3D Pioneers Challenge

3D Pioneers Challenge NomineeI’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been nominated for a prize in the 3D Pioneers Challenge. The prizes will be awarded at the FabCon.3D convention in Erfurt, Germany on June 15. The purpose of the 3D Pioneers Challenge is to find designers who are “breaking new ground in the field of 3D printing and who understand the key trends in the industry. The Challenge seeks to uncover specialists from around the world who are thinking outside the box and — pushing boundaries.” I am proud to be included in this elite group of 29 international designers, and I look forward to meeting them and seeing their work at FabCon.3D.

My entry is entitled “Additive Manufacturing to Promote Museum Exhibits” and features the Opercularella pendant that I designed for the ARURA collection at the Leuchtenburg Museum’s “Porzellanwelten.” As a fan of museums of all disciplines, I look forward to future 3D-design collaborations with museums. Check out this video of my entry:

And if you’d like to see the other entries, go to the 3D Pioneers Challenge Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/3DPioneersChallenge/

3D-Printed Precious Metals

Calocyclas Blender model


If you’ve seen a 3D-printer at work extruding thick layers of plastic filament to build a skull or a vase, it might surprise you to learn that my jewelry is also 3D-printed. How is that possible? For starters, I don’t have a 3D-printer in my workshop nor do I have a traditional workshop. I design my 3D-printable models in my computer using a sophisticated CAD software called Blender. Blender is an open-source computer animation software suite created and maintained by a dedicated group of developers in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It allows me to not only sculpt my jewelry, but also to sculpt, texturize and animate the insects and proteins in my scientific animations at Moves like Nature. Once I’ve produced a 3D-printable model, I send the file to a 3D-printing service like Shapeways or i.materialise and that’s where the magic happens. First, the file is 3D-printed in wax. Next, just like in traditional lost wax casting, a plaster cast is formed around the wax model, the wax is melted out of the plaster cast and the mold is filled with silver, bronze, brass, gold or even platinum. After this, the piece can be either left in its rough state or further polished. This process takes about three weeks, so a certain amount of patience is required.

A more direct technique for printing precious metals has been developed by the company EOS and is referred to as ‘Metal Additive Manufacturing.’ In this process, selective laser sintering (SLS) melds particles of a precious metal powder together. Layer by layer, the metal piece takes shape without the intervening steps of wax printing, plaster mold formation and metal casting. Although this technology is being used extensively in industrial metal production, it is still far more expensive than the lost wax casting method for jewelry production. The most wonderful thing about 3D-printing, though, is how fast the technology is changing and improving. Someday, I hope that I’ll be able to conceive a design, sculpt it and print it out in solid silver on my desktop 3D-printer in one day. Wouldn’t that be amazing!


unprintable models

One surefire way to have your day ruined is to get an email from your 3D-printing service entitled “Help us resolve issues with models in order 12345.” This happened to me recently for 3 models (pictured below) that had already been printed successfully in other materials, but were somehow not printable in a new material I was trying, a transparent plastic. How can this even happen?

The answer is that there are many different 3D-printing technologies. This is fabulous because it means models can be printed in a dazzling variety of materials…transparent resins, precious metals, elastic rubber-like materials, multicolour plastics and sandstone. Check out the materials at shapeways, i.materialise or sculpteo and be amazed! The tricky part, though, is designing for all of these materials because each printer has different design specifications. Wall thickness, wire thickness, minimum detail size, presence of interlocking parts, clearance between parts, overall size and other factors must all be taken into consideration before a model is printable in a specific material.

My transparent plastic models will be printed using a Stratasys Objet. This printer works by spraying a photopolymer resin in layers on a build platform and simultaneously curing the layers with ultraviolet light. It uses a gel-like support material during the printing that is removed after the print is finished. To remove it, the material is washed out with water jets through a hole in the model, and the hole must be at least 10mm in diameter. To make both the Spumellaria sculpture model and the Anthocyrtium earrings printable, I had to expand holes in the bottom of each model to 10mm. In addition, removal of the support material can damage delicate parts and so I also had to thicken up some walls in the Spumellaria pendant model. All three modified models are now on their way to the printers. Cross your fingers that it works!