UK Researchers Inspired by Astrophysics to Improve Imaging for 3D Printed Models

Like cancer, heart disease and the many conditions surrounding it (along with other related systems in the human body) can often cause fatal complications, leading researchers around the world to continually look for better methods in diagnosing, treatment, and surgical procedures. UK researchers, I. Brewis and J.A. McLaughlin, at Northumbria University have recently explored 3D imaging in reference to cardiovascular health care, publishing their findings in ‘Improved Visualisation of Patient-Specific Heart Structure Using Three-Dimensional Printing Coupled with Image-Processing Techniques Inspired by Astrophysical Methods.’

Brewis and McLaughlin are working in the realm of astrophysics in creating new image-processing techniques for viewing the human heart, transferring the data to an .stl file and then 3D printing a medical model. These new techniques allow for better modeling from scans, especially improving on the clarity of smaller features.

Traditionally, CT and MRI scans have supplied data for 3D printed models. As the authors of the study point out, these are ‘relatively accurate’ but still produce errors. Not only that, image processing can be a high-maintenance venture, consuming both time and money. Currently there are a range of techniques in use, including:

  • Vignetting
  • Boxcar smoothing function
  • Dilation
  • Edge detection
  • Pixel plate scale development for charge-coupled devices on spacecraft

Brewis and McLaughlin examined whether using techniques generally used in astrophysics could reduce the margin of error, along with faster turnaround time in rendering. The basic steps in arriving at a 3D model must include acquiring data, segmenting, converting files, fixing and design, and 3D printing. For the purposes of this study, the scientists used data from one anonymous patient, obtaining 856 CT images. In segmentation they were able to identify the ‘region of interest’ to be 3D printed: the heart tissue.

Segmented heart data following first thresholding of right heart region (left) and segmented heart data following second thresholding of right heart region (right). The right ventricle (bottom left) shows improved clarity of internal chamber segmentation following second thresholding

The team used Slicer to view the chest cavity from multiple angles and cut all extraneous data for a better view.

“Initial thresholding highlighted all heart tissue, with the inclusion of deoxygenated blood in both the right atrium and right ventricle,” stated the researchers in their paper. “Areas of deoxygenated blood were found to be removed by applying a second threshold in the range [-600, 70] to the chambers of the right heart.”

A second pass of thresholding resulted in converting data from 2D segments into a 3D rendering.

“This method, whilst modelling the majority of the heart’s internal structure, omitted small-scale features such as valves. In order to extract these small-scale features from the DICOM data available, an alternative approach was introduced,” stated the researchers, upon using vignetting to eliminated added interference in the background.

Netfabb image processing stages from left to right initial and divided models

Further highlighting and enhancement allowed the research team to see areas of aortic valve cusp occlusion and areas of bad pixels more clearly.

“For both the full heart and the aortal valve, the total time taken for image segmentation was on the order of tens of minutes, where some parts of the segmentation process were, naturally, more time-consuming than others,” stated the researchers. “For the method presented here, the main time-consuming step was whilst utilizing Slicer 4.8.1’s in-built eraser and draw tools.”

Once the researchers had the files for both the heart and aortic valve models ready, they used Netfabb to prep for production with an SLA 3D printer.

“The SLA printer produced more sturdy 3D models yet could not produce models which did not require additional support in order to maintain the desired structure of the internal heart chambers (i.e. free standing models) during printing,” stated the researchers. “For a simple and relatively flat structure however, such as the aortic valve, the free standing issue was not a concern and the stronger resin-based model proved to be ideal for producing thin and delicate structures such as the tricuspid valve.”

Ultimately, the team produced a 3D printed heart model with four clearly defined heart chambers, along with the aorta, superior vena cava and the pulmonary vein and artery. The patient whose data the researchers were using as an example had an aortic aneurysm that is accurately depicted in the model, seen as an area of depression in an aortic side wall. Calcification can be clearly observed too, and this type of accuracy means surgeons can operate more precisely and efficiently, saving on time in the operating room.

“The use of 3D renderings of patient data improves on traditional imaging techniques where surgeons are required to visualise a three-dimensional picture of heart defects based on a series of 2D scans by reproducing exact, real three-dimensional cardiovascular anatomy,” state the researchers. “The use of 3D modelling can also improve the physician’s understanding of individual patient anatomy such as in the case of valve replacement16 or in procedural planning for the treatment of congenital heart disease.”

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

[Source / Images: ‘Improved Visualisation of Patient-Specific Heart Structure Using Three-Dimensional Printing Coupled with Image-Processing Techniques Inspired by Astrophysical Methods’]

3D printed heart models. (left) complete heart model, (right) aortic valve
model). UK one pound coin for scale.

 

Dichroic Printing Materials Change Color Based on Light Source

Dichroic materials have existed for a long time, at least going back to the 4th century AD. These materials, most notably dichroic glass, can reflect, absorb and pass through light in different ways depending on how you view them, giving them variable transparencies and colors depending on the light source. Now, Dutch researchers at Wageningen University […]

The post Dichroic Printing Materials Change Color Based on Light Source appeared first on 3D Printing.

3D Printing News Briefs: February 16, 2019

We’ve got business, events, software, and materials news for you in today’s 3D Printing News Briefs. MELD has introduced a new operator training course, and Protolabs is launching a range of secondary services. AMUG announced the keynote speakers for its upcoming conference, while the call has gone out for submissions to the 2019 Altair Enlighten Award. This week at SOLIDWORKS WORLD 2019, Stratasys introduced AdvancedFDM software for GrabCAD Print. Finally, a gold partner at America Makes has created an Ultem 9085 materials database for FDM 3D printing, and 3D MicroPrint is using a powder rheometer to push the limits of additive manufacturing.

MELD Manufacturing Offers Training Program

MELD Manufacturing Corporation is launching a new operator training program to teach participants how to operate its award-winning technology, which uses an innovative no-melt process to additively manufacture, repair, coat, and join metals and metal matrix composites. The 4-day courses will provide both classroom instruction and hands-on machine training, and attendees will also review the history of MELD’s development.

“This program creates certified MELDers and delivers the capacity to integrate and innovate with MELD. Our customers have raved about the elegance of the MELD process and the ease of training. We’re excited to offer more of these opportunities,” said MELD’s CEO Nanci Hardwick.

The size of the classes, which will be held at MELD’s Virginia headquarters, will be limited so that each attendee can have the maximum amount of machine time in order to become certified, so you should register ASAP.

Protolabs Launches Secondary Services in Europe

Protolabs is a digital manufacturing source for custom prototypes and low-volume production parts and offers all sorts of traditional and additive manufacturing services. This week, the company announced that it was introducing detailed measurement and inspection reporting, which will be only the first part of its newly launched in-house Secondary Services across Europe. These services will provide support for the company’s On-Demand manufacturing requirements, and will also help in launching more value-add secondary operations, like assembly and surface treatment, in the future.

“Our customers really value our rapid manufacturing services for low-volume parts and prototypes, but they now want the benefit of On-Demand manufacturing for production parts, which have higher expectations for sampling, measurement and process documentation,” said Stephen Dyson, Protolabs’ Special Operations Manager. “The marked increase from customers across all industries wanting to take advantage of the speed and flexibility of On-Demand manufacturing brings with it a desire to simplify the supply chain. We are offering Secondary Services to reduce the number of process steps that the customer has to manage, saving time and resources.”

Protolabs will hold a webinar for designers and engineers on February 28th as part of its Secondary Services launch.

AMUG Announces Keynote Speakers

L-R: Brian McLean, Brad Keselowski, Todd Grimm

The Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) recently announced who the keynote speakers will be for its 2019 conference, which will be held in Chicago from March 31st to April 4th. The conference, which will have nearly 200 presentations, workshops and hands-on training sessions, is designed for both novice and experienced additive manufacturing users, and the three keynote speakers will address the use of additive manufacturing in a variety of different applications. Brian McLean, the director of rapid prototype for LAIKA, will take attendees on a visual journey of how 3D printing has helped to redefine stop-motion animation, while NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski, the owner and founder of Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM), will share how technology such as 3D printing can help companies win the race. Finally, Todd Grimm, the president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, is returning to the conference as a keynote speaker again.

“We are extremely excited about our 2019 AMUG Conference keynote speakers,” said Gary Rabinovitz, the AMUG chairman and chair of its program committee. “They will provide a snapshot of the most transformative ideas shaping the AM industry today.”

2019 Altair Enlighten Award Submissions

Michigan-based technology company Altair, together with the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), are now taking submissions from around the world for the 2019 Enlighten Award, which is the only award from the automotive industry for dedicated lightweighting. The award will be presented in the categories of Full Vehicle, Module, Enabling Technology and The Future of Lightweighting, and winners will be recognized during the CAR Management Briefing Seminars (MBS), along with getting the chance to ring the Nasdaq stock market opening bell in New York. Suppliers and manufacturers can learn more about the criteria and submit an entry for the awards here.

“We are pleased to continue our collaboration with Altair because of their global leadership in solutions that produce the optimal balance between weight, performance and cost. This award helps drive innovation in lightweighting, which is critical to the success of e-mobility solutions,” said Carla Bailo, the President and CEO of CAR. “We can’t wait to see the key contributions the 2019 nominations will bring in new approaches to automotive engineering and design, contributing to further reductions in weight, fuel consumption, and emissions.”

Stratasys Announces AdvancedFDM Software for GrabCAD

At this week’s SOLIDWORKS World 2019 in Dallas, Stratasys introduced a new feature for its GrabCAD Print software that will remove more complexity from the design-to-3D print process. Advanced FDM will use intuitive model interaction to deliver lightweight yet strong and purpose-built parts to ensure design intent, and is available now via download with GrabCAD Print from versions 1.24 on up. The software feature will help users avoid long, frustrating CAD to STL conversions, so they can work in high fidelity and ramp up parts production, and it also features CAD-native build controls, so no one needs to manually generate complex toolpaths. Advanced FDM can automatically control build attributes, as well as calculate 3D print toolpaths, in order to streamline the process.

“For design and manufacturing engineers, one of the most frustrating processes is ‘dumbing down’ a CAD file to STL format – only to require subsequent re-injection of design intent into the STL printing process. This software is engineered to do away with this complexity, letting designers reduce iterations and design cycles – getting to a high-quality, realistic prototype and final part faster than ever before,” said Mark Walker, Lead Software Product Manager at Stratasys.

America Makes Ultem 9085 FDM Properties in Database

America Makes has announced that its gold-level member, Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing LLC. (rp+m), has created and delivered a complete, qualified database of material properties for the FDM 3D printing of high-performance ULTEM 9085 thermoplastic resin. This comprehensive database, which features processing parameters and both mechanical physical properties, was released to America Makes, and the rest of its membership community, in order to ensure the widespread use of the Type I certified material for 3D printed interior aircraft components. The database is available to the community through the America Makes Digital Storefront.

“The qualification of the ULTEM 9085 material and the establishment of the material properties database by the rp+m-led team are huge steps forward for AM, particularly within the aerospace and defense industries. On behalf of all of us at America Makes, I want to commend rp+m and its team for enabling the broad dissemination of the collective knowledge of ULTEM 9085 for the innovation of future part design,” said Rob Gorham, the Executive Director of America Makes. “The ability to use AM to produce parts with repeatable characteristics and consistent quality for certifiable manufacturing is a key factor to the increased adoption of AM within the multi-billion dollar aircraft interior parts segment.”

3D MicroPrint Identifying Ultra-Fine 3D Printing Powders

Additive Manufacturing Powder Samples

Germany company 3D MicroPrint uses 3D printing to produce complex metal parts on the micro-scale with its Micro Laser Sintering (MLS) technology, and announced that it is using the FT4 Powder Rheometer from UK-based Freeman Technology, which has over 15 years of experience in powder characterization and flow, in order to push the technology to its limits by identifying ultra-fine metal powders that will process efficiently. The system can differentiate raw powder materials, less than five microns in size, with the kinds of superior flow characteristics that are needed to produce accurate components using 3D MicroPrint’s Micro Laser Sintering (MLS) technology.

“With MLS we are essentially pushing standard AM towards its performance limits. To achieve precise control at the micro scale we spread powders in layers just a few microns thick before selectively fusing areas of the powder bed with a highly focused laser beam. The ultra-fine powders required typically behave quite differently to powders of > 25µm particle size,” explained Joachim Goebner, the CEO at 3D MicroPrint. “We therefore rely on the FT4 Powder Rheometer to identify materials which will perform effectively with our machines, with specified process parameters. Before we had the instrument selecting a suitable powder was essentially a matter of trial and error, a far less efficient approach.”

Discuss this news and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

SOLIDWORKSWORLD 2019: Global R&D Team Discusses New and Improved Features in SOLIDWORKS

Earlier this week, I arrived back home in chilly Ohio after spending a couple of days in Dallas, Texas. But I wasn’t just visiting the Lone Star State to enjoy the warmer temperatures – I was there to attend one of the biggest events in 3D software, SOLIDWORKS World 2019, which was held in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

This was my first time at the event, which was in Los Angeles the last couple of years, and I’d heard a lot of good things about it, so I was excited.

While I missed the first full day of SWW 19, I was off to the races on Tuesday morning. Three different General Sessions were offered during the same time, and I decided to skip ‘New Horizons’ and ‘Design to Profit’ in favor of ‘R&D Futures,’ which promised attendees a preview of “the cutting-edge technologies taking form at Dassault Systèmes/SOLIDWORKS R&D Labs.”

Manish Kumar, Vice President of R&D for SOLIDWORKS, said that a single global R&D team binds together all of Dassault’s 12 brands, and the 6,700 members of this team, who are spread out across 21 nations, are encouraged to work on their dream projects. Kumar said that design is the starting point at Dassault, but posed two questions – is design still the way we learned it? What is its future?

The 3DEXPERIENCE platform by Dassault Systèmes now includes a portfolio of applications in its new 3DEXPERIENCE.WORKS that will put user experience and simplicity at the core. Kumar likened the platform to a story with three chapters: industry renaissance, knowledge and know-how, and the workforce of the future. He explained that these interconnected chapters “are the themes that drive us.”

Kumar shared a personal story about his father, who once nearly missed a flight because, “like any dad, he refuses to seek any additional help,” such as smartphone airline apps that make traveling more efficient by providing helpful things like notifications of gate changes.

“How many of you face the same problem in your day to day life?” Kumar asked. “When you start your design, when you are extremely busy trying to finalize your design, how many times has it happened where someone who is working on the other design – which your design depends on – changed that design and they forgot to tell you? So you’re working off data which is already out of date.

“How are you gathering information? How are you sharing information, and how are you keeping everything up to date? Is it still like a printed boarding pass, which gets outdated right after it was printed, or is it like an airline app which is connected all the time to a single source of truth?”

Having been notified of more than one gate change this week through my airline app, this analogy really speaks to me…and it’s definitely applicable to additive manufacturing.

“We are in a world where technology enables people from all walks of life to share their knowledge and know-how like never before,” Kumar stated.

“What is your expertise? You are creators, you are designers, you are manufacturers, you are dreamers. If you have to share your expertise with the world, how would you share it?

“Our 3DEXPERIENCE platform is a platform for knowledge and know-how. This quest is also the core of our DNA. We at Dassault Systèmes R&D understand that the world is changing and the future is right now.”

Kumar reminded everyone that the current generation is working with technology in ways we never thought possible. While I was learning how to use Microsoft PowerPoint in eighth grade, students today are making actual robots…and using 3D printing to do it. A few years ago, I was sitting in a local yogurt shop that had an old typewriter on the counter, which patrons were encouraged to use for fun. A man brought his young daughter up to see it, and after running her finger over the keys, she said, “Daddy, where’s the search button?”

These personal anecdotes popped in my head during Kumar’s talk, both of which prove his point: kids today know that everything is connected.

“Today our kids are growing up in an environment where the global market is accessible to them,” Kumar said. “Our future generation is growing up in an entirely different world…connected to a global world of intelligent machines and computing power.

“So as they become our next generation workforce, we need to be ready for their needs. At Dassault Systèmes R&D, we take all these factors into consideration.”

Kumar then invited six members of the global R&D team onstage to show the audience what the team is working on, and SOLIDWORKS employee Aaron Kelly joined him first.

“24 years ago when I started at the SOLIDWORKS brand, we had the mission to put the power of 3D at every engineer’s desktop,” Kelly said. “We’ve been working on that passionately over that time, but there was one other thing. There was this unwritten promise, and that promise was that we would work together to make products…to build this ecosystem of products that were valuable and got you to get your job done faster and better.

“3DEXPERIENCE.WORKS, to me, is kind of a culmination of that promise.

“I know you’ll work with us together, and I know we’ll continue to make great products, because 3D is not enough – you’ve told us that. 24 years ago, 3D was new, it was exciting, and many of you have adopted it, and you’ve come back to us and said ‘We need more. We need to take our business to the next level, we need more tools.’ And when I think of 3DEXPERIENCE.WORKS…I think of that taking us down a path to smashing down the walls of limitations and gently opening the doors to infinite possibilities.”

Kelly then introduced the other experts from the SOLIDWORKS R&D team, which, according to John Sweeney, just released several hundred new features in SOLIDWORKS 2019, and is currently working to do the same with SOLIDWORKS 2020.

Sweeney discussed some of the team’s multi-year initiatives, such as Sketch Enhancements, and 3D MarkUp, which can now be completed with a mouse. Mesh Modeling now allows for the addition of textures by grabbing a bitmap, dragging it to the correct place, and actually changing the surface of the mesh right then and there. This means it comes right off the 3D printer with that texture.

He also mentioned some big performance initiatives from last year that are continuing into next year, like a telescope model with huge assemblies that can be opened, and edited, in LDR, or Large Design Review, mode. Sweeney also discussed the new Detailing Mode, which gives users access to all project sheets and the ability to complete edits, like deleting dimensions.

Hubert Masson, who works with the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace, talked about how the company helps customers with collaboration, and mentioned two specific applications: 3D Drive, which has to do with file storage and sharing on the cloud, and social media collaboration on the 3D XPoint platform through 3D Swym.

Users can upload files to the cloud with a simple drag and drop from their web browser to 3D Drive.

“In a few seconds, all those files become available and accessible from anywhere – from the web browser as well as right from within SOLIDWORKS,” Masson explained.

You can also drag and drop files in order to add more components to a model, and send the files to other users, who can then work on them from their own devices and send suggestions back and forth, which will remain forever in the cloud as searchable comments. In 3D Swym, groups of people can create and publish social contact, react to it, and share existing content. The application was recently enhanced in order to increase user engagement, so people can now have private conversations on 3D Swym.

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

Both 3D Drive and 3D Swym are available through iPhone apps, and 3D Drive also offers an augmented reality feature that allows users to get an even closer look at models from their phones. Additionally, you can even make video calls, which Masson demonstrated by calling a colleague in the front row.

Sweeney took center stage again to discuss design applications, and mentioned the recently announced xShape, which allows freeform design on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. Then Kenneth Hallberg talked about Dassault’s ENOVIA PLM software, which works to keep things more product-based.

“We’re kind of taking a giant leap with 3DEXPERIENCE PLM Collaboration Services, and next to our 3D Drive solution, which is file-centric, we are delivering an all-embracing environment that supports everything from innovation processes to design and engineering work that spans over and across enterprises,” Hallberg explained.

“3DEXPERIENCE PLM Collaboration Services is connecting not only the SOLIDWORKS desktop users but all of the product stakeholders in a company, no matter what function you have or applications that you’re using.

“In addition to this, we are leveraging the ENOVIA portfolio and we’re providing really strong applications and capabilities for planning work…development work…and finally release activities, like engineering and comprehensive change management.”

Delphine Genouvrier has helped SOLIDWORKS create many simulation products over the years and is currently working with its SIMULIA team.

[Image: Dassault Systèmes]

“Lots of great things are coming for the SOLIDWORKS community, with a strong focus on power, robustness, and intuitiveness, ” she said.

To help customers increase efficiency and innovation, Genouvrier noted that it was imperative to assess product performance early on, with the highest possible fidelity. She explained that now through SIMULIA, users can test out projects with any physics through SOLIDWORKS, which is “completely new” for the community and can be accessed in the cloud through a “unique engineering workflow.” The 3DEXPERIENCE platform makes it easy to share simulation results during design, which can then be reviewed on any device anywhere.

Finally, Trever Diehl introduced the room to DELMIAWORKS, which is the rebranded version of IQMS – a recent acquisition of Dassault’s. Diehl described it as the bridge between designing and executing a product, as it provides all sorts of helpful features:

  • part quoting
  • process monitoring
  • scheduling, order processing, & shipping
  • shop floor integration
  • accounting suite

This helps ensure that your product is actually profitable.

“Think about making cookies,” Diehl said. “You get the dough together, you batch it out onto a baking sheet, you put it in the oven, you take out a batch of cookies.”

The R&D team members also talked about the 3DEXPERIENCE Marketplace, which makes it easy to collaborate between partner companies to “get your parts made in record time.”

Before the session ended, we got a surprise – the next morning, on the last day of SWW 19 and before the last General Session, the entertaining (and only slightly corny) SOLIDWORKS News Network team, or SNN, would perform a “What’s New” skit to provide attendees with a sneak peak at some of the latest features and platform updates “that even Wikileaks wouldn’t report” coming in SOLIDWORKS 2020.

After a day of interviews and a press conference, both of which I will talk about in more detail later, I spent the evening attending the SWW 19 special event, which was held nearby at a giant entertainment venue called Gilley’s and included everything from horseshoes, trivia, and a photo booth to hearty snacks and drinks, lots of live music and opportunities to meet new people, and armadillo racing…yes, you read that correctly.

The special session the next morning began with Dassault’s Mark Schneider announcing the winners of the Lenovo-sponsored Model Mania Challenge, which pitted users against users and resellers against resellers to see who could model and analyze a part most efficiently, accurately, and quickly.


Then, the six members of the SNN team – Schneider, Mark Barrow, Megan Duane, Michael Steeves, Jeremy Regnerus, and Yan Killy – went into full Anchorman mode, complete with plenty of groan-worthy jokes, to bring the room the latest SOLIDWORKS 2020 updates.

For instance, weatherman Schneider said that a massive approaching deadline could “lead to elevated stress levels” across the entire design ecosystem, and mentioned enhanced features for the Sketch Relations application, which allows users to control curves and will soon be able to make models even smoother with the new G3 Curvature constraint.

Another new assembly function coming is Envelope Publisher, as SW 2020 will include the ability to fill in mass properties for wires and cables; thanks to another new feature, the mass can also be calculated automatically. The team’s sportscaster brought up March Feature Madness, and explained some of the features of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform that would make up his top 10 list, including new tools that he was able to use to fix the remote he broke out of excitement over the Patriots’ recent Superbowl win.

One example is the ability to drag freeform primitive surfaces in order to easily customize geometry onscreen. In addition, users can select the Cage manipulator to achieve an alternate perspective for making detailed changes to freeform surfaces, and selection filters offer multiple ways to work with geometry. xDesign is a new browser tool that can use a merge function to knit freeform shapes into solid bodies, Flexible Parts can make any component dynamic, and SW 2020 will also allow you to run simulations and share design data more easily with other team members.

Killy, the team’s undercover reporter, tracked down a major developer to determine their favorite new features. Detailing Mode, which Sweeney mentioned the day before during R&D Futures, was brought up – it lets users quickly open drawings, no matter the complexity or size, without losing any detail, and also allows for annotation. While SW 2019 lets users add markups to past assemblies, SW 2020 takes it a step further with the new Markup view, which lets you choose a writing utensil and add markups directly to the screen of your device, then save, send, and post as a PDF.

Stay tuned for more news from SOLIDWORKS World 2019 – in the meantime, enjoy some of the pictures I took at the event:





Discuss this news and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.

[Images: Sarah Saunders, unless otherwise noted]

New Endurance lasers

In this article, I would like to tell some interesting things about Endurance Lasers. Over the past 4 years, we have sold more than 2000 units worldwide, and our Facebook community is growing rapidly. I’ve started calling it the “Endurance family.”

When we started this business back in 2015 I did not expect that it would become so successful. Back then we only offered 2.1 watt lasers. Many of our customers wanted more capable and powerful lasers. So the business was developing pretty slowly. People wanted to cut thicker materials and engrave firmer surfaces, metals for instance. That moved us towards higher power laser modules. Since then we have developed many laser add-ons: 2.1 watt, 3.5 watt, 5.6 watt, 8 watt, 8.5 watt, 10 watt, 10 watt+ and 20 watt double beam lasers to give people more power and capabilities.

Leather is one of the many materials that our units can engrave well.

We have achieved a lot: our 10/10+/20 watt lasers cut 3-4 mm of plywood and wood quite easily and can engrave on many surfaces: steel, stainless steel, copper, brass, stone, glass, etc. But that did not stop us from advancing further with new technologies. Right now we keep on testing more powerful diodes and laser tools to build more powerful units for our customers. Our latest improvements make our lasers more efficient.

Our 10/10+/20 watt lasers have undergone many improvements over the years. Working with 445 nm NICHIA laser diodes, we seem to have hit their physical limits. We simply could not increase the beam power any further. Now we are exploring new optics opportunities including fiber coupling and laser beam combinations. Soon we plan to announce a triple-beam laser with 30 watt optical power output.

the Endurance Laser Box

We have added some useful features to a 10 watt+ laser as well: such as an air assist, a bigger focusing ring and a laser box to measure the temperature, voltage and current while the laser is working. I’m proud to say that at the moment that our 10 watt+ is one of the most advanced laser attachments on the market today, suitable for any 3D printer or CNC machine. A bigger focus ring lets us keep the laser focused all the time as opposed to many Chinese analogs which can not do this. Our next step is to make a more powerful unit.

Research on the Nescel + FAP800 by Coherent

Trying to build more powerful units, we redirected our attention to some modules by Nescel and Coherent. Nescel offers a 10 watt 520 nm laser model while Coherent offers a FAP800 with 15 / 25 / 30 / 45 watt laser modules with a NIR wavelength of 808 nm. The difficulty in operating these lasers is related to the specific voltage and current setting. Thus, a FAP800 Coherent requires 2V and 40A which is not typical, and to find affordable AC DC or DC DC converters is a challenge. That is why we have developed our own AC DC with an adjustable voltage of 1.5-3V with stabilized and adjustable current settings. Now this AC DC converter is available for you.

The FAP800.

Our first launch of the FAP800 25 watt laser module brought us a good measure of optimism. Though there are still some issues to be resolved such as the: cooling of the laser module and the optics on the fiber and laser driver module in order for it to be fully compatible with all CNC machines and 3D printers. However, testing and running of the Nescel 520 nm 10 watt AVG did not satisfy us and we decided to leave that technology for a while.

Community and support

I personally believe that a good, friendly and supportive community is very important to a company or a business, especially to a startup. It is generally acknowledged that if you run your own business you must forget about days off and holidays. And I can say it is very true, as I am writing this article on a train taking me to the mountains. I am lucky that our Facebook community unites a lot of knowledgeable, supportive and interesting people. When my customers find drawbacks in our products they do not get angry, they very often help us improve them. There is always room for improvement. Our community members care about our product and are always eager to help. I’m so grateful to all of them for their kind words and assistance. This is very inspiring.

Another thing that I actually find very important is support. I do not understand why many businesses do not really care about their customers’ opinions. Look around, all robotic answering machines, no option to call or talk to a real person, no option to leave feedback or make a suggestion. That places me as a consumer in a strange position: I pay for the product, but what about support and service? Most businesses selling their products on Ebay or Amazon just leave you on your own.

Upgrade your current laser

This Upgrade plan came to my mind once we started to release more and more powerful units. Some of our customers feel upset when we begin to sell brand new products soon after they have made a purchase. That is why we offer buyback and upgrade options. A customer can exchange an older version of the item for a newer one with a little extra payment. We like that. This works even for a customer who has already has a laser from another manufacturer. It is quite simple with our upgrade kit to get a double beam laser(one US farming companies took advantage of this offer and cuts tape now with their new upgraded lasers).

Different applications

We are exploring new ways of using diode lasers in daily life and helping CNC users and enthusiasts to try them in action. The most popular way of using them today is in laser marking (etching) on metallic surfaces and laser cutting of acrylic, wood and plywood. For example our customer Florian Kelsch opened a new business with our 10-watt laser, and he is a real master of laser cutting and laser engraving on metallic surfaces.

Giveaway & Contests

To inspire people to do something with their own hands we run photo contests and giveaways from time to time. Our last giveaway just ended a week ago as well as a photo contest. Our last giveaway attracted almost 1000 participants and we got over 60 nice pictures for our photo contest. If you want to stay updated please subscribe to our Youtube channel, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Contribution to colleges

I believe that supporting academics, students is a key point out of our social mission. Most research plans look quite promising and some have a lot of practical value. I wish we could donate more lasers in future. I am sure that there are so many different ways to use diode lasers in pharma, microbiology, medicine, quantum physics, classical physics, chemistry, etc. I am deeply concerned that use of powerful laser modules are still very limited. By inspiring educators and academics to play with them we hope to change this in the future. We usually donate older lasers free of charge to educators. We also like to send free lasers to academics and STEM centers worldwide, this February 2019 we sent 9 units to educators.

Learn more about us and see our products here.

 

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Aircraft Philipp purchases GEFERTEC Arc605 3D printer for aerospace production

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Interview with Alexander Oster of Autodesk

Alexander Oster is an extremely knowledgeable 3D printing person. If we’re looking at mesh repair or 3D printing files & software I’d consider Alexander the number one person worldwide. He also has a lot of manufacturing experience and this combined with his thorough knowledge of 3D printing software means he’s a veritable one man army in 3D printing. Alexander got started at one of the first 3D Printing service bureaus FIT (who pioneered SLA prototyping, prosthetics and manufacturing with 3D printing) singlehandedly wrote most of Netfabb and worked on some of the earliest 3D printing checking and pricing software. When Netfabb was acquired by Autodesk he moved to the company to become their Director of Additive Manufacturing. Alex is a great guy as well and has some very real nuanced insight to share with us.

Alexander Oster

How did you get into 3D printing? 

I came in contact with 3D printers for the first time in 1998, when I had a student job at a local company that acted as Prototyping Service Provider for the Southern German Automotive Industry. At the time, they used this completely new and mind-blowing technology called Stereolithography in order to make prototypes and molds for investment casting.

The new thing about this method was that overnight it transformed the old craftmanship of model-making into a completely digital and high-tech activity – and there was almost no existing software stack available that would support this change. I had a good chunk of experience in programming 3D games, experience which we leveraged to help write a lot of in house software to keep the process working and efficient.
This company, FIT AG, still exists today and has become one of the premier additive contract manufacturers in Europe.

You wrote one of the first online software for 3D printing, what was that like? 

Back in 2004, we mostly focused on the Design and Manufacturing of latticed part geometries years before everybody else sold this as “news”. For example, at the annual Euromold trade show 2006 we had a real size (about 3x3x3 meter) latticed tree on display – which was printed in Nylon and very lightweight due to its nature-inspired internal geometries.

It was unthinkable to do this in a CAD system at the time, so we had to find some shortcuts to directly create laser paths for use by the EOS plastic systems to handle the data appropriately.

But for our original geometry representation we still used (as did everybody else) triangles that were stored in the STL format. As this created a lot of instabilities and handling problems, we were forced to develop repair and fixing algorithms to mediate that. At this point, we did not make a commercially sellable product, but it was enough to be useful for others. So we released it as cloud service, and then cooperated with the newly founded Shapeways to streamline their customer upload process.

By coincidence this was also the time when the RepRap project and especially a small New York startup called Makerbot set out to make 3D Printing a known technology for the masses. Like in the industrial world, each one of those new 3D Printer users had a dire need to process all kinds of broken and invalid geometry files from a plethora sources – and this made the netfabb Cloud Services quite popular.
After a few years, we were very honored and excited that Microsoft took up the service as one of the first on their Azure platform; and connected it to the newly released Windows 10, with its built-in 3D Builder app.

You also wrote Netfabb, how has its functionality expanded? 

Netfabb was the desktop version of this cloud service, and today has grown from a small tool that prepared STL files for 3D printing to a fully blown end to end solution for Additive Manufacturing. Particularly since our acquisition by Autodesk, we were able to quickly leverage the full force of a software giant and incorporate CAD kernels, Metal Process Simulation, Finite Element Solver, and advanced cloud capabilities. The whole software is now a puzzle piece in the much larger Autodesk Manufacturing world consisting of top-end vertical solutions for all each imaginable process of Digital Manufacturing – whether it be CNC operations (Autodesk PowerMill), composite manufacturing and cutting (Autodesk TruNest), or injection molding simulation (Autodesk MoldFlow).

This broadness of capabilities makes the Autodesk solution portfolio very unique in the market, and our tiered packaging model really has changed various developments in the industry. For example, at an entry-level price of only 200 US dollars per year we directly support hundreds of different 3D printers, affordable providing everybody in an organization access to 3D Printing data preparation. At the same time our high-end manufacturing and simulation solutions power the most advanced industrial applications on the planet.

What has changed in 3D printing industry during the time you were involved with it? Is the software landscape different now?

The major change between today and a decade ago is that nowadays a lot of large industrial players are investing huge amounts of capital, and new startups easily receive millions of dollars of venture funding with a well-presented idea that only exists on paper.

I am not sure if this is as bad as in other areas like Blockchain or Artificial Intelligence – but it has in my opinion skewed the market quite a lot and we are often seeing behind the scenes new entrants that are remaking all the mistakes that have already been made 10 years ago. This sometimes makes one feel sorry for all the lost money, but it also ensures that life stays exciting and it is not absolute that the most capital equipped player will in the end win the market.

From a software perspective, we are basically seeing what some people have predicted long time ago, which is basically the fact that the major large CAD vendors moved in and are incorporating 3D printing solutions into their products – and will in the long term dominate the software field. This is kind of unavoidable due to the important link between the design process of parts and the manufacturability constraints that naturally come with Additive Manufacturing.

What are Autodesk’s plans with 3D printing? 

In addition to all of our Netfabb activities, I am specifically excited about our movement to integrate our manufacturing capabilities into Fusion 360. Fusion 360 is Autodesk’s next generation cloud-connected Design-to-Make platform, supporting all steps of the product development process, from conceptual design, mechanical design, CAE, CAM, and data management. And all of this backed by a cloud system that makes collaboration across different continents as effective as sitting next to each other.

A few months ago, we have released the first iteration of our Metal Additive capabilities inside of Fusion 360. Next to the established Fusion CAM module, this gives an amazing in-CAD experience for the user to quickly get from a design environment to a print ready file within seconds, and at the same time create the CNC postprocessing operation for the same part.

It is truly exciting to see the possibilities and the convergence of the design process of a product with the downstream manufacturing chain. And all of this in one place and in an associative way – which means once there is a change done upstream to the original design the manufacturing instructions are automatically updated accordingly. And all of this can be accessed at a subscription prices that will open up those capabilities to a vast group of designers and engineers who could not have afforded a fraction of capabilities before.

What do you see as the major roadblocks to 3D printing adoption?

While a lot of people still think about the quality aspects of Additive Manufacturing as the main issue, in my opinion the problem is more that the current cost structure of the technologies is far too expensive to make them viable in the mainstream. If the costs per part would be significantly lower, a lot of applications would open up where the quality problems we are seeing would be less relevant – casting for example has at least as many issues as additive, but is viable and widely used.

A lot of companies today are trying to reduce the costs by increasing production speed. This certainly helps, but in my opinion the real elephant in the room is the capital investment needed to really make use of the technology. You can easily find an entry level CNC equipment, and industrial robot or a state of the art injection molding machine for less than 50.000 US dollars, but one still requires millions of dollars to set up an efficient Additive Manufacturing operation, and even more millions to train engineers to properly take advantage of the process. Based on the amount of capital, this often means a lot of produced parts must be producted in order to amortize and therefore creates a high barrier for applications that are most suitable for 3D printing (i.e. the ones that have a low life time unit count).

The big democratization of 3D Printing has already occurred for stereolithography and FDM market, and I am sure we will also see it for the more industrial technologies too. And it will finally make the technology mainstream enough that the knowledge about them becomes ubiquitous.

What advice would you give me if I was an industrial company wanting to get started with 3D printing?

Do not invest millions of dollars in a in house technology park that will be outdated in a few years. Rather invest the money in product development together with a manufacturing partner and design consultants that can train you how to apply 3D Printing in the best way for your application.

How do you think that 3D printing could make a real impact on companies bottom lines?

I think this is not the right question, as this is always suggesting that we will build current products just a little bit cheaper when we 3D print them. In my opinion, the real question is much more which developments will not happen and which new businesses cannot be built without a major contribution of 3D Printing technology. And there the list is quite extensive.

I do not believe patient-specific implants are feasible without 3D Printing. I also believe there will be no walking robots without 3D printed components and no flying taxis. Or if you look at the current developments in the aerospace industry, we will not go to Mars without Additive Manufacturing involved, nor will we achieve environmentally sustainable air travel. Climate Change challenges, in general, will be very hard to tackle. If you look at the construction market for example, the amount of buildings the world needs to build in the coming decades for the billions of people moving into the middle class is mind-blowing. Neither enough resources nor the human capacity exists today to achieve this without destroying the planet. I do not believe that this will work out without proper automation, and advances in robotics and 3D printing will certainly play a key role in this. Dubai for example recently passed a law that 25% of its new buildings need to be 3D printed by 2025.
Independent how that will turn out, the future certainly will be exciting.