity Forecast and Analysis” we learn that 3D printing is moving more rapidly than many other industry segments toward digital production technologies. 3D printed dental components require “high value parts, with high performance standards, at high volumes.” Other industries are attempting to “bring 3D printing into this scenario for maximum value and competitive advantage, but dentistry is already achieving it.” Significant players reviewed in the report include 3D Systems, Argen, BEGO, Concept Laser, DWS, EnvisionTEC, EOS, Prodways, Solidscape, Stratasys, and others.

According to the report, both polymer and metallic applications are already in use in dentistry for:

  • surgical guides and models
  • casting and tools to aid in traditional techniques, and
  • actual dental restorative components

We’ll look at one illustration of each of these three applications, first surgical guides and models. As Stratasys says3D printers do the hard work and eliminate the bottleneck of manual modeling in dentistry. In the dental industry, modeling is probably the most basic current usage. Combined with oral scanning and CAD/CAM design, 3D printing allows dental labs to move quickly into production phase of stone models.

Stratasys alone offers four printers for dental modeling and component creation, and the most basic model, Objet30 Orthodesk, allows dental labs and offices to create surgical guides as well as models.

Casting and tools. Avi Cohen of Stratasys says that 3D printing has advanced dental techniques from “analogous, manual manipulation of materials to a systematic, digitally verifiable process.” 3D imaging software and 3D printed dental casts allow dental practitioners to engage in a verifiable process, creating products that are more consistent and reliable.

The foundation of 3D printing use in dentistry, though, is digital dentistry, “the use of dental devices and technologies that have computer-controlled or digital components. While traditional dentistry relies on devices like electric drills, stone molds and braces to restore dental structure and health, digital dentistry relies on innovative technologies such as lasers, X-Rays and oral scanners.”

Short of actually making teeth, 3D printers have been important tools in dental offices and labs for years, increasing the efficiency of traditional practices. These printers may “feature lights of lasers that polymerize a liquid or fuse a powder with the computer-guided precision required to produce small objects with intricate details.”

Dental restorative components. If you’ve ever had a crown or an implant, you know that one of the most difficult parts of the process is the wait between preparing your tooth (or space) for a crown or implant and actually getting it. It can take weeks, and in the meantime, you either have an empty space, making you feel like you never want to go out again, or a temporary (bulky and awkward) cover for your tooth.

A limited number of dental offices already make crowns while you wait with technology that has been available for about 30 years. The current process is:

  1. Take a picture with a digital camera  or 3D scanner,
  2. send the digital image through CAD/CAM software,
  3. tweak the result with the aid of the software, and
  4. send it to an in-house milling machine that makes the final crown or implant.

The milling machine uses a block of composite and sculpts the crown or implant out of it. It’s exciting for anyone who has suffered through the wait of the traditional method. The milling method is called CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics).

Only 10% of dentists use a CAD/CAM milling machine, however, even though the technology has been available for such a long time. The learning curve can be steep, and most dentists still prefer to leave the work to skilled technicians in dental labs.

The day is almost here, though, when 3D printers will not only assist in making models, they will actually print your tooth.   The advantage of 3D printing over milling is that it can better manufacture a tooth with all its intricate, individual details. The disadvantage of 3D printing in dentistry has been that it takes more time than milling.

Now, though, researchers are racing to come up with faster 3D printing methods in dentistry. Joseph DeSimone, the CEO of the 3D printing company Carbon3D and a professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, announced at the TED Conference in Vancouver in March, 2015, that a breakthrough technology allows teeth to be printed in 6.5 minutes.

So Boomers: if Medicare won’t cover your tooth replacement, watch for that 6.5 minute tooth to come to a dental office near you.  Take half an hour to get that tooth replacement, and go out to your next night on the town looking like an eighteen year old! But hold on the sugar anyway until they’re further along on 3D printed heart replacements. 🙂

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@3dprintingisfun) and like us on Facebook. Subscribe to this blog, or visit us at shop3duniverse.com.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

An Unofficial Book Review

An Unofficial Book Review: Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

I am very fortunate to come to 3D printing as a “newbie” and have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of this rapidly growing industry — in the words of Avi Reichental of 3D Systems, “exponentially growing.”

Not first and foremost a technology person, I am still able to grasp the concepts of 3D printing and what makes it such an exciting phenomenon. Ideas like empowerment, democratization, customization, open-source sharing and the potential of the amazing creativity of the DIY movement in combination with open-source technology. I am excited by the possibilities, more and more of them realized each and every day.

In Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris Anderson, author of the best-selling, The Long Tail, and editor in chief of Wired, explains the sources of this excitement and adds to it as he discusses the potential for 3D printing to jump-start U.S. manufacturing, where employment as a percentage of total working population is at a century-long low.

Anderson presents this vision of the future through two starting images, one from personal experience and one from a more abstract realm, that of science. His personal experience was of his grandfather, a lifelong tinkerer, who developed and patented an early automatic sprinkler system, something much-needed in the California of his time with its hot sun and residents’ insistence on green lawns.

In following the story of his grandfather as Anderson compares that experience to the experience of today’s tinkerers, “Makers,” we begin to understand how profoundly significant the difference is. As Anderson says of today, “any kid with an idea and a laptop can create the seeds of a world-changing company.” Much of the book is devoted to looking at the dimensions of that difference, primarily centered around giving tinkerers a computer and a connection to the Internet.

The other image that tells the story is the scientific one, the transition from bits to atoms. This image describes how we will take what we have discovered in the last ten years about creating, inventing and working together on the Web (bits) and reapply that knowledge to the real world (atoms). Physical objects begin as computer designs, and the designers share the designs online as files. A movement that began in factories and industrial design shops is moving into homes and garages and basements.

Touring this changing landscape with Anderson, I gained some surprising new perspectives. In talking about what revolutions can do, he described the movement from farmland into factories in the city and talked about the improvement in health that industrialization provided despite romantic claims to the contrary. Brick buildings in the cities protected people from damp and disease, and mass-produced cheap cotton clothing and good-quality soap allowed “even the poorest” to have clean clothing and better hygiene. Increased income allowed a better, more varied diet and improved access to healthcare, schools and other shared resources (pp. 36-37).

The productivity enhancements of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions drove worldwide economic growth. They changed everything “from longevity and quality of life to where people live and how many there are of them” (p. 38).

Many view the Information Age as the Third Industrial Revolution. Anderson argues that it was not an industrial revolution until it had a “democratizing and amplifying effect on manufacturing,” similar to the first two revolutions. He says the “Third Industrial Revolution is best seen as the combination of digital manufacturing and personal manufacturing: the industrialization of the Maker Movement.” The digital transformation not only makes existing manufacturing more efficient, it extends manufacturing to a hugely expanded population (p. 41).

The tools of 3D printing, the printers and the laser cutters, are ways to turn bits into atoms. And the process works in reverse too! “Reality capture” starts with an object, scans it and turns it into an image that can be manipulated and modified onscreen.

Piece by piece, Anderson examines the components that have created the specific characteristics of this Third Industrial Revolution: open hardware, building “communities” on open organization models, reinventing the old big factories and the maker movement.

He wonders, “Can Makers make jobs?” pointing out that as output doubled over the past four decades, manufacturing employment fell by about 30 percent over the same period (p. 153). I have watched that happen and experienced repeated calls for “retraining” in the manufacturing world, as jobs went away, never to return.

Anderson also points out that outsourced jobs are becoming more expensive as wages rise dramatically in countries to which we outsource, making them less of a threat.

He observes that the Maker Movement in essence finances itself by sharing designs, letting consumers manipulate and customize them, then pay for the output. In addition, crowd-funding advances the movement, giving it the lateral growth it requires to be a revolution.

Resulting Maker businesses represent the ultimate combination of atoms and bits — all described through the lense of stories about real people and their experiences.

The book is readable, explanatory, even exciting. It puts this newest revolution into the context of history, cultural history and manufacturing history. Its Appendix, “The 21st-Century Workshop,” invites us all, democratically, to join the revolution by providing brief introductions to its main tools.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@3dprintingisfun) and like us on Facebook. Subscribe to this blog, or visit us at shop3duniverse.com.


UK firm, Dovetailed, creates 3D printed fresh fruits through spherification.
UK firm, Dovetailed, creates 3D printed fresh fruits through spherification.

What can 3D printed food manufacturing learn from McDonald’s?

In a galaxy far, far away from 3D printing

In 1954, Ray Kroc joined the McDonald’s team in California. He was responsible for enlarging the franchise operation. By 1956, there were 14 stores, and sales reached 50 million hamburgers.

By 1958, when I first visited a McDonald’s, sales had reached 100 million. That fact was advertised on a little billboard under the arch — “McDonald’s Hamburgers: over 100 million sold.” By 1960, that billboard read, “over 400 million sold.” 6 years. Exponential growth.

This amazing success was built on a short list of requirements that every franchise met. Kroc’s list, QSC&V (Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value) meshed perfectly with the McDonald’s brothers mass production food techniques and assembly line customer order processing. It was a combination that met the needs of the market at that time.

Can 3D printed food meet the needs of today’s market?

The world has changed in 55 years and with it, what consumers want. A recent report shows that Sales of packaged and processed foods are declining, and customers want more fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.  More and more, people are turning away from processed foods, from industrial “food products.” As supermarkets and fast food operations lose market share (McDonald’s is closing stores for the first time in its history), they are scrambling to respond to this changing market.

Can 3D printed food meet the requirements of this very different market? Let’s think about what those requirements are likely to be.

  • An increasing number of Americans are health conscious. This is likely to mean organic food, food that retains its natural fiber, no food additives and no added sweeteners.
  • More and more Americans want food that is produced and distributed sustainably, and they want to know that those who work along the food supply chain are treated fairly.

3D printed food: healthy, sustainable and affordable?

Natural Machines makes Foodini, "A new generation kitchen appliance that combines technology, food, art and design." From the early 3D printed food visuals, I'd say vegan has it!
Natural Machines makes Foodini, “A new generation kitchen appliance that combines technology, food, art and design.” From the early 3D printed food visuals, I’d say vegan has it!

So I wonder: can 3D printed food become a significant part of today’s food economy?

To answer that question, I devised a checklist. Ray Kroc’s QSC&V (Quality, Service, Cleanliness, Value) checklist was short, and following that example, so is mine. I think it corresponds to the kinds of things an increasing number of us want in our food. Here’s my checklist:

  • Healthy
  • Easy
  • Real
  • Delicious
  • Sustainable

HERDS. Can 3D printed food fill those specs? Can we produce 3D printed food to satisfy today’s market to the extent that it will become a real market force?

I admit, I’m skeptical. For the most part, what I have seen in 3D printed food is ingenious and often attractive, but the best items are highly processed, sugar-laden (confections), and along the lines of fast foods (pizzas). They fail on at least three of five points in my HERDS checklist: healthy, real and sustainable.

3D Printed Food Serves Special Needs

I do see, though, that 3D printed food can serve some important specialized needs, most effective among them so far, food for seniors with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing):

3D printed soft food delivers appetizing nutrition to seniors
3D printed soft food delivers appetizing nutrition to seniors

Softfoods, from TNO, a Dutch non-profit, 3D printed food that is easier for seniors to eat. Typically seniors have to eat unappetizing purees. In Germany, seniors with dysphagia living in nursing homes are likely to receive a beautiful plate of 3D printed soft food.

More making health easier for some, Dovetailed 3D Fruit PrinterThe beautiful custom-designed 3D printed fresh fruits pictured at the top of this page could certainly be a vehicle for important vitamins and minerals that people find it difficult to get from food for a variety of reasons. I think, in particular, of seniors and very young children.

Dovetailed developed a spherification printer that uses fruit juice combined with a gel to create droplets of custom fruit flavors encased in a very thin “skin.” The droplets form into specific programmed shapes.

At the very least, these 3D printed fruits, made of real fruit juice, are healthier snack items than most commercial snacks promoted for children.

Edible Growth by Chloe Rutzerveld
Edible Growth by Chloe Rutzerveld

Healthy, very fresh, real food anywhere, anytime. Dutch food designer Chloé Rutzerveld created cracker-like yeast structures containing seeds and spores that sprout over time. These natural, transportable products certainly make healthy snacks or traveling food at the very least. Nutritionally it’s got to  be superior to airline trays!

While the designer sees it as the future of food in the long run, it’s easy to think of significant ways to use these fresh, natural products in the short run. Certainly it would be easier to print foods like these and distribute them in disaster areas as an alternative to bulky and expensive-to-ship traditional foods.

Use plentiful but unpalatable ingredients. We are familiar with this kind of processing. Isn’t it the basis of cooking? If we looked at many of the foods we eat in their raw form (livers, tongues, flesh), we might not eat them.  Various processes, including cooking, make them not only palatable but delicious to many.  Any mom knows how to sneak healthy items into their kids’ favorite foods, and many are learning that green smoothies are a delicious way to serve up greens to people who might otherwise not eat them.

Similarly, various scientists and technicians are looking at ways to use items that are plentiful but unappetizing so don’t get used, although they might provide excellent nutrition. 3D printing can turn these items into the base ingredient for familiar dishes.

These ideas and innovations, all satisfying our HERDS requirements, tell me that while 3D printing may never replace real food and traditional food preparation at a time when we are hungry for it, it has the potential for a major role in the big food picture as we move toward the future.

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Re-imagining my wardrobe with 3D printing

Hmmm...he looks about as puzzled with what he's wearing as I am looking at him.
Hmmm…he looks about as puzzled with what he’s wearing as I am looking at him.

Dressing disruptively? Not.

This could be a story about dressing disruptively. It could be that, because there are some pretty wild 3D printed fashions out there. But it’s not.

It’s a story about clothes for everyday people, which would certainly include me and, I will guess, you. True, my mother was a fashion model, but I missed that gene. I’ve never been into fashion all that much, and I’m definitely not a disruptive dresser. I like my jeans and t-shirts and clogs, and I disrupt my pattern only under duress.

On the other hand, I do appreciate simple beauty and ingenuity, and when I decided to take a look at 3D printing and fashion, I found some simple, gracefully beautiful items.

I suspect the simplicity was deceptive, but I’ll have to let the Makers speak to that. For now, I’ll tell you a little about what I saw that I liked.

Filigree and 3D printed fashion

In 1968, when it was still possible to do these things, my grandmother visited Damascus, Syria and other Middle Eastern cities. Among the artifacts she brought back was gold and silver filigree jewelry. I was entranced with the beauty of it and wore one of the pieces she gave me for many, many years.


Filigree. While it is also associated with medieval Europe and with Asia, in particular India, filigree brings images of the Middle East to my mind. I see the artisans at work, the shuks, smell the aromas of Middle Eastern food and see the flowing patterns of carpets and fabrics and hand-painted tiles and majolica.

And filigree is what I thought of as I looked at the 3D printed clothing designs of the last two or three years. So much of it is formulated in intricate, repeating patterns, like the tiles of Middle Eastern architecture . . . or the filigree jewelry my grandmother brought back from Damascus.

My favorite 3D print fashion designer, Iris Van Herpen, is known for a style called “Extreme Organicism.” It’s “haute couture built around the concept of magnified, distorted, and abstracted organic forms.” Perhaps that’s why it makes me think of filigree and the Middle East with its combination of repetitive geometric patterns (DNA) and voluptuous, flowing shapes (floral motifs).


And here’s my favorite Iris Van Herpen dress, a “little black dress” but with an amazing difference.


MOMA’s fashion taste apparently runs along the same paths as my own. In December, 2014, they acquired this 4D dress from kinetics as an example of printed fashion. It is beautiful, with that same filigree look to it.


Here’s one more beautiful dress, 3D Printed With The 3Doodler Pen by Fashion House SHIGO. Again, it has the feeling of intricate filigree.


Now for the 3D printed shoes

Iris Van Herpen also designs 3D printed shoes. Some are beautiful, but this particular pair looks a bit . . . lethal.


Getting back to filigree, though, here are some shoes I like better, these beautiful ADAPTIV “shoes” from SOLS that read your body language and react accordingly! When the technology is complete, a system of gyroscopes and sensors will redirect air to the right place in the 3D printed Shapeways shell depending on the current activity of the wearer, increasing comfort and reducing athletic injuries. And it’s a great looking shoe besides, isn’t it?


Perhaps not as elaborate but also very wearable are these XYZ shoes from Earl Stewart. Is this the future of the sneaker? If yes, it’s a happy future.


Now for the guys – 3D printed men’s fashion

Last but not least, here’s one for the guys – a 3D printed bowtie from Monocircus, also with that airy filigree feeling to it but in a more masculine presentation. Less haute, more down-to-earth fun. A very good way to end our quick review of 3D fashion items I like.


Have you seen fashion items you would like to wear?  I hope you’ll tell us about them!

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Does 3D Printing Hold Promise for Detection and Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer?

G-quadruplex: Univ. of Alabama 3D Printing Lab created a groundbreaking DNA sequence that may help in the fight against cancer.
G-quadruplex DNA Sequence: Univ. of Alabama 3D Printing Lab created a groundbreaking DNA sequence that may help in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer: The Facts

Pancreatic cancer has been on my mind a lot recently, so I wanted to get the latest information and find out what hope there might be for improving the prognosis for this deadly disease. This post focuses on what 3D printing, specifically, offers.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth highest cause of cancer deaths, most often affecting people over the age of 65. It is one of the few cancers that is on the increase, and by 2020, it is expected to be the second highest cause of cancer deaths. It is difficult to detect and treat, and often it isn’t detected until it is too late to treat.

Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive. Five years ago, people with Stage IV pancreatic cancer lived a median 6 months. Thanks to breakthrough research, that time frame is extended to 11 months. For all stages, the five year survival rate is an average 5%, for Stage I, only 20%, and for Stage IV, 1%.

With a dismal prognosis like this, it is certainly one of the areas of cancer research that begs for discoveries and solutions.

3D Printing and Pancreatic Cancer Treatment Advances

3D print models. Models help researchers understand cancers better, allowing more targeted and effective treatment.

Dr. Rosalie Sears, Ph.D., a professor of molecular and medical genetics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, prints models of cancer tumors, exact replicas of patients’ cancerous growths. These models allow testing in real time of how a patient’s tumor will respond to particular treatments. 

Another university, the University of Alabama, announced in February, 2014, the very first 3D printed model of a G-quadruplex DNA sequence, with its molecular structure.

G-quadruplex molecules are nucleic acid sequences and have been described as “a structure in search of a function.” Research has shown that “targeting G-quadruplex sequences with particular compounds can inhibit or stabilize tumors leading to pancreatic cancer.”

The 3D printed live model produced by the University of Alabama has proved “invaluable,” according to Dr. Stephen Ohnmacht of University College in London, a British collaborator in the project. Dr. Vincent Scalfani from the University of Alabama says, “The G-quadruplex 3D model allows us to observe all the symmetry, edges and angles inside of the molecular structure.”

As researchers are able to hold the intricate structure of the DNA in their hands, they are better able to understand it and plan how to target treatment.

3D Bioprinting. One of the most exciting developments in 3D printing that has potential for treating pancreatic and other cancers is Organovo and Autodesk’s alliance to develop “the sophisticated molecular design and simulation software required for engineering living systems.

Organovo’s 3D Bioprinter applies the concept of additive manufacturing to cell biology to convert the cells of a clinical tumor specimen into an accurate model of human tissue. The model will be used to test a promising pancreatic and breast cancer drug, greatly accelerating the test stage.

3D printed device to push chemotherapy drugs directly to tumor. Pancreatic cancer is typically very difficult to diagnose, and often by the time there’s a diagnosis, the tumors are intertwined with major organs and blood vessels.

A group at UNC-Chapel Hill has created “a device that can be customized for each patient via 3-D printing, potentially right in the operating room. It uses electrical fields to push chemotherapy drugs directly to tumors and has the potential to dramatically increase the number of patients eligible for life-saving surgery.”

The technique has been tested successfully on animals, and human testing will begin next year. A paper in the research journal, Science Translational Medicine (February 2015), describes the project.

Tissue engineering and organ regeneration. Possibilities for tissue engineering and organ regeneration are also part of the 3D printing picture of the future.

3D Printing and Pancreatic Cancer Detection Advances

The real solution for difficult, aggressive cancers like pancreatic and lung, however, lies in early detection when there is a possibility for treatment.

Jorge Soto, part of a team of scientists and technologists from Chile, Panama, Mexico, Israel and Greece, reports that this group believes  they have found a reliable and accurate way of detecting several types of cancer at the very early stages through a blood sample.

“The test is performed by detecting a set of very small molecules that circulate freely in our blood called microRNAs…This is a single non-invasive, accurate and affordable test that has the potential to dramatically change how cancer procedures and diagnostics have been done. Since we’re looking for the microRNA patterns in your blood at any given time, you don’t need to know which cancer you’re looking for. You don’t need to have any symptoms. You only need one milliliter of blood and a relatively simple array of tools.”

As Soto says in his Ted Talk, “This entire platform is a working prototype. It uses state-of-the-art molecular biology, a low-cost, 3D-printed device, and data science to try to tackle one of humanity’s toughest challenges.” The design of the 3D printed device is open-source to encourage community input and accelerate advances.

Imagine how many lives can be saved with a simple, effective blood test that allows early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer!

I’m curious, since the open source 3D printed device is already out, and the method is in place to test for several cancers, including pancreatic, so far…why hasn’t this low-cost equipment become part of every doctor’s office or at least every lab and testing become commonplace whenever blood work is done?

Has anyone else seen Jorge Soto’s TedTalk? Have you ever known anyone who might have benefited from earlier testing?

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3D Printing in every classroom, Part III


Jeremy Simon Skypes Sierra and her class.

Jeremy Simon Skypes Sierra and her class.

See Part I here.
See Part II here.

Most Compelling 3D Printing Projects Involve Assistive Technology

We’ve considered the worldwide race to bring 3D printing technology to every classroom, and we’ve considered 3D printing at the administrative level, that is, what the aims, goals and objectives of bringing 3D printing to a U.S. classroom might be. Now it’s time to consider some specific strategies in the classroom, brought to us by people on the frontlines of our educational system, teachers.

These specific projects and lesson plans are resources to select from once you have determined the aims, goals and objectives of your 3D printing program.

I will disclose my bias from the beginning: I find assistive technology projects most compelling, those that have a social assistance value. One of the best examples of this I have seen is the project Jeremy describes in this blog:

The Sierra project was carried out on behalf of e-NABLE (Enabling the Future), a group which just won a $600,000 grant from Google to continue their work of “passionate volunteers” making prosthetic hands for under-served communities. Currently e-NABLE has 55 schools registered as part of their program. Students and whole classes are able to make prosthetic hands for those who need them with support provided via email and Google Hangouts. Kits of hard-to-find non-printed parts are provided at a discount at shop3duniverse.com.

Of equal value is another project Jeremy describes in this blog:

Initial Sketch of Marble Display Stand
Initial Sketch of Marble Display Stand
Finished Marble Display Stand
Finished Marble Display Stand

Why do these projects take my attention? STEM learning is inherent to almost any 3D project; however, the project with Sierra engages a widening group of people in an assistive technology (social assistance) project and, in doing so, not only teaches important values but show kids how they can have a huge impact in making their world a better place.

I can’t imagine anything more empowering for both giver and receiver than the kind of exchange that happens as Sierra not only makes a prosthetic device for someone but engages her whole class in that enterprise.

Not only did this lesson involve powerful values and empowerment, but in bringing a commercial operation into the picture as a philanthropic driver (when shop3duniverse.com spearheaded a campaign to get Sierra a 3D printer), it engaged Sierra and her classmates in an important aspect of philanthropic endeavor.

The Marble Display Stand project is exciting because it was an experiment in taking a 10 year-old’s idea and putting it into his hands in a matter of hours. This impromptu event perfectly embodied a curricular goal of “enabling the deep understanding and problem-solving ability that results from seeing abstract ideas actualized within an age-appropriate meaningful time frame.”

Clearly the excitement that project generated will lead to having that young man learn to use the technology to manufacture his own next idea.

In addition to the project and lesson plan links presented below, you will find ideas in another of Jeremy’s posts in this blog:

Reports from the Frontlines: 3D Printing Projects in Classrooms

Specific Projects

Idea and Design Sharing

Lesson Plans & Curricula

Recommendations from Teachers Who’ve Done It

And Finally, Funding – If Your School District Doesn’t Provide It

Full Circle: 3D Printing Assistive Technology Projects

Bringing this post full-circle, the kids in this teacher’s classroom wanted to 3d print prosthetic hands. Not only are these kinds of assistive technology projects appealing to adults who want to teach important values, values that are key to building a better society, but they are important to kids, who want to be those builders! Kids are naturally inspired by the possibility of helping others.

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GoPro Mouth Mount: Entrepeneur spots a need and uses 3D printing to start a very cool business.


Steve Mara loves to surf. He loves it so much that he moved from the Midwest to San Diego 5 years ago so he could surf every day.

A couple of years ago, Steve noticed a new trend: pro surfers playing with different ways to hold their GoPro cameras while surfing.

Until then, GoPro cameras had been attached to the nose of the surfboard with the camera pointing back at the surfer. This produced fun video clips, but the focus was on the surfer, not what the surfer was seeing and experiencing.

Steve noticed pro surfers rigging their own mouth mounts, sometimes just biting on a piece of plastic or foam they attached to the GoPro. It wasn’t comfortable, but it delivered great surfing shots from inside “the barrel.”

Last summer, Steve talked with some of his engineering friends, who thought it wouldn’t be too difficult or expensive to manufacture a mouth mount. Encouraged, and liking the idea of a challenge, Steve decided to move forward.

His starting point was a silicone scuba mouthpiece attached to the custom mount piece. Another friend drew up a rough design in SolidWorks, and Steve began to search for a place to 3D print a prototype. Brick and mortar print shops in his local area were too expensive, and online possibilities had too long of a turnaround time for an eager entrepreneur who wanted to hold the prototype in his own hands, soon.

Steve has a smart girlfriend, who told him the public library had a free 3D printing lab and didn’t even charge for the filament! Although library policy only allowed people to print items they designed themselves, they allowed Steve to print his friend’s design one time. Although it took two hours to print, the time was well-used since the lab assistant taught Steve about 3D printing and design.

Finally Steve was able to take the printed prototype home and test it with his GoPro. A fast learner (during those two hours waiting in the library 3D printing lab), Steve was able to make some major modifications using several different editing programs. His new prototype used much less filament and considerably less time, about 45 minutes. A couple more tweaks, and it was time to “go pro,” with a professional design and manufacturing.

3D printing a prototype GoPro Mouth Mount.
3D printing a prototype GoPro Mouth Mount.
The finished 3D printed prototype GoPro Mouth Mount.
The finished 3D printed prototype GoPro Mouth Mount.

For the design, Steve turned to oDesk.com and for a modest sum was able to get a professional design with the exact measurements he needed. After 3D printing that design successfully, it was time to manufacture the product. The final product is made from polycarbonate to make it as durable as possible.

And now, with the help of 3D printing for his prototypes, Steve has been able to make his idea a concrete reality. Just 9 months into his business, he has already sold hundreds of mouth mounts!

Check out the videos on Steve’s website, http://hostevie.com/shop/gopro-mouth-mount.html, taken with the GoPro Mouth Mount. Steve’s friends are riding the waves, and you can almost feel the surf as you take an exciting and beautiful ride with them from your armchair!

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Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker reflects on 3D printing collaboration, sharing and the power of community

Who’s Who in this 3D Printing Conversation

Last week, Jeremy Simon of 3D Universe interviewed Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker BV. Jeremy and Erik met at an e-NABLE conference at Johns Hopkins University last year, an experience that reflected their common interest in open sharing, collaboration and community.

Erik deBruijn of Ultimaker BV.
Erik de Bruijn of Ultimaker BV.

Erik de Bruijn is a co-founder of Ultimaker BV, launched in 2011. Ultimaker became an established brand in the 3D printing community within its first year, selling its flagship product, “Ultimaker”, to nearly 1000 people worldwide. The Ultimaker is the fastest 3D printer in its segment, printing the largest objects with the greatest detail.

Here’s what the company has to say about itself:

“It all started with a thought. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the experience of making. Whether it was a cat dressed as an astronaut or a mechanical masterpiece, we set it as our goal to enable you to make those things. So we built a pioneering device that everyone could use and enjoy. We made it open source so everyone really could pitch in. And we started to grow…We tinkered, tweaked, invented, innovated and reinvented. And so did our community…”

This statement reflects what became a theme of our interview: 3D printing is exciting, but just as exciting are the values the movement embraces. Tinkering, creativity, open sharing, collaboration, community, enabling and empowering: these are words we hear over and over again as 3D printing enthusiasts talk about the world of 3D printing, the world of tomorrow that is opening before us today.

The Interview, Part I: Erik de Bruijn’s Role & Ultimaker, The Product

Ultimaker2, the flagship product.
Ultimaker2, the flagship product.

Jeremy: I’m here today with Erik de Bruijn, one of the founders of Ultimaker. Erik, can you tell us about your role with Ultimaker today?

Erik: We are growing rapidly. It’s great to see so many new, talented people join the company. It is also great to know that although it’s difficult for us to find the right people, we continue to find people who embody the Ultimaker spirit and share the same open source and open hardware ideals we have.

Although my role changes in some ways as we grow, in other ways my role as a founder remains constant, at least at its core: my job is to make sure our mission remains intact and that we can all do something we believe in. It is still very motivating to see people taking their ideas and making them tangible.

While I’m passionate about technology, I’m especially excited about technology as a tool: 3D printing, electronics, how they work together and how they can empower the user.

I learn from the people we’re hiring. I like to connect various ideas and make something neat out of that. I’m able to do that with more and more people as we grow.

It’s also my job to make sure we’re working on interesting concepts and making good products. Our products are the driver in terms of what we can do in innovation.

Jeremy: Speaking of products, others have focused on making a machine that can reproduce itself, along the lines of the RepRap Project. Ultimaker seems more focused on quality. Can you talk with us a little about the commitments that make Ultimaker unique?

Erik: Yes, we are focused on making a printer that’s high quality and reliable, but we do find that many people in the community are using Ultimakers to print upgrades for their Ultimakers!

We also want to make it possible for people without a lot of knowledge to use an Ultimaker. Things like layer thickness, quality control, repeatability and resolution are very important to us. We want to raise the bar for desktop 3D printers. We’re seeing now that our machines are used in medical research, for example, to make scaffolds for biofabrication.

It’s these kinds of applications that, on the one hand, are a testimony to our quality and, on the other hand, push us to increase the quality of the machine and the 3D prints.

The Interview, Part II: Viability of Open Source Business Model in 3D Printing

Jeremy: Ultimaker has always had a commitment to open source. Some argue that it’s difficult to maintain a viable business while giving away designs and maintaining an open source approach. How do you respond to that idea?

Erik: We do have that commitment, and we are viable and we keep growing.

Hopefully people copy from us and contribute something back. We’ve seen a lot of people from the community improve and contribute to Ultimaker. Others have simply copied the machine and are selling these copies. This drives us to keep improving our machine.

Still, it’s really about the kinds of interactions we have. There’s a good feeling about what a community is and a sense of appreciation for why people are in this community. It’s about tinkering and creating and sharing.

It’s important to share what we know, not expecting something back but feeling confident that something will come back. The beauty of community is that we might get something back that we didn’t expect! Or something for which we didn’t even ask!

Publishing design files opens the opportunity for people with diverse skills to look at the designs and contribute. People look at the designs because they’re interested, but they might have a very different take, a diverse approach, and that adds to it.

Most companies look to hire a narrow set of people for R&D. That’s the traditional way but probably not the best way to get an R&D department together.

The kind of community we work in doesn’t have constraints around time or on what we can try. People have full autonomy, and that can lead to a process of creativity, to trying new things and experimenting.

Of course there can be too much freedom as well as too many constraints. Balance is what we want. And so we appreciate different skills and give people free reign — but we also have staff who make sure things are stable, who exercise quality control.

Taken together, stable quality and fast innovation is what makes a company viable. The open approach we take has proven to work well and benefits us and the community.

Jeremy: Erik, you and I met as volunteers with the e-NABLE community – link. Ultimaker has been very supportive of that community, donating printers, software development and more. Can you tell us about Ultimaker’s charitable efforts?

Erik: e-NABLE benefits from the freedom of 3D printing.

All too often, the goal of the medical community is to try to make a product like a prosthetic invisible. With 3D printing, you can decide what a prosthetic should look like. The recipient is in the driver’s seat!

3D printed things, including prosthetics, don’t only have to be useful but also cool and well-liked, or people won’t use them. When a user can make the decisions, it’s more likely they’ll actually use the product.

And if they require changes, that can happen too, because a 3D printed prosthetic is so much less expensive than traditional devices. A 3D printed e-NABLE hand may cost $20. This makes it very affordable for the developing world as well. That’s what I mean by the freedom of 3D printing.

Ultimaker wants to connect with that freedom. We used to develop things on the computer that remained virtual, but it’s great to finally be able to make things physical, to invent something tangible by yourself or with others.

Also, e-NABLE is a community of people helping each other, so their orientation is similar to Ultimaker’s.

The Interview, Part III: 3D Printing in Education


Jeremy: 3D printers are showing up in classrooms around the world. Ultimaker is a popular choice in schools. What are Ultimaker’s goals with regard to education?

Erik: We are doing well in business environments, schools and maker communities. We want to support these sectors because we came from them.

3D printing has been around for 30-35 years. In some ways, these environments are late comers, and yet children are very creative. They’ll catch the schools up fast, and we want to be part of facilitating that.

It’s great for kids to have an idea and make it. Most of us grew up with old idea that we ourselves can’t make anything. The new idea is “imagine, then make.” It’s about dreaming AND doing.

3D printed items in the classroom can make ideas and concepts visible. A 3D printed depth map of Waterloo will let you understand why certain things happened at the battle. A 3D printed crown of an ancient king may let you see just how small people were back then. A 3D printed model of an engine lets you see how crankshafts work.

Especially for kinesthetic learners, 3D printing often makes ideas click much more rapidly than other methods. For experiential learners, 3D printed items in a classroom can also have significant impact. These two learning styles are hardly addressed and taught to in the current educational system.

Imagine just sitting in a chair 30 hours a week with someone rattling off facts and concepts. Now imagine being a kinesthetic or tactile learner for whom touching and interacting with an item deepens understanding. For these kinds of learners, that lecture style of presentation is a very boring thing. 3D printing has a part to play in making concepts tactile and letting kids interact with a physical manifestation of an idea in order to completely understand it.

The Interview, Part IV: 3D Printing, Tinkering, Collaboration & the Power of Community

Jeremy: What is the most exciting experience you’ve had since starting Ultimaker?
Erik: That’s a good question!

Probably one of the most powerful moments was at the e-NABLE conference at Johns Hopkins University. What a great event! All these people were using 3D printers and had been using them in their homes.

It was an amazing experience to see how all those parts for 3D printed hands were brought together. It was even more amazing to watch people assembling prosthetic devices with their children and for their children!

That experience made me feel proud of what we’re doing as a company and as a community.

We have had moments within our own company as well. We feel an Ultimaker spirit with all these different people that have joined us. Of course there are hurdles along the way, technological or interpersonal. The things that can sometimes be difficult are also the things that make it meaningful.

Jeremy: So really what you’re doing is giving people a tool with these 3D printers. They take it from there, seeing what they can create. Have people done things that surprised you or that you weren’t expecting?

Erik: I was just at an Ultimaker event a few days ago, lots of people coming together. A guy called Arjan showed me that he had modified his Ultimaker to add interchangeable print heads for multi-extrusion printing.

This video demonstrates an Ultimaker extension that one user created, a Dual Head Ultimaker2 by UltiArjan.

This process of expanding the capability of a 3D printer is what lets Ultimaker make better printers.

I think it would be ironic if people had a tool that can make almost anything but couldn’t improve on the tool. I like coevolution. We shape the technology, and the technology shapes us.

Something big has changed since open source software became significant. We might not be able to find two people in the same geographical space and with the right set of skills to collaborate, but we can certainly find two on the globe. It’s exciting. It finally gives us the power to collaborate globally and produce locally.

Jeremy: Where do you see consumer level 3D printing going and Ultimaker fitting into that picture?

Erik: We are already in a steep growth curve, but there’s still a lot of growth ahead before we hit the consumer stage. Still, I have to say, it’s in the near future. We tend to overestimate exponential change in the short run and underestimate it in long run.

Certainly we’ll get to a place where we’ll print different kinds of structures and materials with one device.

We’ll see more people tinkering online with a design to make it work for them. We’ll see more products completely manufactured to specification in this way. And collaboration tools will be more powerful too.

At Ultimaker, we want to encourage that collaborative process of tinkering and customizing. This possibility is a great motivator for me. People around the world can invent tools and have manufacturing capability in their homes and work with us. We cannot do it alone as a company — we want to collaborate!

The Interview, Part V: YouMagine

Jeremy: So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask for hints of upcoming product lines or initiatives . . .

Erik: I’m glad you asked. I’ll mention a couple of things, but I’d like to focus on a project that is near and dear to my heart, YouMagine.

We’re always working to make our machines more user friendly, more capable and more connected. And we’re working toward machines with multi-material capabilities.

The Ultimaker printer is an output device. It has to work well and be capable — but a single focus on a better device is too narrow.

We want to take things to the next level, so we work on lots of things at the same time. It cannot be just “good” hardware if we want our users to succeed. Software and hardware need to work well together. This is where we can make the difference.

We also want to be sure the Ultimaker is compatible with materials we haven’t even tried yet. That doesn’t mean everything will work with it, but you have to have freedom to use cutting edge material. And exciting materials are released almost on a weekly basis.

And there’s YouMagine, a project I created and oversee. YouMagine is an online community of 3D printing enthusiasts who want to work together to share, remix and make better 3D printed things collaboratively. YouMagine facilitates this community, empowers and gives people the tools they need in order to improve, invent and make.

We believe that through collaboration and sharing all of us can make all the things better.

Jeremy: Erik, it seems as though the recurring theme of our conversation is the power of a community, of collaboration and sharing. This is what excites me about 3D printing as well. It’s a new way of thinking and living and creating. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Erik: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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3D printing in every classroom, Part II

See Part I here.

Sierra is 3D printing a hand in the classroom. Are you considering bringing 3D printing to your classroom? An increasing number of classrooms are choosing the Ultimaker!

WHY we need to get 3D printing into every classroom

Let’s talk about why we should bring 3D printing into every classroom and why it must be a fundamental part of the education of the future, starting today. We can talk about these questions through a mechanism known to any teacher who has ever written a curriculum. We’ll consider some possible aims, goals and objectives of 3D printing in the classroom.

In 3D printing in every classroom Part I, we looked at two paths to bringing 3D printing into schools. In our American culture, we will most likely take the second approach, what I call, “Bottoms Up.” We will generate enough excitement on a national level to stimulate local areas to plan for and fund 3D printing in their schools.

That means for 3D printing in every classroom to become a reality, school districts must think about how this transformative technology can most effectively and comprehensively become part of the project of local education.

For an investment in 3D printing to be effective, planning must include not only amazing projects but a clear idea about why those projects are an essential part of an education in our modern world. What are our district-wide aims, goals and measureable objectives?

Here are some ideas as we begin to lay out worthwhile aims and goals of a program to bring 3D printing into classrooms.


In a provocative book published in the 70s, Growing Up Suburban, Edward A. Wynne argues that the “total environment of the suburban youth—the school, the community, the family, and the workplace—is in need of drastic reform.” Specifically he makes the case that young people in suburban homes are isolated from real world responsibilities, challenges and problem solving. This isolation contributes to alienation and anti-social behaviors.

During my own teacher education, this book had a tremendous impact on me. I believe that 3D printing, as a transformative and disruptive technology, is the right catalyst for generating the profound changes that need to happen in our communities. It can and does provide young people with ways to participate meaningfully in real life challenges and problem solving.

A recent presentation by Avi Reichental of 3D Systems contributes another dimension to shaping an “aim” for 3D printing in education.

In a world where we will have a “ubiquitous 3D lifestyle that will permeate every aspect of our lives,” we aim:

  • To prepare students to live in and participate effectively and meaningfully in a world transformed by 3D printing.


A White House blog post sets a good framework to begin a discussion of goals:

“Although the new technology that is fueling the maker movement gets a lot of attention, more important are the values, dispositions and skills that making fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork, and ‘hard fun.’

“As Steve Jobs observed, describing the impact that having access to a Heathkit (a do-it-yourself electronics kit) had on him, “Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one’s environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one’s environment.”

In an earlier post in this blog Jeremy Simon showed the power for a young person of having an idea and within hours holding it in his or her hand: “He [a ten year old] had an idea, sketched it out, and then we brought that idea into physical form – from his head to the real world in just a few hours.”

Following are goals that suggest themselves from the White House post and the powerful experience of one child that Jeremy Simon described.

Some goals of bringing 3D printing into our classrooms might be:

  • To foster the values, dispositions and skills of creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and fun.
  • To inspire the self-confidence that comes from exploration and understanding seemingly complex things in one’s environment.
  • To enable the deep understanding and problem-solving ability that results from seeing abstract ideas actualized within an age-appropriately meaningful time frame.


Finally, here are a few measurable objectives, helped by a post from Stratasys. Students will:

  • Develop familiarity with essential tools they will require to build the future.
  • Be exposed to the same cutting-edge technologies they will encounter in their careers.
  • Have opportunities to participate and become accustomed to a different mode of thinking, designing and making.
  • Develop real-world problem solving skills.


We’d like to hear your thoughts about this aim and these goals and objectives.

Can you fill out the objectives? For example, can you list specific tools students will need to build the future? Specific technologies? The specifics of how thinking, designing and making differ from the way we think, design and make now? What real-world problem solving skills are required as we enter a 3D printing era?

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Coming up: 3D Printing in Every Classroom, Part III.

3D Printing in every classroom, Part I

China to install printers in all 400,000 schools in the country.
China to install printers in all 400,000 schools in the country.

HOW to get it there: two models for getting 3DP into every classroom

Top Down 3D Printing in every classroom

In early April this year, a report began to circulate that “the Chinese government has a new policy to install a 3D printer in each of its approximately 400,000 elementary schools over the next two years.”

This bold move will station China at the forefront of the march to bring 3D printing technology to the classroom. It demonstrates a commitment to the democratization of learning, an ideal counterpart to the potential for 3D printing to democratize manufacturing or “making”.

With a printer in every classroom, all of China’s children will have an opportunity to experience this transformative technology and participate in a process that will change the way we manufacture, the way we design, the way we think.

Printers in 400,000 schools. That’s a bold and enviable initiative. It’s also a top-down initiative. What are the potential challenges involved in this approach?

Certainly preparedness of the infrastructure is a concern:

  • Will staff in every school be prepared to support and sustain this technology?
  • Will curricula be ready so that 3DP is integrated to learning in the most effective ways possible?
  • Will teachers be trained to incorporate 3DP into their classrooms in effective ways?
  • Will schools have an adequate ongoing supply of required materials?

Bottoms up 3D printing in every classroom

It’s hard to imagine us succeeding with a similar strategy in the U.S. Surely there would be years of painful budgetary wrangling accompanied by partisan attacks and counter-attacks.

In the U.S. we rely on generating excitement and interest at the grass roots level with federal and local level speeches, Maker Faires, science fairs and funding for centerpiece resources.

Last June 18, President Obama “hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged ‘every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.’” The President called for an “all hands on deck” approach and suggested six projects that might help build student participation in “making.” This June, the White House will host the second Maker Faire.

Also in 2014, The America Makes Institute was established, members of Congress established a Makers Caucus, and $240,000,000 was designated for a new digital manufacturing hub in Chicago. Another $240,000,000 in STEM Commitments announced at the National Science Fair in 2015 included specifics related to 3D printing technologyand encouraging “makers.”

Other than generating excitement and seed funding, though, it has been up to individual schools, school districts and organizations to plan for and invest in 3D printing. There are an increasing number of wonderful 3DP projects initiated in individual classrooms and schools, several I’ll highlight in 3D Print in every classroom, Part III.

In our U.S. based business, sales to teachers, schools and school districts have been brisk, amounting to about 40% of all sales. This is encouraging news for getting 3D printers into every classroom!

Within the local framework, there are somewhat wider commitments in the U.S. Last week an announcement came out about Baltimore placing 3D printers in each of its 49 Archdiocese schools.

This strategy of relying on local interest, engagement and funding may result in some gains for long-term development and maintenance.

    • Doing the research and planning that results in 3DP funding in specific schools may make them better prepared to integrate 3DP technology into the students’ world.
    • Early-on engagement in local areas may produce the interest and skills to maintain a project.

On the other hand, relying on local interest and engagement means some kids will have more access than others. Some may not have access or only delayed access.

3D printing in every classroom: Top down or bottoms up?

These two models for bringing 3D printing to the classroom are very different. Each has inherent benefits and challenges.

  • Which model do you think will work better to get sustainable 3D printing programs into every school?
  • What ideas do you have for overcoming the challenge in a bottoms up model of reaching every child in this country?

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Coming up: 3D Printing in Every Classroom, Part II.

Ask not what 3D printing can do for you…ask what you can do to transform the world with 3D printing.

Jeremy Simon chats with a visitor to the e-NABLE table at a conference in downtown Chicago.
Jeremy Simon chats with a visitor to the e-NABLE table at a conference in downtown Chicago.

3D printing: a transformative technology

I hear the word “transformative” a lot these days. Last week I had an opportunity to understand in a deeper way exactly what it means to talk about a “transformative technology”.

Jeremy was invited to represent e-NABLE at a public program on 3D printing sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in partnership with U&I Labs. Jeremy asked if I would like to join him to get a close-up look at some things going on in the field.

David Mosena, President and CEO of the Museum of Science and Industry, who introduced the keynote speaker, describes the mission of the Museum as “creating transformative experiences that get people excited about the world around them…”

There’s that word “transformative” again. And yes, a public program on 3D printing is a perfect expression of that mission. The common theme throughout the program was that 3D printing is entering every sector of our economy and lifestyle. It will transform not only the things that surround us and the way we produce them but our way of thinking about them and our world.

e-NABLE prosthetic device display at 3D print conference in downtown Chicago.
e-NABLE prosthetic device display at 3D print conference in downtown Chicago.

3D Printing: redesigning creativity?

After having a chance to meet and talk with people at the forefront of 3D printing projects in many fields of endeavor from e-NABLE’s prosthetics to medicine to robotics to sustainability and more, we enjoyed a presentation from Avi Reichental, President, CEO and Director of 3D Systems, Faculty Chair of Digital Fabrication at Singularity University and a Member of the XPRIZE Foundation innovation board.

Avi focused first on the democratization of manufacturing that 3D printing allows, pointing out the bi-directionality of that process: even as 3D printing creates a new future for us, it returns us to the roots and heritage from which we came.

Those roots ante-date the industrial revolution, going back to a time when everyone was a craftsman. What we lost in the mass production of the industrial revolution is craftsmanship and artisanship. 3D printing opens a door to a return to that as it decentralizes and democratizes industry. Our new craftsmen and artisans are the 3D makers and designers.

This vision is one that began with Chuck Hull of 3D Systems 33 years ago. His idea was to return Detroit to competitiveness as it lost market shares to the Japanese. Chuck had the idea he could work smaller and get to market faster.

This idea of Chuck’s has become a “disruptive exponential technology” that touches everything: shoes, cars, mobile devices, fashion, jet engines, medicine and food to name a few things. It is beginning to influence how we learn, how we teach, how we express ourselves and how we design.

And today we are only at the beginning of this journey! It is a journey that will change our ideas of what is possible as it transforms and disrupts the way we design and manufacture. As recently as 10 or 11 years ago, it wasn’t obvious this would all be possible. Now it is clear that it is. We have an opportunity to mainstream technology through passionate and realistic removal of friction points.

The journey will be shaped by a few trends and ideas. Within the field, the most important catalyst for progress is materials science. Today we have 120 materials from 3D Systems alone with which to print – plastics, nylon, rubber-like materials, ferrous and non-ferrous alloys.

At first we thought the “holy grail” of 3D printing would be mass customization. Now it’s clear the more important opportunity is that we can rethink designs with a complexity and functionality that weren’t possible before. Why? Because complexity and enhanced functionality is free. We no longer have to conform to the requirements of mass production.

Here are just a few benefits of the trends and new ideas emerging from the industry:

  • There isn’t as much waste, and everything is faster and less expensive.
  • Waste can be turned into beautiful objects.
  • It is possible to “get it right” the first time on big projects that cost a lot of money by using 3D modeling.
  • Manufacturing can supply a “need it now” and “fit for me” demand.
  • In medicine, errors are reduced and outcomes improved because of models and reality simulators that allow rehearsals.
  • Kids in classrooms can hold their ideas in their hands.

We are headed toward a ubiquitous 3D lifestyle that will permeate every aspect of our lives. The question isn’t should we get a 3D printer in our home but what room in our home will house the 3D printer!

Yes, there are unintended consequences. One that stands out is the possibility of printing 3D guns. With the democratization of digital craftsmanship, everyone can make things, not just designers and craftsmen. There are questions that must be answered along the way, and there will surely be regulations.

Currently technology and 3D printing are moving at exponential speeds. Regulatory and enforcement platforms are not moving at the same speed. And yet – should we restrict the flow because some misuse technology? We cannot regulate the human condition. We can just begin to educate people in charge of education and law enforcement.

And there are also unimagined consequences as we continue to transform and disrupt the way we think, design and make things. These are the things that are exciting.

Several organizations got a special mention for their work at this point, and e-NABLE was one!

3D Q&A: what are people asking?

Here are some of the questions asked by the audience, and answers from Avi Reichental:

Do you see 3D printing becoming ubiquitous? Yes, as much as the tablet or smart phones in a few years. The possibilities are unlimited as we get away from the need for a supply chain. For the first time in more than a century, we have tools that will allow anyone to start a business.

Will 3D printing replace traditional manufacturing and the jobs associated with it? No. Instead I expect a convergence of additive and subtractive technologies in the same box, a hybridization. I do think we will have to deal with issues of job learning in a massive way…with retraining and repositioning and learning new skills and developing new muscles.

What are some issues you see developing in the regulatory process? We can now do physical photography and 3D scanning for 100s of dollars, so there are questions about the value of an original design. Who owns it? What constitutes counterfeiting? Who can monetize a project? Who is entitled to royalties and revenue sharing arrangements? No one knows. What’s the value of a 20 year patent when technology doubles every year exponentially? These things will probably be tested quickly.

How does energy consumption for traditional manufacturing compare to 3D manufacturing? Studies show up to 40% net benefit in additive manufacturing vs. traditional manufacturing. More studies are needed.

Will one or two technologies begin to dominate? No. There are different machines for different purposes. We can’t look at it as a single crank engine but rather as a toolbox.

Where will the next generation of innovation come from? Each of us has access and tools so can develop digital literacy. 3D print the magic box that your own ideas jump out of: a collaborative device, a creative device, a chance to play and learn, to become an artist or a scientist or maker – create a sandbox of creativity and personalization, that’s the biggest opportunity!

The best question and response of the evening was from an 11 year old young man. He asked, ”What can 3D printing do for me that I can use?” 

The answer? Effectively it was: “Ask not what 3D printing can do for you but what you can do to transform the world with 3D printing.”

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The Best Tools for Monitoring Your 3D Prints are Your Own Eyes and Ears


I like to monitor my 3D prints closely. You can learn so much by just watching and listening to a 3D printer in action. The more closely you look and listen, the more you’ll see and hear!

For example, watching is especially important for the first layer of a print. I watch the first layer carefully to make sure the bed is perfectly leveled and the extruded plastic is being pressed flat into the build plate. I watch to ensure there’s good adhesion to the build plate, especially at the edges of the print. If any of the edges are lifting off the build plate, it’s likely to get worse and lift more as the print proceeds. This is especially true with ABS prints.

Here’s an excellent guide for visually troubleshooting issues with 3D prints. This is written for the Ultimaker 2 specifically, but much of the information is also applicable to other desktop 3D printers.

So there’s a lot we can see by watching carefully. But there’s also a lot we can “see” from careful listening! After watching the first layer, I find that I can detect some of the most common print issues by sound more readily than by sight. Each printer has a very distinct sound that it makes when everything is working properly. It’s important to become very familiar with that sound, so you can detect even the slightest variations from that.

Probably the most common example would be a sort of clicking sound that can start to occur when there are problems feeding the filament. This can be caused by a filament jam, or when the printer is being asked to extrude material faster than it can be melted and pushed out of the nozzle.  Catching this kind of issue quickly can mean the difference between a good print and a failed print, since you can pause the print job to reload the filament, or adjust flow settings, before it causes any serious problems.

If you start to hear a squeaking sound as the extruder moves around, that can indicate that it’s time to apply some lubricant to the appropriate parts of the printer, which varies by printer type.

If your extruder is instructed to move somewhere beyond the X/Y boundaries of the print bed, it can result in a loud grinding noise as the belts slip when the extruder reaches the limit of its range of movement.

These are just a few examples, but the basic idea is the same… Become very familiar with the way your printer looks and sounds when it’s working properly, and it will become much easier to identify exactly what’s going on when something does inevitably go wrong.



It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere! 3D printing in a neighborhood near you


Partnership lets you print a thing within 10 miles of home

It’s big news that now, even if you don’t own a 3D printer, you can find a design for an object that you like and get it printed. It’s even bigger news that the partnership making this possible is a merger of two key concepts that are shaping the future.

The facts: MakerBot, a subsidiary of Stratasys Ltd., made two announcements this week. The first was that it is reducing staff and closing locations. The second is that it is partnering with 3D Hubs to connect Thingiverse products to printer hubs.

As a result of this partnership, more than 1 billion people who don’t own 3D printers will be able to 3D print objects from Thingiverse within 10 miles of home by touching a button. The average turn-around time is less than two days!

One door closes, and another opens. While 3D printer sales may not have measured up in recent quarters for MakerBot, with this partnership it has taken a giant step toward “creating a 3D printing ecosystem,” in the words of Joey Neal, Chief Experience Officer at MakerBot.

Founded in 2009, MakerBot is known for having the largest installed base of desktop 3D printers. More significant in relation to this partnership is that it operates Thingiverse, the world’s largest 3D design community.

Based in Amsterdam, 3D Hubs operates the world’s largest 3D printing network. It’s a marriage made in heaven, or at least a marriage which signals a paradigm shift reaching the masses.

So what are the specifics? Thingiverse boasts more than 700,000 designs. It has invited eight of its top designers to place a button on their items, “Get This Printed.” Pressing that button will allow a consumer to choose from 15,000 3D Hubs locations where the object can be printed.

Once a location is chosen, when a user enters payment information, there is an opportunity to “tip” the designer. Formerly Thingiverse provided designers with an opportunity to showcase their work. This arrangement allows designers who choose to monetize it. Eventually it will be an option available to all designers in Thingiverse.

Everyone wins: consumers who do not yet own their own printers, both designers and general public, have the capability to get the item printed locally in a very short time. Designers have an opportunity to make some money on their creations. 3D printer owners have an opportunity to maximize the value of their investment in a 3D printer, which might otherwise have periods of “down” time.

Power to the people: partnership brings creativity and production power home

The really big 3D print news is that a paradigm shifting concept has come to our homes.

Two ideas have been an important part of the 3d print “revolution,” open source design and distributed manufacturing.

From opensource.com: “The term “open source” refers to something that can be modified because its design is publicly accessible.

“While it originated in the context of computer software development, today the term ‘open source’ designates a set of values—what we call the open source way. Open source projects, products, or initiatives are those that embrace and celebrate open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community development.”

From The World Economic Forum: “Distributed manufacturing is one of 10 emerging technologies for 2015 highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies.

“Distributed manufacturing turns on its head the way we make and distribute products. In traditional manufacturing, raw materials are brought together, assembled and fabricated in large centralized factories into identical finished products that are then distributed to the customer. In distributed manufacturing, the raw materials and methods of fabrication are decentralized, and the final product is manufactured very close to the final customer.”

So let’s think about this for a moment. At our end as consumers, we are used to hoofing it to a series of local stores to find a finished product, very likely made on the other side of the world. Usually personalization and modifications are not options other than to have a design we want added onto a factory produced t-shirt from China or some tailoring done on a mass-produced suit or dress we purchased. We are offered “options” on expensive purchases like cars to personalize them, but that’s something different. The options themselves are manufactured in the traditional way.

In an open source world, we can tinker with the code for a design to make it work exactly as we would like it to work. If we don’t have that capability, we can interact with a designer to make adjustments. It’s easy to see some of these interactions from people’s comments in Thingiverse.

It’s only the possibility of distributed manufacturing, though, that makes that personalization or customization practical. The altered code can be used to 3D print one object locally. It doesn’t have to be applied to masses of product in a centralized factory.

So here we are with a paradigm shift that will completely alter the way we think, the way we shop, the way things are produced and our economy. This paradigm shift is the result of two ideas that are core to the 3D printing industry: open source interactions and distributed manufacturing.

Bram de Zwant, CEO and co-founder of 3D Hubs, calls this a merger of creativity (MakerBot’s Thingiverse) and production power (3D Hubs local printing of custom items).

So it’s great news that we can all choose an object from Thingiverse and print it locally with a button that connects us to the resources of 3D Hubs.

But the really big news is that now it’s possible for each and every one of us to be part of a dramatic revolution in how we do things and how we think about things. Before we know it, this revolution will become so pervasive that we won’t even realize any more that we’re part of it.

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3D Printing: Shaping the Conversation on Sustainability

RecycleBot process...
RecycleBot process…

“There’s a great future in plastics.” Really?!

In 1967 when I saw The Graduate (13 times), I laughed heartily every time at this ironic exchange:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Ben is disillusioned with his parents’ lifestyle and their expectations for him. In this memorable scene in a swimming pool, Mr. McGuire shares with Ben his belief that the future is in plastics.

At that time, the general public (of which I was a young part) got that reference to plastics as a reference to something merely . . . well, tacky and phony like the world of Ben’s parents. I hardly saw it as the shape of the future.

Yet here we are in the future, and 3D print technology is helping people in all walks of life and at all ages in small and in dramatic ways, helping animals, transforming industry and our world. Much of that industry is happening in plastics. A conversation I laughed at for its irony I can now see as prophetic.

As a newbie to 3D printing and confronted every day with environmental concerns about the plastic we discard, one of my first questions was about sustainability.

It turns out there’s way more to the picture than roll after roll of plastic filament stretching into the distant future. In fact, the 3D print industry is already becoming a significant force in its contribution to the conversation on sustainability even as many begin to work on the factors that could contribute to making 3D printing anti-sustainability.

Can 3D printed plastics protect the environment?

The question of sustainability with regard to 3D printing doesn’t result in simple and clear-cut answers despite lots of enthusiasm for potentialities.

Some focus on the ways 3D printing can contribute to sustainability.  Others point to ways 3D printing may have features that mitigate against sustainability, among them that currently it requires quite a bit of electrical energy in its process. Of course there are questions about adding to the plastic load in the world.

I looked at 3 aspects of the 3D printing industry to understand how it might contribute to a sustainable future:

  • The nature of the process, that is, how 3D printing works
  • Concepts related to sustainability that are coming out of 3D print technology
  • Current projects that are contributing to sustainability

There is so much going on, but I’ve selected just a very few recent stories in each category.

2 Ways 3D printing works and how they contribute to a sustainable future

Anything that can be designed and 3D printed removes from the equation the energy involved in transportation.

One of the things that 3D print designers love about this technology is that an idea can be generated on one side of the world, put into code, transmitted in nano-seconds to the other side of the world and produced on-site for review, evaluation and adjustments. These adjustments can be returned to the designer via the internet.

Not only has this technology created new collaboration possibilities, it has created a completely new design and manufacturing model that eliminates or greatly reduces geographical and related time and energy considerations.

Anything that can be designed and 3D printed can reduce waste.

The old model for manufacturing was to produce a mass of items in the hope they would sell. The new model for manufacturing is to 3D print exactly what has been sold or is needed.

In addition, 3D printing is additive. Instead of taking a pile of material, using what is needed and dealing with a remainder as in traditional manufacturing . . . material is added in layers exactly as needed without the cutaway waste.

There are disclaimers: one is that many 3D projects require supports which are discarded after manufacture. Smart developers are producing new solutions to this and other problems every day.

3 Concepts from 3D printing that contribute to sustainability

Modeling (Rapid Prototyping). The possibility of creating models during the planning stage saves time, energy and material in every area of endeavor, from medicine to city planning to agriculture to food and much more.

“Most current 3D printers are not used to create final consumer products. Rather, they are generally employed for rapid product prototyping, or to produce moulds or mould masters that will in turn allow the production of final items. Such printing of 3D objects already enables engineers to check the fit of different parts long before they commit to costly production, architects to show detailed and relatively low-cost scale models to their clients, and medical professionals or archaeologists to handle full-size, 3D copies of bones printed from 3D scan data. There are also a wide range of educational uses.”

Circularity. Plastic items (PLA and ABS plastic waste) can be turned into filament for printing new items. Alternatively the plastic from failed prints can be recycled to print another item.

Going local. Items that typically involve manufacturing or harvesting in distant locations and shipping can be 3D printed as locally as in your own home.

This new paradigm could change the meaning of “going local.” With consumers printing at home, emissions from transporting finished products could fall. Future printing with locally recycled feedstock could substantially reduce emissions from shipping raw materials as well. This create-on-demand model is also much more efficient than mass-producing and shipping potentially unwanted, excess items, and could eventually cut down on the need for product packaging.”

2 Current practical applications contributing to sustainability

Plastic Waste (recycling and repurposing). 

Plastic Bank. This is a project I love — a recycling project that is so much more than recycling! Not only does this project work to reduce the impact of plastic on our environment, it empowers the deeply disadvantaged in the process.

From TechRepublic: “Society does not fully value plastic. That’s the idea behind the Plastic Bank, which calls for harvesting and repurposing plastic, turning it into a valuable currency.”

RecycleBotCloser to home, literally: we have printers that are the first step toward recycling and repurposing plastic waste in our own homes! RecycleBot turns old plastic milk bottles and more into filament and new objects.

I’m not yet going to list these 3D food printed applications as current and practical because they are in early experimental stages, but someday it will be possible for those who eat meat to eat it without the tremendous toll on our environment and our fellow creatures.

Edible Growth by Chloe Rutzerveld
Edible Growth by Chloe Rutzerveld

Here’s one last useful food idea I want to watch: Edible Growth, by food and concept designer Chloé Rutzerveld. The project is described in her blog and in CNet.

Imagine the impact on our environment and on nutritionally disadvantaged populations when these 3D printed applications toward a more sustainable future are fully realized.

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Exploring the art of 3D printing and related technologies