The wish for easy 3D modelling for access to 3D printing …

It has been an amazing year for 3D printing and there are some interesting threads on various blogs to follow on through.

A year ago Fabbaloo posted their “wishes for 2010” and one was for Easy 3D Software as the packages on offer do require a lot of learning to become fully capable. My issue with most is that they have un-needed complexity. With too many functions also cluttering up the interface many are put off by the steep learning curve and thereby exclude from access to 3D printing.  In Fabbaloo’s wish list  there were 2 developments in 2010 they noted that improve the position:

  • Google Sketchup 8 was released, including some interesting features. This free tool is the gateway for many people introduced to the technology.
  • Anarkik3D released version 2 of their haptic-based 3D design software. While not yet widely used, this approach cou

    Anarkik3D: Cloud9 interface and design for bangle

    ld make things a lot easier for 3D modellers.

Anarkik3D’s haptic based 3D design software is Cloud9 and our distributor (A1 Technologies) imports the Falcon haptic device from Novint in the United States, bundles the software and device together and markets the package as Chameleon.

Another blog (RPES blog) on August 10th covered the designer jewellery created by Farah Bandookwala during her Master’s Degree at Edinburgh College of Art. I have already written about Farah’s work in this blog as she had a residency with us in Summer 2009 to investigate using Cloud9 for her work and we have worked closely with her since then.

To quote from Rachel’s blog: ‘Using Chameleon alongside a traditional 3D CAD package, Rhino, Farah found that the differences between the two software packages were extreme. Most notable was that while the 3D CAD offered control and precision with surfaces, it just could not compare with the ability to freely sculpture the shapes by directly deforming and manipulating surfaces to create the desired morphing. Indeed it is the freedom of the software that is one of the greatest attractions for truly creative design, with no constraints.

Farah secured sponsorship with Shapeways and LaserLines to have her designs 3D printed, from concept stage where she experimented with constructions and fastenings, through to the dyed and finished pieces into which she embedded magnets as connectors.

Farah’s work proves that Fabbaloo’s ‘easy 3D software’ wish for 2010 is here already, as Cloud9 has levels of usability and functionality that are balanced, a rubust .stl format for 3D printing (of course) and compatibility with CAD, it is affordable (£495 with the Falcon haptic device) and it is available (A1 Technologies).

Replicator’s  blog on December 23, 2010 about ‘Who is Getting Interested in 3D Printing? Server Log Stories‘ by Joseph Flaherty says that, yes, ‘3D printers are an amazing technology, but haven’t yet broken into the mainstream. Largely because companies haven’t figured out a way to profitably employ them. Yet. However, based on my Google Analytics I can see some interesting companies are looking into the technology. These are big companies and if they apply 3D printing to their businesses it will make for some really awesome products.’

I am interested in Joseph’s focus on Fire Mountain Gems‘ an ecommerce powerhouse that serves the multibillion dollar home jewelry making market. Using their catalog and online shopping carts crafters crank out beautiful pieces of jewelry. It seems though that the folks at Fire Mountain might be interested in how 3D printing could expand their service offering’. How I agree, as I am sure would Farah, as 3D printing materials are developing fast with steel, ceramics and glass now available at Shapeways, expanding the plastics, nylons, and starches, the range of colours, and resolutions now on offer. We will watch with interest and expect to see a category for 3D printed beads in Fire Mountain Gems catalogue!

On Anarkik3D’s blog I am covering an Mcor/Anarkik3D project as Cloud9’s capability for organic forms, combined with 3D printing in layers of coloured paper using Mcor’s Matrix printer, will illustrate beautifully the potential their technology has for designers. I am particularly interested in the use of actual 3D printed pieces as end products.

Joris Peel’s blog at Materialise has a review of the highlights of 2010 and is well worth reading. His clips for November 23rd cover .MGX opening its flagship store in Brussels, the world’s first store for 3D printed goods.

This area of ‘off-the-machine’ making is now a very exciting, well established state of things, with great designs available from a growing number of companies and individuals. One major example –  see the FOC Collection

What would Fabbaloo wish to happen in 2011?

· A capable and assembled 3D printer for under USD$1500. Yes, especially for early concept work.

·  A consumer-oriented online market for 3D models. I agree with them that Thingiverse is oriented around makers, not consumers. Shapeways and Ponoko’s business models could be tweaked to develop a more consumer orientated online resource but Sculpteo has with its company name more potential to attract those customers who are seeking more ‘desirable’ less techie things to 3D print.

It would be good to have somewhere appropriate to put out some 3D Cloud9 designs as .stl that others can access and get printed – as Fabbaloo says ‘Things They Like. Not things that engineers like to print’. I have put one (my apple and worm) on our Anarkikangels’ website – maybe we should have more!

Virtual 3D world is very bright and tangible – but not pink!

Fabbaloo published an article about Bits from Bytes about getting a new website and unveiling a RapChick at Euromold last week! What is a RapChick?

The new RapChick is a 3D Printer Kit  designed ‘especially for female users in response to the growing numbers of women engineers and creators within our community.  The RapChick features pink accents and unique branding that will appeal to this rapidly expanding, underserved audience’. Unlike Fabbaloo my immediate response to the above description was not favourable and neither were the first 2 comments to their article. Why is it assumed that woman engineers are not capable of building the Rapman? Many creators are capable too but there are those who also have better/more pressing things to do, like design, make and market, than spend precious creative time, and money, building for the technical exercise and a few quid off.  A good few like myself really don’t want to grapple with techie stuff: we don’t understand it nor do we want to. But we want to 3D print.

The RapChick’s ‘pink accents’ did made me see red as it seems that pink plus the branding were the only design differences between the RapChick and the Rapman! There is an excellent article by Femmeden http://www.femmeden.com/pdf/SmartDesign_SexontheBrain.pdf  that explains precisely why I was incensed. And all designers should read it. 

Seriously, I do applaud what BfB are doing but to truly democatise 3D printing (as BfB say they are doing), they have to also appeal to all rapidly expanding, underserved audiences. For non technical groups Rapman and RapChick kits are not the way to do this.

Development must be on usability and understanding how to include people of all ages who have different learning styles, requirements and preferences who want to engage with this very exciting technology. So thank you, Shapeways, Sculpteo, and I am sure Ponoko – I haven’t experienced their 3D services yet – for making the route to 3D printing so straightforward.

 Thre is a remaining barrier to more people being able to use 3D printing: how to create that virtual model. CAD is not suitable for many on many levels. It is prescriptive, has a huge learning curve, designed for operatives working with it almost full time, complex interface, too many functions that will never be touched or used, too expensive and difficult to justify when used sporadically in conjunction with other tasks such as making and marketing. It does not fit comfortably, for example, with the way many in the applied arts work within their disciplines of ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, furniture, accessories etc.

The main influencers to many budget holders, responsible for selecting and recommending 3D hardware and software for schools, colleges, workshops, fablabs, are themselves CAD users and do not fully grasp the divide that exists. Many in the arts have turned technophobic, overwhelmed by complexity and prescriptiveness, becoming a barrier unto themselves and teachers for their pupils to the extent that digital technologies are now off their radar.

I only fully grasped why our haptic Cloud9 3D sketch modelling software was special when I read the femmeden article (link is above) a few years ago – Cloud9 is INCLUSIVE. CAD isn’t. By using a haptic device to replace the 3D mouse, to give the user 3D ‘virtual touch’ and movement in 3D, interaction in the digital environment remains familiar. Cloud9 is so intuitive and free flowing, serendipity is a default. It is  easy to learn and to use, and fun (virtual 3D touch is special), caters for all stages of creativity (amateur to professional), can be picked up quickly again after a long break as the non complex interface taps into our more natural way of interacting in 3D, is being developed with the feed back from stakeholders and other users about what they want and need and how they want to work, and unbelievably the software and the haptic device bundle together costs under £500.

It can also be difficult to justify even this until the enormous potential of 3D printing is understood! And from Cloud9 you can 3D print your model directly. £500 then becomes a no brainer. Design companies internationally are buying Cloud9 as it fits into their design pipeline and complements CAD. Schools are purchasing: all kids should now be able to access 3D technologies. Colleges are buying into it too.

Previously I spotlighted Farah Bandookwala. She uses Cloud9 with Rhino, and Shapeways for tangible output for her whole Masters Degree Show. Have a look on her website: http://www.farahb.com. See Shapeways, Ponoko, FoC and so on for the rising numbers of applied artists working internationally who are using 3D printing to create wonderful pieces of work. 

Creativity and the inspiration for this fantastic work can be sparked off by having a good understanding of the process of 3D printing and the properties of the material used. The BfB products are excellent for seeing the build up happening and therefore understanding the affordances and constraints. Plus the resulting parts are inexpensive enough to experiment and play with so this valuable part of creativity is not checked by any ‘preciousness.’

What many of us need then is not so much the Rapman kit but a ready built 3D printer with easy processing of 3D data at an entry level price in a workshop/fablab nearby as this way it would get more usage and more people engaged. 

3D virtual world is indeed very bright and tangible.

Bits From Bytes

Farah’s jewellery: organic forms extending the CAD aesthetic

'Parasite' bangle1 by Farah Bandookwala

'Parasite' bangle1

This is the same blog that I have posted on our anarkikangels website forum – except is has a photo! This is about Farah Bandookwala, an MFA student, who has used Cloud9 and Rhino to design the range of jewellery that she is presenting at the Edinburgh Degree Shows (12 – 20 June 2010). All the work is 3D printed (at Shapeways) in different materials, finished, coloured by hand and very wearable. Here is her web site www.farahb.com where she has photos of all her pieces and statements about the concepts behind the designs.

Her work illustrates how Cloud9 can be used to advantage in combination with CAD to develop concepts to a high level of professionalism, to execute through 3D printing very exciting and wearable jewellery with a different aesthetic from that of the mainstream of digitally designed artifacts.

Here is a statement by David Poston, one of the participants in the DrawnReality Project, using the original proof of concept haptic sketchmodelling software that used touch, 6 degrees of freedom and ‘3D vision’ that has morphed into Cloud9 (haptic, 3 degrees of freedom, and very affordable). This was made after approximately 4 days using the DrawnReality application and an output of 9 designs which can be seen here with work by other designers and applied artists http://www.anarkikangels.co.uk/PhotoGallery.aspx?a=0):
‘Using a CAD system for design work generally requires that a clear idea of the output has already been established before starting to use the system, since to a significant extent the drawing process has to be planned in relation to the intended outcome.

By contrast, DrawnReality (DR) requires little or no preconception prior to beginning to work with it.  The process closely resembles the designer’s normal drawing process, but rapidly, in 3D.  Saving objects at different stages makes the process more tolerant of experiment and risk, because there is less economic imperative to commit to a particular avenue or train of thought at an early stage. 
If the 2D drawing of design ideas amounts to synthesizing approximations of the possible outcomes then the virtual reality of DR greatly speeds and advances this process.
Whereas CAD is a primarily intellectual tool involving an extensive learning curve, DR exploits instinctual capacity and tacit knowledge, allowing significant creative freedom from an early stage.
The comparative advantages of CAD and DR are quite distinct and complementary; each is an extremely important tool.’  Dr David Poston PhD FRSA 20.06.08

I look forward to a healthy discussions on this topic about Cloud9 being a valuable addition to the range of tools that designers can use to provide a new aesthetic to designing on computer to differentiate their work.

Cloud9 Version 2.0: intensive user testing then release!

Regular readers will have guessed that I am passionate about digital designing  (especially our own Anarkik3D’s haptic Cloud9 software!) and ‘fabbing’, applying my knowledge and experiences as a jeweller/maker to first design and then 3D printing. For a wearable piece the next part is finishing whether painting, dying the object, fixing units together and adding other elements such as a brooch pin.

The last piece of work I did is for the InsideOut exhibition. The concept of InsideOut is for a group in the UK and a group in Australia to each create a mini digital piece that will fit into a 6 cm cube. Ours are sent to the organisers in Australia and theirs are sent to the UK. 2 sets are 3D printed for 2 parallel exhibitions here and there. The Australian one opens in June and the UK one online first then at participating institutions. For up-to-date information: http://www.arttech.com.au/insideout/exhibition.html

I plan to use the elements that make up my ‘cube’ for a design for a brooch. My next blog will about this piece. I will use the process of designing this brooch to test the new functions that we have added to Version 2.0 of Cloud9 which is due for release in June. For April and May we are setting up a system to intensively and iteratively test and debug Cloud9 V2.0.

It works like this: we organise a schedule of 12 x ½ days , 2 or 3 days apart, for ‘testing’ with one person per ½ day from a volunteer line-up of designers, applied artists and artists who are invited to use V2 (beta) to create a piece/pieces of work and file a report on issues, bugs, niggles, etc, and crashes! And what they like! The team will then work through these reports in the 2-3 days between testing to debug and sort out issues, to present the next tester/user with the improved Cloud9 V2.0. We will do this in our office as observing the users’ interactions, what they do, how they do it, how they cope with the interface and use the Falcon haptic device is very important tacit feedback into the development of our application.

I had a meeting with A1 Technologies last week in London and went through V2 features and improvements with them so they are up to speed for marketing, launching and informing customers of what is coming.

So watch this space.

About Xiaoqing on Ada Lovelace day

Xiaoqing testing an application

Xiaoqing testing an application

This is to celebrate the talents of Xiaoqing Cao who is the technical manager and senior programmer in our Company, Anarkik3D Ltd. She is also a co-founder of the company and we have been working together since Summer 2005 developing haptic software. She is extra special as not only has she skills in computer science she is also an artist and combines her sensibilities,  talent and skills to create elegant software applications that are so visually satisfying too. Having a high level of aesthetics embedded in our products is important as the main group who use our applications, designers, applied artists and artists, will instinctively ‘evaluate’ the software on what the interface looks like and how well they can interact with it. 

Our company is founded and led by the two of us and we are proud that we are at the leading edge developing haptic (virtual touch) technology for application in the creative industries.

I am also really pleased to have the opportunity here to acknowledge  the others in the team, Abi and Mark, as together we are a great team with an excellent range of talents between us which we need to remain at this front edge and especially now as this is difficult time for small business.

Today we celebrate the bringing together of science, art and design!

Makers Faire, Shapeways and Cloud9

large beadsOn Sunday 15th March I took our haptic gear and laptop to the 1st UK Makers Faire that was held in Newcastle as part of the Science Festival there. The main reason for going was to meet up with Joris and Peter Paul of Shapeways to give them a demo of Cloud9 as I am particularly keen for them to understand how easy and intuitive it is to learn and use, and how robust our models are for 3D printing/rapid prototyping.

Shapeways were exhibiting their range of 3D printed models to illustrate both their company’s expertise and the accessibility of the services they offer. In February we added exporting a model in the STL file format to Cloud9 so the model can be processed and 3D printed. We have tested this by getting the model printed by a couple of different places, one being Shapeways. As our haptic software is so easy to learn and use, a much wider range of people are able design and create 3D models and then 3D printing them using services such as Shapeways. So we should both be promoting each other! Here is the link http://www.shapeways.com/ to them and www.anarkikangels.co.uk to us.

Anarkikangels, Cloud9 and all that…

My first blog. Will writing and putting words down in phrases, sentences etc, order my thinking ? Will putting down words capture and record those  ideas swirling around in my mind? Will this be useful not just for me and for my colleagues but also for those who want to know more about the other levels we deal with in the haptic software development of Cloud9? Will it be in a form that others can understand and interact with and to which I can refer to and edit?

As I do not find writing at all easy starting a blog is a bit crazy but we all need feedback and I hope what I get back is helpful and constructive . It will certainly contain pictures to help cut down on the amount I have to write! So here goes….