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3D Printing

73 Posts authored by: Cabe Atwell


Michelin unveils Vision, a proof of concept tire that uses biodegradable materials and 3D printing to its advantage. These sleek looking tires won’t be available for a while (Photo from Michelin)


The other day I was crushing a 3D printed part in a vice to see how strong it was. Some prints are crazy-strong, especially when they’re made of Delrin or ABS. I thought it would be cool to have a 3D printed bicycle tire. A loose idea for the IoT on Wheels Design Challenge I was thinking about. But, Michelin too it even further than I was imagining!


It seems like every product is turning into a smart device: cars with park assist, refrigerators with touchscreens, and systems like Google Home that can control elements of your house. But ever think about how an ordinary car tire can be smarter? Michelin shows they’re ahead of the game with their new concept tire, Vision. The tire looks like something out of a sci-movie with its blue webbed design and sleek appearance. The tire is set with various environmentally friendly features along with some abstract ideas. Right now Vision is just a proof of concept, so don’t expect to order a set yet. Making its debut in the States last week, Vision shows off various features that the company hopes will work its way down into future mass-market tires.


It looks good, but what exactly makes it different? For one, Vision is a wheel and an airless tire. Because the entire mechanical structure is strong enough to support a car, it doesn’t need rims. It’s also flexible enough to absorb impact and pressure meaning there’s no need for inflation. Imagine not having to dread driving over a ragged road or keeping a spare tire in case of a random blowout. This structure isn’t entirely new. Some of the company’s existing tires, like ones for golf carts, use similar structures.


Not only are the tires strong, but they’re environmentally friendly as well. Similar to traditional tires, Vision is made of rubber, but it comes from compounds from organic, recyclable materials. For example, the resin uses orange zest instead of petroleum. Other materials used to make the tire includes natural rubber, bamboo, paper, tin cans, wood, and plastic. So once the tire is unusable, the whole thing can be recycled instead of sitting in dumpsters. The attempt to go green is notable, but it will be a while before whole production lines make tires using organic materials.


Another issue traditional tires face is tread degradation. Over time, tire treads wear down due to friction. Vision overcomes this by using 3D printers to repair the read as needed. Michelin envisions 3D printing being useful if you need a new tread pattern for different terrains and environments. Built in sensors in the tire monitor help you keep track of tread wear along with giving you real time information about performance and maintenance via a companion app. This is also how you order 3D printed tread replacements.


It all sounds promising and useful, but since this is a proof of concept, we won’t be seeing Vision on the road anytime soon. Hopefully, we can look forward to some of these elements in our standard tires as Michelin aims to do. For now, it’s best to keep that spare tire in the trunk for emergencies.



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The isokinetic structure is based on the Hoberman Sphere. (Image credit The People’s Industrial Design Office)


Taking a 3D image of yourself can be a difficult endeavor to undertake unless you have access to expensive equipment such as full-body scanners or handheld imaging devices. You could also go the DIY route, but that takes time, money and talent. Or perhaps you could take advantage of the People’s Industrial Design Office’s (PIDO) option- take over 100 DSLR cameras and fit them to mounts inside a geodesic, illuminated dome, to capture your entire body in high-resolution detail.


The Beijing-based company designed the 3D Copypod around the Hoberman sphere- an isokinetic dome capable of expanding and contracting through the scissor-like action of its joints. With this design, users can scan both large and small objects using minimal effort and without the need for intensive reconstruction/repositioning efforts.



The panels attached to the frame are lit from within, eliminating shadows. (Image credit the People’s Industrial Design Office)


According to PIDO, “With minimal adjustment, the 3D Copypod can contract to scan small objects and expand large enough to scan a group of people.” They go on to state, “With minimal adjustment, the 3D Copypod can contract to scan small objects and expand large enough to scan a group of people.” Keeping the design simple is what makes the scanner unique, outfitting it with over 100 DSLR cameras is what makes it effective- “with the snap of a camera, even subjects in motion can be captured in high quality and full color.”


What’s more, each light panel is illuminated from within, effectively eliminating any shadow on the subject or object, making for clear and precise images. Each DSLR camera mounted to the dome takes a high-resolution image, which is then stitched together to create a 3D model, however PIDO doesn’t specify what software they’re using to do so.



External view of the 3D Copypod, complete with lighting connections. (Image credit the People’s Industrial Design Office)


PIDO’s design is truly ingenious and fairly easy to construct using six interlocking ‘great circles’ or geodesic panels, which are interconnected to one other using scissor joints to form an icosidodecahedron shape. On the other hand, getting your hands on a hundred DSLR cameras might set you back some serious money.



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A team of researchers at Dartmouth re-create a Utah climbing route using 3D printing, 3D models, and scanning. Researchers analyzed photos of actual climbers to successfully recreate the route (Photo from Dartmouth)


I've 3D printing a lot of parts lately, here's one I didn't think of! From creating clothes to making 3D food, researchers and creators all over are constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries of the technology. This includes a group of Dartmouth researchers who used 3D printing, modeling and scanning to recreate a full-scale replica of an outdoor climbing route. Led by assistant professor Ladislay Kayan and Emily Whiting, two decided to recreate the popular Pilgrimage route located in St. George, Utah.


The issue with a lot of 3D printing is durability. So how did the team manage to re-create this route, which has to be strong enough to support humans? First, they created a 3D model of the route using hundreds of photos taken from various angles. But attempting to create the mountain face based solely on 3D printing would be expensive and difficult. Instead, they decided to recreate the handholds and footholds climbers depend on while traversing the route. They did this by filming someone climbing the route and mapping out their skeletal structure. They then took the mapping and overlaid it onto the 3D model of the mountain. This allowed the team to correctly place footholds and handholds.


For creating the climbing aids themselves, they relied on a computer-operated router to form models of the various holds, followed by overlaying them with a silicon mold. From there, the mold is filled with a casting resin for the final process. The fabrication phase is still a work in progress. The team is still trying to find the best materials for recreating the textures of rock for a more realistic climbing experience.


While this creation process would be ideal for climbing walls in gyms, the team believes it has more potential. Recreating historical rock features and reassembling crime scenes are just some of the ideas they have for their creation process. They also think it’ll be possible to crowdsource other routes where climbers submit photos to a special database, which maps out and models routes from around the world. Kind of like having your favorite climbing trail, but in the comfort of your own home.


The project also shows conservation potential. An issue with natural climbing routes is the more they’re used, the more the surface begins to erode and wear down. Choosing to climb on a 3D printed replica could reduce the number of climbs, helping preserve the environment and keep other climbers safe.


This is all still a work in progress, so it’s not ready for the masses. So, you’ll still have to hit up your local gym if you want an “at home” climbing experience.


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Researchers from various universities have created a 3D printed patch that goes on the heart and heals scarred tissue. Tests being conducted on a mouse heart (Image via University of Minnesota)


Whether you’re scrolling through Facebook or watching the news, we are constantly reminded how important it is to take care of our heart. Heart disease is the top cause of death in the States killing more than 360,000 people a year, according to the American Heart Association. Heart attacks play a big role in that statistic and is still a major problem in the US. Even for those who survive heart attacks, there is significant damage done to the heart that may never get repaired no matter how hard doctors try. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. A team of scientists may have just found a way to patch up your heart with a 3D printed patch.


Researchers from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Alabama-Birmingham have developed a 3D-printed cell patch that heals scarred and heart tissue. They used laser-based bioprinting to fit stem cells based on an adult human heart, to a matrix based off a 3D scan of heart tissue’s native proteins. Once the cells grew, the matrix replicated the structures of normal heart tissues and began beating in sync.


Initial tests were conducted on a mouse who wore the patch after a simulated heart attack. Over the span of four weeks, researchers noticed an increase in functional capacity. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the patch was eventually absorbed into the heart eliminating the need for further operations.


Results so far are promising, but the team knows there’s still a lot of work to do before the patch can actually be used on a human heart. The team remains optimistic saying patches for human hearts should be ready “within the next several years.” To help achieve this goal, they’re moving on to the next step, which involves running tests on a pig heart; it’s similar in size to a human heart.


Other researchers have tried to create a similar patch, but what makes this research different is how the patch is modeled after a digital, 3D scan of proteins in native heart tissue. 3D printing makes it possible to reach the micron resolution required to replicate structures of native heart tissue.


If this all pans out, then recovery from a heart attack would only require implanting a small patch. You would still have to be cautious and take care of yourself, but with the patch, there may be no need for additional surgeries. Still, it doesn’t change that fact that any surgery involving the heart is a delicate process. The team made no mention how invasive the procedure may or may not be. But you can’t discount how amazing this prospect would be.



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GE Ventures has previously worked with Xometry and recently gave them $23 million in funding. Xometry is an online platform that provides pricing, time leads, and feedback for manufacturers (Photo from Xometry)


When online shopping started over 20 years ago, no one could’ve imagined half the things you can buy online: cars, houses, groceries, and furniture. But buying products and parts online isn’t so easy for manufacturers. The process is long and arduous involving a lot of bidding and losing precious time. Xometry is a new software program looking to take the pain out of buying parts.



A sample of what the website looks like (Photo from Xometry)


Xometry is a software platform that offers on-demand manufacturing to a wide customer base. Some of their biggest customers come from aerospace, automotive, defense, medical, technology, and telecommunications industries. The platform offers on-time and efficient service by using industrial 3D printing technology to make the parts. And unlike standard industrial machines, this process offers parts in many different materials, including nylon, ABS, ULTEM, and aluminum alloy.


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Some of the infill 3D printing options Xometry offers. That 100% fill looks nice! (Photo from Xometry)


So how does it work? Think of Xometry as Amazon mixed with Uber for manufacturers. Orders are placed through the company’s website, which offers pricing, times, and feedback. This makes a previous time-intensive process, simple since connects small to medium sized manufacturers to their customers in various industries.


This is where Xometry acts as a “network orchestrator” to connect manufacturers to their customer base. All customers have to do is upload a 3D file and place your order. The service is already doing pretty well on its own. Their network has grown with over 4000 customers and manufacturing partners in 35 states. Now it’s about to get bigger with some help from GE Ventures.


Recently, Xometry scored $23 million in funding from GE and other investors, like Highland Capital Partners. Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director of Advanced Manufacturing at GE, believes this new partnership will “transform American manufacturing.” GE’s been interested in the company for years since they’ve used their services and found themselves impressed with the result.



Xometry offers a wide variety of materials for their parts (Photo from Xometry)


Any company that’s interested can easily sign up for free without worrying about bidding for jobs. Rather, partners get notifications when orders that fit their capabilities get placed. They can also get access to pricing and lead time 24/7. Hopefully, this new service will make it easier for companies to finish their jobs faster and more efficiently.


This all might sound like a commercial, it isn't. I am always looking for printing services. Shapeways, and similar sites, have room for competition. And that means more options for us makers.



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MIT has come up with a structure using just carbon which is ten times the strength of steel, but only 5% of its density. Lighter than air, 3D graphene structures could take engineering and design by storm. A 3-D printed model of gyroid graphene (via MIT &


Steel has thus far been the gold standard for construction materials. Steel is strong, resists compression and stretching, and supports heavy weight. What if it were possible to build with materials even stronger than steel, but with only a fraction of its weight?


This is just what engineers at MIT have been working on for years, and recently, they have created a material which does exactly that.


Graphene, made entirely of carbon, is like a piece of paper-it’s two-dimensional. Much like the graphite in a pencil or the diamond in a ring, the strength and functionality of graphene lay in the way the carbon atoms are arranged. Graphite has one arrangement of carbon, whereas diamond has another. What the MIT researchers did was simply take the two-dimensional, paper-like arrangement of graphene and rearrange it into coiling shapes.


Those coils are what give the new graphene its incredible strength and lightness.


The coils are also known as gyroids, a term coined by NASA scientist Alan Schoen back in the 1970’s. Gyroids have no planar symmetry; they are bendy, twisty shapes that increase the flexibility and strength of any given material, and as it turns out, are remarkably abundant in the natural world. Viruses, the DNA double helix, and proteins are some examples of gyroids. So, what happens when gyroid models are used to make life-size, man-made materials? Things get stronger and lighter than ever before.


Using compression tests, the material demonstrated resistance to compression ten times greater than that of steel, presently the gold standard for engineering and construction materials. Unlike steel, however, graphene is incredibly light. It has less than 5 % the density of steel, making it much lighter, almost bouncy.


The graphene models used in MIT’s compression tests were made using 3-D printers. It is not yet possible to produce graphene for industry uses with current technology. There just aren’t enough 3-D printers in the world to make such complex materials to scale.


That may be the next design conundrum for MIT-how to make graphene available to the industries it would benefit the most. In the meantime, that this material exists means exciting things may be ahead for many industries.



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Chemists at MIT have found a way to add new polymers to things already printed, which allows them to create more complex objects that have different chemical and mechanical properties. Blue LED light is used to add monomers to an existing polymer chain resulting in growth. (via MIT)


Research funded by the National Science Foundation helped MIT researchers discover a way to add to, and alter 3-D printed objects after they’ve been printed. Until this advancement, objects that were 3-D printed were “dead” upon completion, meaning that polymer chains in the printed object could not be extended upon. As described by Anne Trafton of the MIT News Office, this new technique enables 3-D printing technology to, “...add new polymers that alter the materials’ chemical composition and mechanical properties”, and also, “...fuse two or more printed objects together to form more complex structures.” This technological development appears to have opened a door for further creativity and complexity in 3-D printing.


In 2013, these researchers tried using ultraviolet light to add new features to 3-D printed materials. Trafton describes this process when she writes, “... the researchers used ultraviolet light to break apart the polymers at certain points, creating very reactive molecules called free radicals.” She goes on to explain that these free radicals bind to new monomers from a solution surrounding the object that incorporates the monomers the original material. Ultimately this approach was unsuccessful in that it was damaging to the material and generally uncontrollable due to the reactivity of the free radicals.


Recently though, the researchers have designed polymers that are reactivated by light due to the chemical groups, known as TTCs, within them. Trafton describes these polymers as acting like “a folded up accordion”, and when the blue light from an LED hits the catalyst, new monomers attach to the TTCs, causing them to expand. As the new monomers are distributed into the structure uniformly, they inevitably change the material properties of the printed object.


According to Trafton, the researchers have demonstrated that they can insert monomers that, “...alter a material’s mechanical properties, such as stiffness, and its chemical properties, including hydrophobicity (affinity for water)” and, “...make materials swell and contract in response to temperature…”. Although these innovations are promising, there is a single, but a significant limitation in that this technique’s organic catalyst requires an oxygen-free environment. So, the researchers march onward, and Trafton reports that they are testing other catalysts that work for similar polymerizations in the presence of oxygen.


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A new software developed at MIT enables laypeople to 3D print prototypes of their own design. Much like traditional image editing software, Foundry lets you edit designs, with the added twist that they can be printed 3 dimensionally using up to 10 different kinds of materials (via MIT)


Printing 3 dimensional designs has been around for awhile, but the materials used have often been limiting. Most 3D printers can only print using one kind of material as well.  A lot of good designs end up being pretty limited, due to the constraints of the printer and the design ability of the user.  Printing objects with multiple materials has presented a big hurdle as well, due to the nature of the materials and the time required to functionally put them together. After spending days working on a design, engineers would often discover it wasn’t really a feasible prototype.


Enter MIT’s MultiFab. Based out of the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a team of researchers has launched a software and printing system which allows people with limited programming ability to print their own multiple-material  prototypes. Much like image editing software lets you make all kinds of fanciful pictures, Foundry enables you to make them a reality. How does it work? You design your prototype on the software, which has various parameters and possible materials that can be incorporated into the object. The software communicates with the printing system, and your image, edited in Foundry, is brought to life.

How nice are the designs? Currently the resolution is 40 microns, just under half the width of a strand of human hair.


In addtition, the 3-D printer designed by the team is self-correcting. The machine vision detects errors made while  printing and is able to fix them, without human input. The printers also self-calibrate. These processes historically took time and skill to get just right, so this system frees you to focus more on actual design.

Unlike traditional 3D printers, which squirt material through an extruder, the ones in use at MultiFab print more like an office printer, with an inkjet squirting tiny dots onto a surface. This lets you make complex, tiny layers of material throughout the printing process.


The team has already used Foundry and the 3D printers to make smartphone cases and diode casings. They predict that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The 3D printing system they made cost just $7,000, which is easily affordable by many companies and universities. With more people able to make progressively complex objects, they may be right.



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The organ on chip has integrated sensors that allow scientists to test synthetic tissue instead of testing on animals. This organ on chip gets us one step closer to synthetic organs (via Harvard)


It’s easy to forget the importance of organ donors. Truth is there are still people waiting on long lists looking for their chance at survival. If everyone committed to being a donor, there may be chance for everyone waiting, but people are free to not be a donor and that’s just fine. But lately the medical field has been working to create organs via 3D printer. It’s a difficult feat, but a team of researchers at Harvard University did it. They created the first organ on a chip entirely made with 3D printing.


So what does organ on chip mean anyway? These are devices that imitate the structure and function of native tissue. The chip was built by a fully automated manufacturing method and is equipped with integrated sensors, which allow scientists to test synthetic tissues during long and short term studies. This way, they won’t have to test them on animals. Thanks to this, the researchers create micophysiological systems that have the build and functions of hearts, lungs, tongues, and intestines. Currently, they’re working on a heart on a chip and have developed six different inks that integrated soft strains with the tissue.


According to the researchers, this new development allows them to change and enhance the design of the system. They also to use this new approach for research involving in vitro tissue engineering, drug screening, and toxicology.


This development may get us one step closer to synthetic replacements for human organs. But with everything that sounds too good to be true, there’s a downside: the cost. It takes a lot of work and money to create the organ on chip devices as well as collecting the data from them. For the time being, the devices are built in spotless rooms using a complicated lithographic process. Researchers collect the data using microscopes or high speed cameras. So don’t expect to see these in hospitals just yet. There’s still a lot of testing researchers have to do.


Right now, researchers are testing the efficiency of the organ by studying the MPS drug responses and development of cardiac tissue made from stem cells. This is not just a huge development in synthetic organs, but in collecting data related to the field. Thanks to the integrated sensors in the organ on chip devices, researchers can gather data more effectively, which can lead to new solutions for challenges faced by the medical field.



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A new kind of 3D printing uses flexible polymers that can change shape depending on temperature. Image: A 3D flower changes shape due to changes in temperature. (via MIT)


Making useful things with three dimensional printers has been changing a lot of design and manufacturing processes in recent years. There was the kid who made his own braces, and even 3D printed shoes given as awards at a recent athletic event. All of these objects, however, are rigid: they stay the same after the printer makes them. But recently a team of researchers have developed a technique that allows printable objects to change shape. Currently under development at MIT, microstereolithography allows 3D printers to make very precise shapes in very small sizes out of bendable materials.


When heated to within a certain temperature range, these materials ‘bounce back’ to their original shapes. And they can be very, very tiny-one prototype had the thickness of a human hair.


How do you make a tiny bendable flower? Thus far, the process is akin to using a tiny camera to scale an image down to size, then chopping the image up into different layers, like different levels of parfait. The sliced up images are then connected to a printer through a series of beams.


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The specific polymers used to make the product bendable are mixed during printing, using rays of ultraviolet light to catalyze the reaction. Making a tiny flower that can unfold is thus a combination of two different systems: creating a series of two dimensional images from a single three dimensional shape, and mixing polymers as the image is printed.




What kind of polymers have been used? So far, pretty typical plastics-industry molecules have been used to make the bendable Eiffel Tower and flowery shapes in miniature. Because they’re used so much already, the chemistry is pretty basic: just add polymers with known elastic properties together. Scaling the process down even further could expand the applications.


Imagine taking a drug that was so specific it would only work at certain body temperatures, or tiny implantation devices for surgical procedures. Imagine being able to print single molecules. Making small things has never had such huge implications.


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3D Printing will be available at various UPS Store locations (Photo via Fast Radius & UPS)


Ever wanted something 3D printed but don't have the money to shell out for a GOOD in home machine? Or maybe there are no 3D printing services close by (like a hackerspace or some person with a printer)? With this technology on the rise, it's in-demand and UPS is here to answer the call. The delivery company recently announced plans to launch a full-scale on-demand 3D printing manufacturing network. The service will be made available in more than 60 UPS Store locations around the U.S. Starting this year and rolling into 2017.


For this new service, UPS teamed up with the On Demand Production Platform and 3D printing factory from Fast Radius, which is a provider of on-demand part manufacturing. In addition to this, the company will also collaborate with SAP for an end-to-end industrial offering that mixes SAP's supply chain offerings with UPS' on-demand manufacturing solution and global logistics network to make the process simpler. SAP and UPS teaming up also allows for manufacturing companies of different sizes to access on-demand features easily.


“UPS is a leader in bringing industrial-strength 3D printing to reality. By building this disruptive technology into our supply chain models, we also bring new value to our manufacturing customers of all sizes,” said Stan Deans, president, UPS Global Distribution & Logistics. “Additive manufacturing technology is still developing rapidly so ‘manufacturing as a service’ is a smart approach for many companies.”


So how does it work? Users visit the Fast Radius website to put in 3D printing orders, which will then be transferred to the closest 3D manufacturing or UPS Store based on the speed, geography, and product quality needed. Depending on the size of the order, some can be completed and shipped out the same day. If you're not in the U.S. There's no problem. The company said they'll take global orders as well. The new service will have big benefits for businesses looking to utilize 3D printing including, manufacturers who want to reduce inventory for slow moving parts, high quality rapid prototypes delivered quickly, and cutting down costs for manufacturers with short production runs.


Though many may not know it The UPS Store has been offering 3D printing services in certain locations since 2013, but not on such a wide scale. This made them the first retailer to make 3D printing service available in store. “Connecting all The UPS Store locations into a larger network provides more opportunity for new customers to access our printers and gives customers added flexibility to match their requirements with the appropriate UPS location,” said Daniel Remba, Small Business Technology Leader for The UPS Store, Inc.


With UPS getting in on the 3D printing game it should be no time til we see other retailers like Office Depot, FedEx, and even Kinkos offering their own services. The more accessible the technology is, the better.


If you don't know, I 3D printed a Spherical Raspberry Pi Case in a past project. I could have used a local option.


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This motorcycle looks like it comes from another planet (image via APWorks)


3D printing can do a lot things from making clothes to making food. Now, thanks to the efforts of APWorks, it can make motorcycles. The Light Rider isn't the average hog you'll find riding down the freeway. For one, it looks like something out of the Alien franchise with its hollow, skeleton like design. It's also probably the world's lightest motorcycle weighing only 77 pounds. As mentioned, the bike was created by Airbus subsidiary APWorks and they used 3D printing to create it, but they didn't use plastic. Instead they got its odd shape by thousands of thin metal layers produced in a bed of metal powder. The entire frame is made out of Scalmalloy, which is aircraft grade aluminum. It's supposed to offer the strength of titanium, ensuring the bike is light, yet strong.


“APWorks used an algorithm to develop the Light Rider’s optimized structure to keep weight at a minimum while ensuring the motorcycle’s frame was strong enough to handle the weight loads and stresses of everyday driving scenarios. The result: a motorcycle that looks more like an organic exoskeleton than a machine. That was a very deliberate design goal for APWorks, which programmed the algorithm to use bionic structures and natural growth processes and patterns as the basis for developing a strong but lightweight structure.”  




It's the 3D printing is what allows the bike to get its unique geometrical design. APWorks says the design is meant to be aerodynamic as a way to give the bike “superb stiffness and guarantees optimal use of material.” The bike is also meant to be environment friendly since it's electric. The Light Rider has a 6kW electric motor that can accelerate the bike up to 130 Nm torques. That's 37 miles per charge. The motorcycle can reach top speeds of 80 km/h (50 mph). It accelerates from 0 to 45 km/h (28mph) in three seconds. The oddball frame only weighs 13 pounds, which is roughly 30 percent less than most existing electric bikes. Can you imagine, a motorcycle you can actually pick up?


"With the Light Rider we at APWorks demonstrate our vision of future urban mobility", says engineer Stefanus Stahl. "We have used our know how of optimization and manufacturing, to create means of transportation, that match our expectations,” explains APWorks's Niels Grafen.


Believe it or not, The Light Rider is actually available for sale, but you can't find them at your local Harley Davidson dealer. Rather APWorks is slowly rolling out the new motorcycle and is planning to build 50 units with a price tag of $56,100 apiece. Those who are interested can pre-order The Light Rider on the bike's website. It's definitely one of the most unique looking motorcycles on the market, but it is a hefty price to pay for something that looks like no other bike on the road. If this goes well, maybe it won't before long until we see big motorcycle companies like Harley Davidson and Yamaha start making their own 3D printed bikes.



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Bionic organs are closer than you think. From 3D-printed organs to artificial capillary systems made with a cotton candy machine, artificial organs are almost ready for human trial, and could mean the end of organic organ transplants furthermore. (images via WakeHealth)


In 3D printing scientists saw something special – the future of biotechnology. And it isn’t a pipe dream anymore. Scientists have actually 3D printed organs that are viable and near ready for human trials.


The Scientists at Wake Forest Institute For Regenerative Medicine successfully 3D printed ‘living’ tissue, muscles, and organs that functioned like organic counterparts in animal studies. The research team, led by Anthony Atala, used a specialized 3D printer to create artificial muscles, bone, and ear structures that function like the real thing.


Printing organs and structures for the human body is difficult on a number of levels. Beyond being strong enough to take a beating, the structures have to support the growth of blood vessels, promote organic cell growth, and feature tissue structures 200 microns or smaller. To meet all of these requirements, researchers at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine spent 10 years perfecting a custom 3D printer developed for this sole purpose.


Dubbed the Integrated Organ and Printing System (ITOP), the sophisticated 3D printer uses biodegradable material similar to plastic, and uses it to form structures similar to those of the human body. The machine can develop custom body parts for patients based on CT and MRI scans. Best yet, it actually prints a water-based, gel-like structure that houses the cells needed to make the structure ‘living.’


In trials, the structures were successful in replacing organic muscle tissue, ear tissue, and bone in rats. The bodies accepted the implants, and actually developed the blood vessels, cartilage, and surrounding tissue necessary to fully integrate the artificial organs into the body. Ongoing research will continue, and researchers, in conjunction with the U.S. Armed Forces, hope to use the technology to help injured soldiers lead more normal lives. In fact, bionic skin grafting may begin soon.




In recent studies at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, researchers used an advanced biotech for of ink-jet printing to print live skin grafts. The grafts are also able to be custom-built, like ITOP organs, and the technology could be available for the medics of the Armed Forces. Injured patients would be able to receive a bionic skin graft on the spot, without cutting into any other parts of the patient’s body. Research for this study is also ongoing, and both studies were supported in part by the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Army, and the DTRA.


With this, researchers at Vanderbilt University have also developed novel ways to generate viable artificial organs and tissues, using a cotton candy machine. Leon Bellan, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt, used a $40 cotton candy machine from Target to create one of the most promising bionic organs under development.




Using the rapid spinning of the machine, Bellan and his team were able to produce artificial 3D capillary systems that kept cells alive for more than a week – one of the longest time periods on record. Using a top-down technique, and PNIPAM, Poly (N-isopropylacrylamide) as the base material, Bellan was able to produce channels ranging from 3 to 55 microns in diameter.


Bellan and his research team will continue its efforts, and hope to eventually create a low-cost, effective method for doctors and emergency medical staff to create viable organs on-demand. Bellan’s research was supported in part by the NIH.


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ThingMaker uses 3D printer technology for kids to create toys

(Photo from Mattel)


Remember toys that encouraged kids to make their own creations, like Easy Bake Oven and Creepy Crawlers? Toys like this are still around, but Mattel wants to take it a step further. At this past weekend's Toy Fair in NYC, Mattel unveiled their latest toys which are more sophisticated than Barbie dolls and board games. One of the more impressive is called ThingMaker, a reboot of a similar toy from the 60s that uses modern 3D printing technology.


Now kids can design and create their own toys that are more advanced than plastic bugs. Using the ThingMaker app, which Mattel developed with Autodesk, kids can create complex toys, jewelry, figures and accessories. ThingMaker will begin shipping orders this fall at $300 making it one of the more inexpensive and accessible 3D printers on the market.


But what about safety? We all know how dangerous those Easy Bake Ovens actually are with that really hot light bulb and metal plate. Giving kids a high tech printer to go wild with sounds fishy, but ThingMaker has that covered. There are several safety features including a retractable print head to prevent little fingers from touching it and an automatic door lock to make sure kids don't burn themselves. Just because this printer is designed with kids in mind, they still need to be patient: a large toy could take 6 to 8 hours to finish.


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The new View-Master promises a VR experience

(Photo from Mattel)


ThingMaker isn't only the toy Mattel is redesigning. The company also revealed a new View-Master at NYC's Toy Fair. Dubbed the View-Master DLX is based on Google Cardboard and features better optical lenses, focal adjustment, and a headphone connector. The headset also has a redesigned latch latch to keep it secure. There's also a smartphone mount which allows a greater range of phone sizes.


What makes this new View-Master different from the standard are a range of VR experiences, including a two player labyrinth game. It works by one player wearing the headset and playing the role of escapee. They have to solve riddles and puzzles to work their way out of the maze. The other player uses a physical book of clues to help the other make it out alive. The VR will also feature a dinosaur themes “experience pack” adding to its current line up of Space, Destinations, and Wildlife packs. The labyrinth game has a price tag of $19.99 while the packs will cost $14.99. The headset itself will be $40 and is expected to release this fall.


With these two technologically advanced toys hitting shelves later this year, Mattel are definitely stepping it up and keeping it modern. Both devices look promising and will be a big hit with kids this holiday season.


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largest printer.jpg

The world’s largest 3D printer unveiled! WASP, the World’s Advanced Saving Project, has created a huge 3D printer called, “Big Delta” that is set to produce disaster relief housing. Big Delta stands 40 feet tall and 20 feet around and can print houses using naturally sourced materials like mud. (via WASP)



On Friday, January 29, 2016 the world's largest 3-D printer, called the 'Big Delta,' will be unveiled in Rieti, Italy. Luckily for us, the teams have already released information on the Big Delta along with pictures and an aerial view of the 40 foot tall, 20 foot wide 3-D printer. The design team is called WASP, or Worlds Advanced Saving Project, and they have a very ambitious goal to create houses for 4 billion people around the world who are expected to lack proper housing in 2030. Hence, Big Delta is their solution to a worldwide problem. However, they will focus initially on creating emergency housing for disaster relief.


The Big Delta can 3-D print low-cost housing created from locally sourced materials including dirt and clay. It could also print using rapid set cement. The printing nozzle, which sits in the middle of the structure, can mix materials before printing them on demand which makes it easier to use. Even though the scale of Big Delta is larger than life, it is able to function using less than 100 W - which is an advantage if they plan to use this printer in areas with limited resources.


While the utility of a 3-D printer like Big Delta, is apparent in disaster relief situations, WASP also foresees a growing need for cost-effective houses in highly populated areas. WASP created their own estimate of 4 billion people in 2030 who will need ‘adequate housing' that doesn't break their budget when living off of a salary of $3000 a year. If this idea proves itself viable in practice, then the 3D printed home revolution will begin.


WASP is an interesting team that uses a hybrid model to fund their projects of bringing affordable homes to impoverished areas worldwide. They sell smaller 3-D printers commercially, and the proceeds have been used to finance their research and creation of Big Delta, over the past three years. Their primary focus seems to be on creating clay houses, however have not actually printed at a house yet. The speed at which the Big Delta could print out a house will vary based upon the materials used and the climate. They report that using rapid set cement could allow the creation of meter high walls in a few hours. However, their focused on creating the most cost-effective houses in low resource areas; hence they expect to use natural resources within the area which will increase the 3D printing time because the walls must dry out and harden before new layers are placed on top. High humidity and rain could also have obvious detrimental effects on a clay house before it has been dried and set.


The Big Delta seems like it would be a good fit to make cob houses which are popular, low-cost, eco-friendly homes made from a dirt, water, and straw mixture. Cob houses are particularly popular in areas with earthquakes because they are very resistant to damage by earthquake disasters – even from stronger tremors. They are also popular with eco-conscious individuals who want to limit their carbon emissions, since cob houses are one-hundred percent biodegradable. 3D printed cob houses could become a new consumer market and they could also be used in areas around the world with high earthquake probability.


It is unclear how successful building clay houses will be worldwide, and the quality of these houses is entirely unknown, but I’m certain this is the first in a long line of 3D house printing technology. 



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