Tag Archives: 3D tech

3D printing technology and 3D printers

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3D PRINTING: Producing abundance with tech

MANY fantasize about designing and building their dream home. If achieved, the feeling must be one of great pride and involvement. The sad reality is that building a house from scratch requires a whole team, and a group of wholesalers. For starters you would need an architect, electrician, a plumber, mechanical engineer and a surveyor, not to mention all the chain stores you would have to visit to furnish your new home. In the end, it may not feel like you were involved at all – apart from having dished out all the necessary funding.

But what if you could play a bigger and cheaper role in your home’s creation? Of course it would be wise to get the professionals to assess the ground and foundations, but when it comes to furnishing and decorating, the power lies in 3D printing. Most homes are, after all, built from the inside-out.

3D PrinterAs jaw-dropping as it may sound, 3D printing is essentially the creation of solid three dimensional objects using a large oven-sized printer. Objects are “printed” by laying down successive layers of material. The “ink” generally consists of molten plastics, but the more hi-tech 3D printers are able to use workable metals such as nickel, bronze, titanium and stainless steel.

Most 3D printing methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers. Others lay liquid materials that are then cured with other technologies. Some 3D printers can even reproduce themselves entirely.

3D printing3D Printers work by being fed digitised files or schematics. The design for a particular object is created using 3D modeling software and then sent to the printer for creation. Wikipedia explains the process thusly: “A 3D printer works by taking a 3D computer file and using and making a series of cross-sectional slices. Each slice is then printed one on top of the other to create the 3D object.”

Since 2003 there has been large growth in the sale of 3D printers for industrial use, but they are now finding their way into consumers’ homes (at around R100 000). The technology is generally used in the fields of industrial design, engineering, construction, auto mechanics, and the dental and medical industries, and is also known as the “architect’s dream tool”. 3D printing is even used for creating jewellery and footwear prototypes before they are mass produced.

3D printingOne fantastic application is the use of 3D printing for reconstructing fossils in paleontology. Ancient and priceless artifacts can be replicated with flawless precision. As exciting, is the reconstruction of bones and body parts in the field of forensic pathology as well as the reconstruction of heavily damaged evidence acquired from crime scene investigations.

Meanwhile in the biology department, 3D printing technology is currently being studied by biotechnology firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering. Its applications are to build living organs and body parts. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium which slowly builds up to form three dimensional structures. This field of research has been termed as organ printing, bio-printing or computer-aided tissue engineering. I’m surprised that no one has called it “playing God”.

3D printingThe thought that 3D printing could be the means for producing abundance, excites me. High quality metal parts or tools could be mass produced and then donated to relief efforts or developing communities. Taps, tools, light fixtures, cutlery, hip replacements, 3D models, cogs, prosthetics and nuts and bolts could all be mass printed. Gone are the dreary days of the assembly line; 3D printers could even run overnight while the goods cook in the oven.


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TECH: Has 3DTV technology come too soon?

TECHNO fundis have been salivating over the idea of 3DTV since a massive 3D exhibit went on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas towards the end of last year. However, a lot of tech writers have not been overly impressed with what they’ve seen and are suggesting that anticipation over 3DTV may be met with disappointment. As it stands, techies argue that it will be little more than a niche curiosity in home entertainment this year.

It is clear that 3D is the new direction that all forms of digital entertainment are taking. Experts are even suggesting that digital photography will become 3D by the year 2060, although with the pace that technology is moving forward, such predictions often seem to transpire decades before their scheduled birth date. So we may see things such as 3D photography emerge sooner rather than later.

3D photography

A digital artists impression of what 3D photography might look like by 2060 (Image: http://www.popphoto.com)

The pace that digital tech is advancing has always posed a problem for consumers. One has constantly to upgrade pricey equipment if you want to enjoy the latest digitalised offerings. And just before South African consumers could rush out and buy HD-ready TVs, the digital giants unleash the next generation of television sets – namely 3D-ready TVs. However, it may be wise to hold out a bit before going 3D.

The major concern regarding 3DTV in the home environment is simply lack of content. There have been an increasing number of 3D films lately – Bolt, Up and Avatar, to name a few — and there is certainly a market for 3D film, but at present the costs of offering such content via cable and satellite channels just isn’t feasible.

ESPN, of course, has announced a special 3D channel due to go live when the Fifa Soccer World Cup kicks off on June 11, and British satellite provider B Sky B plans to launch a 3D channel later this year, but as far as movies and scheduled programming goes, nonsports fans may feel a little disappointed. ESPN is promising to air a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, but this may only interest fans of baseball, basketball and other predominantly American sports.

Discovery, together with Sony and IMax, also announced that they will launch what they claim will be the first 24/7 dedicated 3D television network. However, this will only be available in the United States come 2011.

Autostereoscopic TV (in 3D)

Autostereoscopic TV (in 3D). The above picture can be seen in 3D using 3D glasses (Image: Flickr.com)

Another concern for 3DTV manufactures is that the idea of having to wear “silly-looking” displays (3D glasses) in order to watch something in 3D will not appeal to most people — especially to a crowd of sports fans gathered in someone’s living room. It may be fine for the movie-theatre experience — a seated event — they suggest, but perhaps not so great when people are going in and out between bathroom breaks and the kitchen.

This may seem petty, but I recently bought a pair of 3D shades for my PC and can understand the concern. One’s eyes do have to undergo a fair amount of adjusting, and once the glasses are removed, your 3D-enhanced optical nerves are basically back to square one. I once took a bathroom break after a couple of hours of 3D gaming and discovered a room made of blurry red and blue tiles.

3D displays are, however, varied and will no doubt advance at more or less the same pace as 3DTVs. It may even get to a point where we don’t have to attach anything to our heads in order to get a good view. Such sets are currently available but offer a much lower resolution than that of the 3D Mac Daddies. Everyone would also have to sit right in front of the screen at a certain distance to see a clear picture, possibly on one another’s laps.

It’s clear that sport will dominate the entry of 3DTV, but directors and producers of all genres of televised entertainment will also need to learn more about the “language” of 3D filming to really take advantage of it. We may see a whole new demand for 3D-ready TV/film students soon too.

My bet is that it isn’t worth getting a 3D-ready TV, at least not until they’ve fine-tuned it a bit. Rather invest your money in a large HDTV and a good surround- sound system. After all, it really is size that counts.

Related post: The reality of the virtual
Videos: 3DTV at the Consumer Electronics Show