Last week, Jesse and I visited the relatively new Shapeways factory in Long Island City, NY. It was great to finally be able to see where our products are 3D printed. When we first started working with Shapeways, they were based exclusively in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. About a year ago, they opened up their first manufacturing facility in the USA. Duann Scott, designer evangelist at Shapeways and all around awesome guy, showed us around. Since not all of you can make it to NYC for a tour, I figured I would post some photos and observations here.
The factory is in a nondescript industrial building with no signage. After some stair climbing and hallway navigating we reach Shapeways. On first impression, everything is white. The floor is white, the walls are white, the machines are white, the 3D prints are white and to top it off a fine white powder of nylon coats every surface. The factory has three different 3 printing technologies on site: Selective Laser Sintering, full color zprinting, and multi-jet resin printing. I’ll describe their setup for all three processes.
Selective Laser Sintering
The Shapeways NY factory has a truly impressive number of EOS selective laser sintering printers at the factory. These are the machines that print all of the nylon (or “white strong and flexible” as Shapeways calls it) parts and thus a large proportion of everything we sell at Nervous System. They have two rooms of these machines. One with about 4 medium sized EOS SINT P 395‘s and one giant EOS SINT P 760. And another room of smaller sized EOS Formiga p110 machines. The smaller Formiga machines are the ones being used for Shapeways new fast turnaround time for orders of White Strong and Flexible models (ships in 6 business days) which explains why those quick ship times are limited to designs less than 20cm. Considering that each one of these printers costs on the order of a half million dollars….that’s a lot of SLS machines! Correspondingly, a lot of man hours seems to go into planning the print jobs for those machines. Orders from many customers are painstakingly and efficiently packed into the build volume of each machine.
a tiny EOS formiga machine (left), a funky dust proof keyboards that comes with the EOS machines
We were told that printing a full build on one of the EOS SINT P 395′s takes around 36 hours and up to 48 hours on the P 760. During the week, they tend to run smaller builds on the machines that take around 12 hours each. During the sinter process, the nylon powder is heated to just below melting point in the build chamber. That means there is less thermal shock when the laser selectively sinters the 3d print. But it also means that after printing each build has to cool down for the same number of hours as 3d print time. So when they print a 36 hour job, it has to cool for 36 hours. When you take into account the scarcity of printers, print time, cooling time, and then man hours to depowder and do quality control on the prints – I start thinking that 6 day turn around time is quite impressive. It’s hard to imagine them being able to do it much faster without dramatically raising prices to account for inefficient use of the build volume.
After cooling, the nylon parts go through 3 stages of depowdering including a round of bead blasting. If parts have been ordered in a polished finish, they are then added to a giant rotary tumbler with cylindrical ceramic media and a mild alkaline solution. After polishing, nylon parts are colored in acid dye baths in stainless steel kitchen pots on hot plates.
Multi-jet resin printing
The resin 3d-printers live in a room isolated from the nylon dust of the SLS machines. They appeared to have 4 or 5 Projet 3000 machines from 3D systems. These machines work by jetting two materials, a clear plastic resin and a wax support that is cured with UV light. Shapeways uses them to produce their FUD (frosted ultra detail) material. It seemed like the majority of parts being printed on these machines were very small (size of my fingertip) scale models. After printing, the plastic parts are embedded in a block of wax support material. To remove the parts, the blocks are heated in a kiln to about 68 C/ 150 F and then cleaned in an ultrasonic bath. They use tea strainers to hold the parts in the bath, but it still seems like it must be very hard to keep track of all the minuscule parts through the various cleaning and checking operations. At the end of the process, they dry the parts in a beef jerky dehydrator (not kidding).
the kilns for removing wax support (left), the beef jerky makers for drying the resin parts (right)
Full color zprinting
In yet another room isolated from the nylon dust, Shapeways NY has a single Projet 660 full color powder printer from 3D systems. This machine works off the inkjet-inspired process developed by Z Corp that binds white plaster powder by printing colored glue. The process can produce photo-realistic parts. In one room, they have the printer, a depowdering station and an infiltration station. When parts come out of the machine, they are quite fragile and must be infiltrated with a cyanoacrylate (super glue) solution to strengthen the parts.
The Shapeways LIC factory seems to have grown tremendously in it’s first year of operation. I was impressed to hear that all US orders of nylon prints are currently being produced there. That’s a huge step forward from a year ago when parts were being made at the Einhoven factory or being outsourced to other companies. The facility seemed well organized, with plenty of room for expansion should more machines be necessary. It seems like the main areas of difficulty are planning out printer builds (how to pack hundreds of designs from different people’s orders) and how to track the produced parts through quality control and shipping. Is anyone working on a good packing algorithm for 3d models? What about using computer vision to identify and check 3D prints? I’m sure Shapeways would pay well for that technology.
Thanks for showing us around Duann! And a special hi to our customer service rep at Shapeways, Gary!
We recently returned from Hawaii where we spent a week exploring Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The Big Island of Hawaii is made up of 5 shield volcanoes and was born a relatively recent 300,000 years ago. Today, three of the volcanoes (Kileaua, Mauna Loa, Hualalai) are still active, one is dormant (Mauna Kea), and one is extinct (Kohala). Kileaua is one of the world’s most active volcanoes and has been erupting continuously since January 3, 1983. We visited its active vent to see the flow of red hot lava and we hiked many miles in the lava fields formed by its prior eruptions. As you might have predicted, we found the fluid-like lava rock fascinating and documented its shapes in hundreds of photographs (slideshow below and flickr set). We also started reading about how and why patterns form in lava flows.
Lava is the molten rock expelled by a volcano during an eruption. Lava flows can have very different properties based on their chemical composition, temperature, eruption rate, crystal content, and bubble content. The current lava flow in Hawaii is an effusive flow of basalt with low viscosity and high temperature. It flows quickly and smoothly, leaving glassy rippled rock in its wake. Geologists call this type of flow pahoehoe, a Hawaiian name that equates the lava forms to swirling water (“hoe” = to paddle). This is an apt name as the lava rock is festooned with incredible patterns of contorted wrinkles, ripples, and folds. What causes these forms?
Lava Flows and Folds
When lava flows, the outside layer quickly cools forming an exterior crust. In fact, many of the lava patterns we found were quite thin and hollow inside where the lava had subsequently evacuated after the structures were formed. This cooled layer is significantly more viscous than the lava below acting like a viscous sheet. Folds begin to form when the flow compresses due to the slowing of the flow front. This compression could be caused by hitting an obstruction or entering a narrow channel. These folds form in the span of seconds to minutes.
The folding of viscous or elastoviscous materials has been widely studied recently both in physical experiments with non-Newtonian fluids and numerical simulations. Pahoehoe lava forms exhibit relatively regular fold properties; their folds form perpendicular to the direction of flow with a consistent wavelength and amplitude. This property is shown very purely in examples of viscous sheets. Check out the videos below. One shows the buckling of pancake batter being poured into a pan (not kidding) and the other is a computer animation of similar from a paper presented at SIGGRAPH 2012.
Pahoehoe flows exhibit significantly more complex dynamics than these isolated examples, incorporating viscoplastic behavior, cooling, shallow flow, and more with the folding process. Lava flow is not strictly a viscous sheet; it is a fluid with a layer of high viscosity that smoothly transitions to a large volume of lower viscosity fluid. This means that the lava exhibits fluid behavior generating interesting swirls and movement. You can even get lava spirals when multiple flows meet. Additionally, as the lava cools and compresses, the viscous crust thickens. Thickening increases the wavelength of the folds that form creating a larger scale pattern. This change in scale can occur 2-4 times over the cooling process, leading to recursive folds with a complex braided appearance.
diagram from 'Formation of multiple fold generations on lava flow surfaces: influence of strain rate, cooling rate, and lava composition' (1998) by Gregg, TKP, Fink JH, Griffiths RW
This explanation comes from the research of Jonathan Fink who has published a number of papers exploring ropy pahoehoe since 1978. The first paper, “Ropy Pahoehoe: surface folding of a viscous fluid”, describes how he measured the profiles of lava flows using this sweet apparatus.
In later papers, he uses experiments where liquid polyethylene glycol wax is forced through a hole into a tank of cold water to recreate different phenomena exhibited by lava flows. By varying the rate of cooling and the flow rate, he was able to produce features we see in basaltic lava flows including transverse folds, pillows, rifts and levees.
diagram from 'A laboratory analogy study of the surface morphology of lava flows extruded from point and line sources' (1992)
Other Interesting Stuff We Noticed About Lava
The varying degrees of oxidation and chemical composition lead to different colors.
Lava is very porous. It’s riddled with tiny vesicles where it hardened around gas bubbles.
You can poke a walking stick into the active lava flow and create your own glassy hunk of fresh rock.
Lava can form very regular features like these tiny folds.
But, it also can make bizaare features that look more like draped fabric than rock.
Pahoehoe makes forms called “toes” as hot lava breaks out from the cooling front and “entrails” when it moves quickly down a slope.
Lava just keeps piling up
And will flow over anything
Batty et al, “Discrete Viscous Sheets”, 2012
Fink, “Surface folding and viscosity of rhyolite flows”, 1980
Fink and Fletcher, “Ropy pahoehoe: surface folding of a viscous fluid”, 1977
Fink and Griffiths, “A laboratory analog study of the surface morphology of lava flows extruded from point and line sources”, 1992
Gregg et al, “Formation of multiple fold generations on lava flow surfaces: Influence of strain rate, cooling rate, and lava composition”, 1998
Griffiths, “The dynamics of lava flows”, 2000
Skorobogatiy and Mahadevan, “Folding of viscous sheets and ﬁlaments”, 2000
Glyptodons are the extinct ancestors of modern day armadillos. These giant mammals roamed the Americas from 2.5 million years ago until just as recently as 10,000 years ago before dying out during the megafaunal extinction. They were about the size of a Volkswagon Beetle and weighed as much too, due to their massive domed shell. The shell was constructed of hundreds of hexagonal plates formed of keratin called scutes. Each scute is about an inch thick and they interlock at their edges to made a huge rigid shell. Grooves in the scutes served as channels for blood vessels that nourished the Glyptodon’s skin. And holes in the scutes formed attachment points for hair follicles that served as sensors (important since they couldn’t see around their shell).
The type of tiling pattern seen in this shell remind me strongly of a tangent plane approach to paneling a surface of positive curvature.
This fossil of a smaller glytodon called Propalaehoplophorus minor better shows the rosette pattern characteristic of glyptodon armor. Propalaehoplophorus lived during the Miocene era.
I photographed these tremendous fossils in the Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
The beach in Bolinas, CA is composed entirely of Monterey Shale, a thinly-bedded grey stone that formed during the Mioscene era about 23 to 5 million years ago. Watching the tide come in over the stone beach I noticed that while the water initially wetted the entire surface equally, it dried unevenly and amazing cellular patterns emerged.
When the stone is dry, it was difficult to see the cracks that cover the beach (left). But the stone on the surrounding vertical cliff faces had been shaped by wind erosion along the fractures into striking 3D relief (right).
After I noticed the potential for pattern formation, we started splashing water everywhere to create more and more wide spread and intricate patterns. The forms disappeared quite quickly so we were free to play as much as we wanted.
You can find a lot more pictures in my flickr stream. Went a little overboard on the pictures because it was just that awesome and surprising.
We are in San Francisco, CA for the opening of our reaction show. Today we explored the Conservatory of Flowers and California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Here are a few photos of creatures at the academy.
The top picture is some kind of urchin. Followed by a leather coral, a spotted fish (species?), a hard coral, and a moray eel. Both the fish and eel have patterns reminiscent of reaction diffusion. We also had a chance to see most of the fish shown in our previous posting on reaction diffusion in person.
We’ve been so busy this summer working on new products, projects and coding adventures (and Jesse’s been teaching!) that we didn’t get a chance to take any exotic vacations but we did spend a nice week in the Adirondacks. We went camping at Indian Lake, NY with Jesse’s family. All the campsites are accessible by boat only and ours was a small island. We hiked, swam, and cooked over a fire, and told weird stories while eating smores. It was nice! You can find the pictures I took of various Adirondacks flora and fauna here. The photos below are of bolete mushroom pores, bubble aggregations, a toad, and a coral fungus.
The reason we decided to visit Yellowstone was because it is home to the most spectacular geothermal features in the Americas. While in New Zealand we had a chance to visit the geothermal area and also tour White Island, a live marine volcano. We were astonished and amazed at how alien and spectacular such sites were. The colors, textures, landscape formations, and also degree of temporal variability as the land opens up at sporadicly in the form of pores and fumaroles that alternately steam and bubble.Yellowstone has a bunch of sweet geothermal features including geysers, fumaroles, bubbling mud pits, sinter formations, pools of colorful thermophilic bacteria. It turns out this is due to the fact that it sits right on top of a giant hotspot in the earth’s crust that is colloquially called a SUPERVOLCANO (I say colloquially because the term was coined by a BBC documentary in 2005) Yes, SUPERVOLCANO, as in doomsday sized bursts of sun blocking blackness upon eruption. Don’t worry, it’s only erupted 3 times so far and not too recently either at 2.1 million, 1.3 million, and 640,000 years ago. Apparently the region does experience 1000 to 2000 detectable, albeit mild earthquakes a year.
A few photos from our trip to yellowstone, America’s first national park which spans a total of 3,468 square miles (8,980 km2) in Wyoming and is home to an incredible variety of wildlife and geologic areas (including our favorite…geothermal features, more on that later)
We spent last week in New Orleans for SIGGRAPH where we were artists in residence. We got there a few days early to check out Louisiana; one of the places we visited was the Audubon Insectarium. What is an Insectarium you ask? Well it is like an aquarium or zoo, except focused on insects. They did not have as many live specimens as I would have liked but they had a whole room near the end of the exhibition covered wall to wall in prepared specimens, laid out in a very artistic manner.
They were drawing with bugs. This is the part I really enjoyed. Here are a few of my pictures:
Here are some more shots from our trip to Japan. Click through to flickr to see more details about each one. The images show the Chrysanthemum festival at Shinjuku Gaien, traditional structures at Engakuji in Kamakura, hiking in Kamakura, and incense and decorations at the Sensoji in Tokyo.
(oops! some of the images aren’t up on flickr yet, so you can’t click through all the images yet, should be uploading more on monday after the Bust Craftacular)