Two cents blog

The 3D Experiment: Week 6 – ‘3D printing and physical prototyping’

by Julian Thomas on 15 April 2014

For some time, creative technology has been at the forefront of innovation in design and technology, beautifully blurring the lines where form and functionality intersect with art. The key component in the process of finding the correct balance between design and technology in any tangible project has largely been down to the success of the prototyping phase and the reincarnations from each prototype version.  With the affordability and growth of 3D printing, developers, designers, artists and the hacker community can now quickly spin out well-formed ideas as prototypes that may not be far from the final product.

As a lover of vinyl and processing, I was really excited to hear, over a year ago, that Amanda Ghassaei had managed to 3D print a 33rpm record of Daft Punk’s Around the World using Processing and the Modelbuilder Library. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, the sampling rate of these prototypes is 11kHz (CD quality is 44.1kHz), which is relatively low. Another aspect that is also noticeable in the 3D printed record is that the width and depth of the grooves that the needle runs along are much deeper and wider than those seen on a standard vinyl record. These aspects aside, the real genius is the technology behind the project and how the Processing algorithm is designed to analyse the raw audio data to create a file format for the 3D printer to understand and convert into a tangible prototype.

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Sticking with music, another project that beautifully illustrates the cohesion between technology and 3D printing, is the rebirth of the old hand cranked music box from Left Field Labs with Music Drop. Through the website, you can personalise your own ‘Music Drop’ through an HTML5 audio sequencer that allows you to create and save your own tune. This tune is then converted into a WebGL model, exported to a file format for the 3D printer, and finally shipped out to the consumer. The elegance in Left Field Labs’ process is how the speed and convenience of low cost 3D printing allowed them to prototype more efficiently and help refine the design and final product.

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The final product that can’t be ignored is Nervous System’s Kinematics, “…a system for 4D printing that creates complex, foldable forms composed of articulated modules”. Through the website, people can customise their own jewellery that is based on the Kinematics concept, and have their necklace, bracelet or earrings 3D printed and shipped directly to their door. The cleverness in this design process is not just in the complexity of the programming involved, but that the 3D model is printed in such a way that means it does not require assembly.  In their blog, when commenting about this particular project, the Nervous System team made reference to the design of these interlocking components and the difficulties of achieving this, and how the process of physical prototyping assisted in their refining of the concept.

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Whilst low cost 3D printing is in its infancy, it has already made a big impact in not only the products and projects being developed, but also the process and speed at which we can prototype to help further refine initial concepts into well-formed tangible products.

In our series of posts, we have shared our experiences coming to grips with the technical side and process of physically 3D printing, spoken about the opportunities the new technology presents for our industry, how 3D printing is being used by a new breed of innovators (often for the good of humanity), and in this post, on the connection between 3D printing and other technologies. The future, as to where 3D printing goes to from here, is clearly unlimited, as many brilliant and clever minds around the globe latch onto the new technology with both hands and hang on for the ride. We’re thrilled to be taking part in that journey.

Julian Thomas is Technical Director at BCM

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