back to article WTF is... 3D printing

Head along to London's Design Museum and you'll find a remarkable shoe on display until August. Called the Melonia Shoe, it’s perhaps not what most Reg Hardware readers would wear, but it is remarkable, not so much for the design, but because it was printed by Belgian product prototyping company Materialise and Sweden-based …


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  1. Dilbert1969

    Candy FAB

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Raggs

      May be repeating myself

      Can't see my first comment, and I'm not sure if I actually posted it. So just a short one.

      The kinect camera is being used by everyone and his dog as a cheap 3d model producer.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Owen Carter

      subtractive vs additive tech

      My dentist tried this for a time, but has gone back to making a 3d model of the stump with a scanner/camera but sending off for the crowns. So it's back to a 2-treatment system for them. I never bothered to ask why they stopped, it may be cost.. or it may be that having longer to prepare the replacements results in a better prognosis.

      Please note, however, that this is a subtractive process, starting from preprepared blanks and removing material. 3d printing (as per this article) is additive.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    you can see the process in action in this video

    is it just me?

    What video?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Video now added

      Sorry - link got missed out inadvertently.

  4. lIsRT
    Thumb Up

    but, the price of the cartridges will be the killer

    Sometime in the next few decades, the people who brought us the "You wouldn't download a car." anti-piracy advert are going to look very, very silly.*






    * Well, a bit more than they already did.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Indeed they will

      HP's website lists the price of a spool of black ABS at £650 plus VAT. Based on the specs, that's roughly £1 per cubic centimetre.

      1. John Bailey


        Makerbot lists a Kilo of ABS filament for $43-55.. I imagine there is some difference though.. The Makerbot printers are pretty low resolution, small object printers.

        No doubt, the big printer manufacturers will eventually bring out consumer models..

        But the question is.. Can they pull the same "Gillette" model for that business? Especially when they start selling printers that will possibly be able to print out cartridges for the filament?

        I have an inkjet printer.. I pay at most, about a fiver for a set of inks. I think the first few generations at least, will be the same kind of people.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    This will sure change the anime figure industry~~~

    *awaits the day when layouts for delicious railgun are published on share*

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


    When I can 3D print myself a hamburger with the lot that still tastes good, there is no point in any further human technological advance. That is the pinnacle.

  7. Raggs
    Thumb Up

    3D printing inconjunction with Kinect

    Utilising this with the equally cheap and accessible 3d scanner that is Kinect, I'd guess replication of a lot of different, simple, household objects could be achieved. Or of course, scan your own foot, and use that as a digital mould for your own printed shoes. Etc etc.

    Fun and games :D.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Paris Hilton

      its already done...

      There is a video floating around youtube where 3 hacked kinects were attached to a pc and were used to model people and print out a mini statue of themselves........

      just wait until the porn industry gets hold of this technology and you can download and print the appendages of your favourite porn stars... for her pleasure! (or his as the case may be)

      paris for obvious reasons...

  8. There's a bee in my bot net

    Next wave of copyright hoo ha... is a pretty neat idea - you can put your models in a gallery for other people to print and they also offer a full colour ceramic-ish printing. Reasonably priced too if you are making hollow models.

    Looking forward to desktop models with built in laser scanners being as cheap as colour laser printers. Parts photocopying will bring with it loads more industries complaining about copyright... sit back and enjoy the fun!

  9. LuMan

    Hasn't this been done before?

    I'm sure those two geeks did it in Weird Science and printed Kelly LeBrock!

    1. Ilsa Loving

      Improved technology

      Those two geeks were simply at the forefront of the technology wave. Now, thanks to modern engineering techniques, it is no longer necessary to wear a bra on your head.

      1. Jason Hall


        It might not actually be necessary, but would wouldn't want to?

  10. Tom Wood


    the challenge to aim for has got to be a self-replicating 3D printer?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.


      That's partly what RepRap is about (and indeed what the 'Rep' in the name stands for). It can print all its own plastic parts, and has also been used in the creation of some PCBs, though of course things like the motors are a bit tricky.

    2. WonkoTheSane
      Thumb Up

      Self replicating?

      Reprap can print all its plastic parts already.

      As the design is open source, many owners do this to recoup their costs.

    3. Havin_it

      BAAAD idea

      Icon should say it all.

      Dunno why some miserable twunt downvoted you though - humour in short supply today is it?

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Falanx


    The only downside of course to 3D Printing structures is those that intended to have anisotropic mechanical properties, like, oh, I don't know EADS airframe parts.

    There's a reason why we still forge metal.

    With heat, and everything.

    1. SmallYellowFuzzyDuck, how pweety!

      Direction, yes

      Well you can have expoxy glue loaded with metal particles, it's expensive glue to make but it's conductive and can be very strong.

      There are 3D printers that should be able to work with it without much modification.

      Who knows what the future may hold.

    2. Code Monkey

      Downside, but a small one

      The downside of not being useful for absolutely everything isn't that bad.

      And yes, we should continue to make planes out of stronger stuff!

    3. Kimo

      title here

      For smaller parts, there are printers that use a wax to make originals for lost-wax casting. Still takes another step to get the metal part, but allows easier production than traditional methods.

  12. JDX Gold badge


    Imagine being able to print a **** or maybe a ****. Or even, a copy of your favourite model..

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme


      gives a whole new meaning to Rule 34

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Good idea

        Now if we can just fix those airport scanners to work as an input...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Dear god no....

          I've been working at an airport today and believe me, the mouth breathers who pass through those scanners.... No, just NO.

  13. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    this is news?!?

    Jay Leno (American comedian/talk show host) had a feature on this several years ago. He is an avid collector of classic cars, one of which is an ancient steamer. He needed to replace a part for which there is no longer any replacement available. Rather than pay exorbitant sums for a custom piece made using traditional methods, he went to a local shop that had a 3d scan/print device. The old part was scanned by the computer, then the printer spit out the part within a few minutes. Granted the part was plastic and would be used for the purpose of making a proper casting mold, but it was an exact replica that fit perfectly.

    Video of this bit, which was shown on his TV series, is available from the usual sources. The most interesting bit for me was at the end when they "printed" an adjustable spanner - complete with the proper moving parts.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Dead Vulture

      No its not news

      I remember seeing 3d printing being demoed at Strathcylde University in September 2000.

  14. Identity

    Seems to me...

    I remember reading on these very pages a couple of years back about an 'Ozzie gel' who'd invented a way to print solar panels.

  15. Stuart Halliday

    what is 3D printing?

    Eh? This is suppose to be a technical site guys.

    We all know what 3D Printing is!

    You'll be tell us what 'CPU' and 'RAM' is next....

  16. mafoo

    Equipment Price

    Evidently a lot of the patents covering the lasers-in-powder printing methods will expire in about 4-5 years so the price of equipment should drop around then.

    The only downside is i don't see the size of the equipment shrinking significantly as the trough for the medium has to be as big as the object you want to make (in 2 dimensions at least).

  17. Darryl
    Thumb Up

    Reminded me of an old story

    Xerox having to recall their new "Reprotron 5000" 3D copiers...

    (Thumbs up - you'll see the reference in the story)

  18. Flybert

    rapid prototype engineering around a while

    I recall a golf club company around 1999 cutting layers of paper with a laser, bonding them together to create prototypes for wood driver head designs

    a couple of years ago seeing a method of building by laying down layers of cement to make walls ..

    did not Ford have a commercial some years ago showing a laser hardened polymer part rising up from the goo tank ?

    it's a great subject though .. should be brought up more often

  19. Robin Bradshaw


    I have no idea how it compares to using a kinnect to capture a 3D object but another way to do it is with david laser scanner

  20. J 3

    But what if...

    What if it suddenly tells you "PC Load Letter", then what? Take it to a field, with a bat, ...?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other Uses

    It wasn't mentioned in the article, but one of the main advantages of the technology is its ability to produce parts that can't be made by traditional means, one of the best examples I've seen was a transparent castle tower, complete with spiral staircase but formed out of a single piece of material. Novelty items aside it opens the door to producing items that, until now were impossible to make.

  22. Joe Desbonnet

    3D printing with paper

    MCor Technologies has an interesting take on this: 3D printing with regular paper as the working material:

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    BTW f1 teams are meant to be using this for their gears

    At first it was plastic cores for lost wax casting but progressed to laser sintering of metal gears.

    Note this was some years ago. It should either be common practice or abandoned.

    One thing that surprised me on seeing my first stereo lithography part was that it could make cylindrical parts at right angles to the direction of *travel* of the head which were pretty smooth. I'd expected to see grains like expanded polystyrene, but nothing was visible.

    There was also a British Gas project to make fuel cells using a modified ink jet printer (as specialist gear did not even exist at that time).

    Key challenges seem to surface finish and the ability to manufacture "power" components IE conductive/strong enough to handle the prime mover or the forces their operation will generate (the F1 gears *transmit* forces, are axisymentric and operate in compression)

    A subset of this is the apparently limited ability to do semiconductors, which are obviously a key part of integrating more control components into a finished system-in-a-part.

    I think people may be focusing on these systems as a *total* solution to making a part instead of a key part of a "think making" system.

    While delivering a part that performs multiple functions can be *very* satisfying a design of multiple parts (possibly all made together) processed and assembled *after* manufacture may deliver a faster solution (which maybe *the* critical parameter for some people).

    Not smooth enough?

    Consider electro-polishing or "Liquid honing"

    Too tough to release part from support?

    Consider adding perforations around it to cut the part out with a saw, etching or electrochemical machining? Or build in flexures so most of the block is part and not filler (so less filler to strip) and then fold over the relevant joints to give the component. Consistent, reliable flexure design is considered *very* tricky so not for the feint hearted.

    It is *highly* unlikely this will ever be a mass production technology but for short run (or *unique*) mfg purposes this is still near the *start* of the art. Your own unique laptop//iphone/mp3 case? Protective sports equipment that fits you like it was hand made?

    In 1997 John Woo opened Face/Off with a color matched ear being built in a tank using stereo lithography.

    If we can't do *all* of that by now (I'm guessing color is likely to be the problem) then the next research project already exists. Temporary (convincing) prostheses which fit *properly* should absolutely be a target application for this.

  24. Lamont Cranston


    Earl Grey.


    No? Don't want one, then.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    3D printing of concrete.

    I've seen that one. Ok, the nozzle in the printer head wasn't exactly small, but nonetheless, the wall was seamless. Bonus for all the cuts and voids that would be soon filled with piping, wires, etc... avoiding to break the thing after built.

    In fact, the equipment is the same used in shotcrete, except there was an encoder and drives guiding where the nozzle should spit the concrete.

    Now that cartridge ain't cheap.

  26. Anonymous Coward


    its a pity that the author used a picture of reprap 1 (Darwin) instead of reprap 2 (Mendel)...

    after reading this article and doing a little goggling on the subject, I cant wait for my reprap kit to arrive... it has to be the most geeky tool to add to my collection...

    I have planned to build a custom PC built into a desk for a long time. this will be the perfect tool to make prototype bezels and custom mounting brackets....

    and can we have proper geek icon please !!

  27. Martin an gof Silver badge

    The Diamond Age

    Anyone else read William Gibson's The Diamond Age? I remember thinking when I first met a 3D printed object in 2001 (a spanner) that it sounded just like the first generation of machine that would end up as the "matter compiler" of Gibson's 1995 book...

    I know these things take time, but most of the stuff given as examples here doesn't seem terribly far advanced over the parts I met 10 years ago, and it was obviously not new technology then sitting, as the spanner was, in a post-grad's desk drawer up (near) Sheffield...


  28. Martin an gof Silver badge

    The Diamond Age

    Totally thick, me, I said William Gibson. Should of course have been Neal Stephenson.



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