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Fly me to the moon...well, at least over the Wiltshire Downs.

"Engineers at the University of Southampton have developed an unmanned air vehicle (UAV) whose entire structure has been printed, including wings, integral control surfaces and access hatches."



The plane, which the researchers call a SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) has actually proven flight capable, flying over the Wiltshire Downs, moving from the theoretical into the real. Researchers took only a few weeks to design and fabricate a flight-worthy UAV using snap-fit components on a EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine.

"The electric-powered UAV has a wingspan of about 6.5 ft, has a top speed of nearly 100 miles per hour, and runs almost silent when in cruise mode. The team even equipped it with a miniature autopilot."

Professor Jim Scanlan ( Southampton Computational Engineering and Design Research group) credits laser sintering with providing the flexibility to explore more complex design elements that would be prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing. 

It is interesting stuff but I couldn't help but find myself thinking of battlefield fabricated predator drones buzzing (albeit stealthily) overhead.

Read about it HERE.

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Aug 14 2011

Spencer Kelly at BBC CLICK provides a short introductory walk through of 3D Fabrication and touches on some of the mainstream applications for it while getting his head printed in miniature.

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Aug 1 2011

The Sketchchair

Posted by: iain |
Tagged in: 3D printing

This is a great idea and the designs look good, but maybe someone needs to build a sister site that designs open source pillows.

"The goal for this project is not just to complete the software and release the source code, but also to build an online community of people creating, sharing and editing designs."

Going on the premise that, while digital manufacturing processes have great potential in terms of innovative manufacture, there is not much in terms of accessible software that allows for useful, customizable products you can take and personalize. So, SketchChair have made it possible for users to design and upload chair designs to an open library. Sort of a chair Repository.
"SketchChair will be a free, open-source software tool that allows anyone to easily design and build their own digitally fabricated furniture"


Once they are uploaded they become freely available and open to customization and design evolution by anyone who wants to do so. Go there, grab a design and tweak, refine, change, sell or give away. "In this way we hope that SketchChair will be like an open-source Ikea store, filled with customisable products! ". I might not of used the IKEA reference as that just makes me think of all that tatty furniture and cheap candles I was surrounded by in the student ghetto I lived in during undergrad. However, I like the idea of sharing and encouraging design even if it reminds some of disposable softwood furniture with beer bottle rings all over them and a residual smell of wood glue.

It is clear this sort of thinking doesn't stop people designing and I like the chairs. I wouldn't mind the "Tote Lounger" myself.

Anyway, the issue isn't the chairs themselves, it is seeing the practical follow through to the belief that creating a constantly evolving forum for practical design that isn't stifled by copyright issues that is exciting. Nice. Get in there and design and share something, then see someone take it and shape it how they want. If you aren’t into chairs do it with something else. Sharing makes you feel good.


Information like this wants to be free and should be...even if there is a danger it could give you waffle-ass.


Check it out at:


or at Kickstarter:

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Jul 25 2011


Posted by: iain |
Tagged in: technology, bioprinting, 3D printing

recent article by Bonnie Berkowitz in the Washington Post discusses bioprinting and touches on its implications for organ replacement.

I occasionally get an uncomfortable feeling when reading news articles about 3D fabrication, particularly in the mainstream press. They can take on a simplistic tone that makes me think of a B movie sci-fi script or that young children are the target audience (“The machine looks like the offspring of an Erector Set and an ink jet printer. The “ink” feels like apple sauce and looks like icing”) but maybe I am imagining it and the writer was simply hungry when she wrote the piece. Or perhaps the concepts are just so large and potentially far-reaching that we are all struggling to find the right words to accurately corral and shape them to our understanding. I don’t know though, I think people are able to get more than we sometimes give them credit for, it just falls upon us to communicate the ideas well and in doing so perhaps giving shape to the concepts.

Despite my issues with the presentation, it is gratifying to see such an interesting field within 3D fabrication being discussed.

Researchers in bioprinting like Tony Atala, (Director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine) and Lawrence Bonassar, (Cornell University) are using a “pearly material” made up of human cells that resembles "icing" (hmmm...) to experiment with printing human organs and bones.

“The possibilities for this kind of technology are limitless” said Lawrence Bonassar. His lab has already printed vertebral tissue that has been successfully introduced in mice. “Everyone has a mother or brother or uncle, aunt, grandmother who needs a meniscus or a kidney or whatever, and they want it tomorrow ... The promise is exciting.”

The article goes on to say that there are many challenges ahead and this bioprinting technology is many years away from creating the more complex organs. Up to now, even the less complex body parts to fabricate such as skin and vertebral disks have not been put in human bodies yet. However, they are expected to be ready for human trials within two to five years.

“Scientists say the biggest technical challenge is not making the organ itself, but replicating its intricate internal network of blood vessels, which nourishes it and provides it with oxygen.”

Accordingly, it is believed that the best initial option is to create an intermediary environment that encourages the majority of the cells to grow on their own once the major support vessels within the organ have been fabricated.

“The cells, after all, have been functioning within the body already in some capacity, either as part of the tissue that is being replaced or as stem cells in fat or bone marrow. (Donor stem cells could be used, but ideally cells would come directly from the patient.)”

“The cells are actually the tissue engineers, so the people that do the work are just cheerleaders,” said Rocky Tuan, director of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “When we do tissue engineering, we are accelerating what the cells normally do. I tell people its assisted living, because we help the cells. We build all the houses and everything, and then we say, ‘Cells, come in and do your thing.’ ” If the cells do their thing correctly, the organ lives and grows just as the original once did.”

The technical difficulties are not the only hurdles. Keith Murphy, (co-founder of Organovo) believes that it would take less than ten years to make a kidney if the American government created a ‘human organ project’ and made it a goal to manufacture a human kidney but that would take a massive commitment of resources. And then there is the issue of clearing it with the Food and Drug Administration.

The article concludes looking at the possibility of fabricating an entire human being. Something it describes as science fiction.

“While a complex organ would be the holy grail for most tissue engineers, some like to look even farther ahead, straight into science fiction.”

“If one can bioprint functional human organ constructs, then bioprinting a whole human — or whatever will be the name for such a creature — is just a logical extension,” says Vladimir Mironov, a pioneer in the field.

We are hastily assured that not everyone feels that this is necessary and the more typical way of producing humans works pretty well. Okay.

Whatever the case, a couple of interesting points came up. One is the flexibility in producing what is desired and that fabrication is not locked to any specific location; human organs to go as it were. Regardless of the specific application, the portability and future customizability of production is starting to become evident. There can be no doubt that there will have to be huge shifts in how we deal with a manufacturing process that can undermine manufacturing monopolies and effect how we see personal ownership and trade. What changes will 3D printing cause in transport and the exchange of commodities. Will changes such as these release us from many of the more mundane aspects of daily life that we just accept as a given? “I don’t need to go to the Mall; I’ll just make it here”. Science fiction indeed.

What happens when we don’t have to travel, when we don’t have to line up for daily commodities… when we don’t have to burn vast quantities of fuel to transport those commodities over large distances? What happens to the commodities themselves when they lose monetary value based on rarity ( a rarity that might well have been created simply by limiting access to them)? I find myself thinking back to the music industry before you could share MP3s or produce your own music so easily. It could be argued that we have a more dynamic and varied music scene than we have had for a long time because such accessibility encouraged small, non-mainstream musicians to produce music in the “garage” and get it out there but I don’t know if the major record labels would say that. What happens when that occurs to an ever increasing number of objects? What happens to Wal-Mart? And by extension what on earth (literally) will we do with all the discarded junk when we grow bored of it?

Maybe we will become fat dissocialized lumps that need 3D printers to create our organs as they languish from loneliness and misuse in our decaying unexercised bodies…or maybe we will make super humans…who knows at this point?

As a final note on the article, I also found myself wondering why the writer chose to finish by assuring the reader that not everyone is considering fabricating whole humans and that the more traditional ways of reproduction are still pretty good. Why do that? It's probably my imagination but the future moral and ethical debates at a society wide level are going to be picked up as people realize that issues like the stem cell debate pale when discussing the possibility of producing whole humans. Imagine the letters to the editor when that sort of furore ensues? Will conservatives still be outraged if we don’t have to use the stem cells of a foetus to produce the real meat and gristle of the human form? Will debates regarding the existence of the soul intensify when we create an exact human form in a fabricator? Will such outrage be limited to conservatives only?

What happens to reproduction’s last mysteries when the human form is manufactured exactly as if from a human womb, simply, or rather not that simply ex vivo?

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Jul 23 2011

The Glif

Posted by: iain |
Tagged in: gadgets, 3D printing

Simple can be elegant.


Not much to say really. It is small, simple and pretty cool…. And it means you don’t have to prop your iPhone 4 precariously against a coffee mug when you want to watch a movie. And it reminds me that we should all be looking at 3D fabrication to access our creativity the way Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost at Glif have done. They had an idea and then used Kickstarter (another neat idea) to get it moving. Thanks for the nudge.


Check it out at:


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Jul 21 2011

Despite the usual Sci-fi B movie tone that many of THESE ARTICLES take when dealing with 3D fab (“They are machines straight out of ''Star Trek'' or ''The Jetsons.”) we are reminded again that there is a lot of space to be utilized in terms of what you want to make and sell in the personal fabrication industry.

The CNN Money article says that because sophisticated 3D printers are generally too expensive or require too much building at home (people like those at Fab@home might disagree) independent fabrication companies that take orders are filling the gap that artists and entrepreneurs need when working their ideas up in 3D fabrication.

Designers are going to Shapeways, Pocono, Sculpteo and other companies with their designs to be printed. This allows small companies and private designers to bring their creations to fruition and then get them to the market. The printers also allow designers and entrepreneurs to try out prototypes inexpensively first. Just look at the Glif, an iPhone tripod. On the journey to a final product they used 3D fab to create the milestones… milestones that are turning out to be as popular as the final product.

With the simplicity and flexibility of our new software I suspect the journey will be all the more pleasant.

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The next great step in additive 3D manufacturing is upon us. Bored with sticky molten plastics and metal powders that get everywhere? Hungry after a lonely day sitting at your 3D printer geeking out? Look no more; researchers at the University of Exeter have designed a printer that creates objects using chocolate instead of the more prosaic plastic or titanium powder.


In terms of technology there are, admittedly, no great paradigm shifting leaps occurring here… but who cares? It tastes good! Successive layers of chocolate are still being laid down as they would using resin, plastic or other, more permanent substances, the difference is that now you can eat it…or use it ingratiate yourself with a materialistic loved one on Valentine’s Day. In addition to the pleasure gained from circumventing the grasping artificiality of the Romance Industry’s fondest cash cow you get to customize your edible message and gain brownie (forgive the pun) points for “taking the time to make something special” for that unique someone.

Hugs and kisses (albeit cavity-ridden ones) all round! Hopefully enough to distract you from your burgeoning waistline, decaying molars and the scorching sugar high gained from sampling your creations all day.

And, ultimately, if your obsession with 3D manufacturing precludes you actually ever getting a date with the person of your dreams, your latest creation will provide edible solace as you sit alone surrounded by the busy hum of your next great, but probably misunderstood, project being manufactured.

Mmmm, chocolate.

Check out Printer Produces Personalized 3D Chocolate. (BBC online, July 5, 2011).


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