Not quite Star Trek, but Stratasys brings 3D printing tech to Malaysia: Page 2 of 3
By A. Asohan June 26, 2013
Emerging trends and uses
Traditionally, 3D printing has been strongest in the mechanical engineering world, where CAD software has had a foothold since the 1980s. This group still tends to be the most advanced users of 3D printing too, since all their design work just needs to be converted to a format suitable for output.
But new uses have emerged to drive the technology beyond its traditional markets. Some are expected, a mere progression from what has gone on before. For example, manufacturers now use it not just for R&D but also to make actual products … toy companies for one.
Reverse engineering can be dialled up too. “With 3D scanners, you can now scan an object and capture its 3D content, go back to the CAD environment where you do the meshing and get precise dimensions,” says Kei. “Once you’ve got that, you can print an identical object.”
“I can scan your face, and print out a model for you in a matter of hours,” she adds.
But it’s not all just fun and games – 3D printing has also found use in the dental and medical fields.
When coupled with CT (computed tomography) scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology, dentists can have moulds made to order according to a patient’s unique dental requirements.
“Everyone’s teeth are different; a dentist can scan your teeth through an oral scanner and output a mould that gives an identical replacement,” says Kei.
The same applies with CT scanners, MRI and other kinds of tools that can capture the data of a specific person. For example, if a patient is suffering from a tumour, the hospital can scan the skull and brain and build a physical model. The surgery team can use this to discuss and plan the operation.
“Our technology gives a simulation that is very close to reality, which is helpful for surgical teams,” says Kei. “Many of our medical customers have said it really helps reduce surgery times.”
3D printing can also be used for custom-made ‘jigs’ and ‘fixtures’ – tools that are used to hold open a surgical incision or wound as the doctor treats it or performs surgery. Once used, they have to be discarded. Currently, you have to depend on a range of standard sizes, and doctors would use the closest fit.
“With 3D printing, you can actually make jigs and fixtures uniquely suited to the patient,” says Kei.
Hollywood has been no laggard either – with so much of today’s film-making involving green rooms and virtual environments, 3D printing can be used to create props and sites that only live in writers’ fevered imaginings.
“As long as you have a 3D virtual environment, it can be reproduced,” says Kei, adding that Stratasys technology has been used in not just animated movies such as Tintin, but also Avatar, John Carter and the Iron Man series.
“Our technology has been used to make props, models and even the real hand of the actor,” she says. “The Iron Man outfit was 3D printed when it was first designed; then other materials such as fabrics were added to make it more comfortable for the actors.”
It’s the same kind of creative drive that is delighting users of Google SketchUp – a design and drawing tool that allows you to create ‘3Dify’ sketches of objects and landscapes on the computer. Couple that with a 3D printer, and you can actually make models of these object and landscapes.
Anyone up to making a model Jabberwocky?
Architects are cottoning on to this use as well. While architects have also been early adopters of CAD software, the models of the buildings they design have traditionally been done by hand.
“We go in and show them how they can just print out their CAD designs, and they go ‘wow’,” says Kei.
“In the past 30 years, CAD vendors have been doing a lot of work to make making sure people are drawing on a computer instead of a napkin.
“There are 14 million CAD seats out there already, and five million of them are 3D, but only fewer than 50,000 3D printers have been sold in total worldwide, including those from other vendors.
“There’s so much potential for us,” she says, adding that 30,000 of those printers are Stratasys printers sitting with 8,000 customers worldwide.
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