Friday, 4 March 2016

Maker Movements at the iMakr 3D printing Show

Preparing the chocolate for the ChocEdge Cocolate 3D Printer 

There is a growing interest in maker culture but still very few places to easily find out about it, see what's going on, see stuff and buy it.

There is a growing interest in 3D printing but still very few places to easily find out about it, see what's going on, see stuff and buy it.

The iMakr store is a place where you can find out about, see what's going on, see and buy stuff for 3D printing. iMakr are helping to grow 3D printing maker culture in London with a relaxed environment

The iMakr store reminds me of the early days of the public Internet - the Internet Cafe's of the mid to late 1990s and how many of these had a cool vibe about them as they spread awareness and access of the new technology and its potential. Whereas the early Internet cafe's had a certain intensity about them (no doubt largely a coffee induced caffein buzz) iMakr is more relaxed and inviting reminding me more of an art gallery where you can walk in, look around and ask questions. Like an art gallery iMakr puts on regular events and helps build awareness of 3D printing from free training sessions to evenings for toy makers, jewelry makers and general enthusiasts.

On 3 March 2016 the iMakr store in London put on a general Desktop 3D Printing Show with product displays, demonstrations and presentations - I popped in to find out more about and to take a look at several 3D printing technologies I hadn't seen in action before - chocolate, SLA, large scale printing, Pens and scanning. It's one thing to read about, see pictures and videos of something but nothing helps understanding better than physical experience.
The ChocEdge Chocolate lettering took about 5 minutes to print

Every time I run a 3D print session people ask about printing chocolate and get quite excited about the idea. I have an idea that for any 3D print event you must have a chocolate printer - it really draws attention. I hadn't seen a chocolate printer in action so was looking forward to meeting the people from Choc Edge who were displaying, demonstrating and presenting downstairs.

Mark Jones from Choc Edge gave me the low down on chocolate printing. Chocolate printing depends so much on the source material - the chocolate. Its so important to get the chocolate right and in this the 3D printer adds to the skills of the chocolatier rather than deskilling or disintermediating them. Once the chocolate has been prepared, melted, sucked into the ChocEdge stainless steel syringe and loaded into the the printer then printing with a chocolate printer is much like I expected it to be - its much faster than printing with plastics as the resolution and temperature is much lower. The nature of the material (chocolate) also determines how you print - 2 dimensional objects are fast but going to 3 dimensions is more challenging mostly due to the need to cool layers properly. In terms of failed prints chocolate printing has amazing properties - you can either eat them or recycle them!

Welcome to the Fab Lab - the Gizmo top down DLP 3D printer
Just around the corner from Choc Edge was another class of 3D printer that I haven't seen in action before - stereolithography (SLA). SLA was where 3D printing really began and is now resurgent due to its speed - I was keen to find out more and see one in action. Gizmo were demonstrating their new super speed top down DLP 3D printer. While there is a lot more fiddling around with chemicals that makes it more "messy" and fiddly than an FDM printer - once it gets going its a lot faster than a standard FDM printer.

I had a fascinating conversation with makers around the Gizmo demonstration. One of the makers was describing how "old" photographic companies are getting into 3D printing - Kodak staying optical with SLA and Polaroid going solid with FDM. He also mentioned how the "old" chemical company BASF is "selling spades in the gold rush" ... producing materials for most types of printing - SLA, FDM and laser sintering. Another maker came specifically to see the Gizmo DLP printer before buying one - saying that it would give him a a big speed to market advantage over those using FDM printers. I asked him about SLA printers and colour - the problem of printing objects with more than one colour but also the potential to mix resins like paint for custom colours - he explained that he normally only prints in white - it being faster and cheaper - he paints colour on objects after printing.

3D Scanning with the Einscan Pro

Upstairs the impressive strobing of the Einscan Pro handheld 3D scanner couldn't help but draw attention. 3D scanning is something else I hadn't seen in action before so it was useful to see how the people from Einscan built a 3D model by scanning an object.

3D scanning is often overlooked compared to 3D printing but new technology developments such as Intel RealSense may bring a revolution to 3D scanning in bringing down the cost and integrating it into a new generation of smartphones.

Polaroid talking about their ModelSmart 250S 3D Printer

FDM is still the mainstream 3D printing technology used by makers and there were plenty of these being displayed and demonstrated. Everyone knows Polaroid's innovative reputation with quick and easy photography - I was curious to see what they were doing with 3D printing. Polaroid were showing their ModelSmart 250S 3D Printer and in line with their reputation have focused on ease of use - its reasonably fast as well. The printer is self calibrating works together with the software and propriety smart chipped cartridges to give what Polaroid describes as a"plug and play" 3D printer. The software will predict the time and amount of filament an object will need to print - very helpful where you have to cost and charge for 3D printing. the printer has internal Wi-Fi-enabled camera for remote monitoring of projects - again this is useful where others are using your printer and one thing we often like to do with our 3D printers is to stream them live printing on the web. The features of the Polaroid printer would make it very useful in education and for the first time user - although no pricing was available I have my concerns that the cost of the printer may work against it for some of the market it os aimed at.

On the Polaroid stand was an impressively large and articulated wooden Octopus. Polaroid shared a moment with me - the 3D print tool 2.5 days and cost £60 (one cartridge of wood filament) while a carpenter would take 6 weeks and cost £5,000.

 Delta Wasp 3D printer

I'm familiar with desktop FDM printers where the print bed that lowers, it was a surprise to see printers where the print head moves up and there were many on display at the iMakr show. It was very useful indeed to see the likes of the Delta Wasp 3D printers in action to get a real sense of the capabilities of large scale 3D printing.

The iMakr 3D Printing Pen
I've always thought that a 3D printing pen would be convenient and cheap introduction to 3D printing but I've never seen or used one myself. At the entrance to the iMakr show was their 3D printing pen and some samples of things made with it-  at just £59 plus a reel of standard PLA filament you can have some sort of experience of 3D printing. It was useful to have a go, it was nowhere as easy as I thought it would be but after a few minutes I got used to it and managed to 3D print initials although I appreciated that a lot more practice would be needed to make anything in 3D. With 3D print pens beware that they can be quite frustrating at first and and quite a bit of patience and practice is needed to grips them. The other impression I had of using a 3d print pen one of making and crafting rather than 3D printing - it is a manual tool after all.

3D printed electric guitar (body)
And finally ... no 3D print show would be complete without some cool objects on display - there were plenty at the iMakr show but my favourite (apart from the chocolate) was the electric guitar!

iMakr put on an excellent show with a great mix of 3D printing technologies, products and speakers.

Every minute is made worthwhile at the iMakr store!

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