By Michael Benninger / Photos By Paul Body
Poised to trigger the next industrial revolution, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, makes ideas tangible. The technology is already changing the world - doctors are printing tracheas, Dutchmen are printing houses, and some dude on the Internet is printing sex toys.
3D printing works from the bottom up by depositing layer upon layer of superheated, quick-cooling substances to form structures defined by the user on a computer. The printers work like inkjets, but with a Z-axis. (Don't try putting envelopes in there.)
Using liquefied plastics, metals or organic matter, 3D printers can meet specifications measured to the 1/1000th of millimeter. This degree of precision coupled with modern computer-aided design (CAD) software makes it possible to 3D-print nearly anything imaginable. Don't be in a hurry, though. Even small objects like chess pieces and iPhone cases can take several hours to materialize.
Brown is the New Black
UPS 3D printing to the masses
Although 3D printing has been around for more than 20 years, the industry is still in its infancy. But now that consumer-oriented printers are available for less than $300, 3D-printed products will soon be everywhere.
They're already in Kearny Mesa. "Our selling point is that we offer high-quality 3D printing matched with one-on- one service and a quick turnaround, usually same-day or next-day," says Larry Hagstrom, 3D print manager at The UPS Store in Kearny Mesa.
This UPS Store is one of six test stores in the nation (the only one in Southern California) that handles 3D printing projects. Need engine parts, acting props or a ball gag? Put the UPS Store's new product development program to work. Customers can use CAD software to design the objects of their dreams, and then send their files to UPS where they become reality.
"We can help you model parts, for a fee, and give tips on how to make your parts more efficient for printing," Hagstrom says. "Our clients include engineers, product designers, artists, inventors, students, architects, manufacturers and medical professionals."
The cost of the service is based on the amount of material used. And with cell phone cases running from $50 to $100, it ain't exactly cheap. As the technology continues to become more mainstream, however, expect prices and turnaround times to drop.
The UPS Store #6332
9187 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Kearny Mesa
MindFlow Over Matter
Local company transforms clients' concepts into products
Carlsbad-based MindFlow Design helps its clients put their products into the hands of the masses. This full-service product design and development firm, led by industrial designer Chris Ross and mechanical engineer Andy Moulds, works with Fortune 100 companies and serious startups to develop attractive, functional products that meet users' needs. 3D printers are a big part of their business.
"Our mantra is to prototype everything," says Ross. "The biggest advances in product development are achieved by repeatedly making something and trying it. It's an iterative process, and these machines enable us to be more efficient because we can fail quickly and move forward. The more times and the faster we can do that, the sooner we arrive at better solutions."
Though medical-device design constitutes two-thirds of MindFlow's business, this cutting-edge company has developed products for local companies, including custom iPad stands for MOGL and waterproof phone cases for H2O Audio.
According to Ross, developing a physical concept involves three components: the people, the user experience and the physical product.
"We're really good at understanding people and the experiences that they should be having with a product," he says. "People or companies come to us with a product idea and we take them from initial concept to a final product being shipped by a manufacturer."
Given how many people want to see their ideas prototyped, the MindFlow team has to be selective about the projects they take on.
"We get a lot of inventors contacting us, and we pick and choose the ones that we work with very carefully," says Ross. "Most of them don't have capital, and since we need money to do our job, we look for inventors with funding and an executive team behind them."
To demonstrate their expertise, Ross and his team developed a 3D version of the PacificSD logo. "We didn't want to make a logo that just sat on the floor," Ross says. "We wanted to give it some purpose and make it functional."
The end result was an incredibly cool, Slinky-inspired magazine holder that took 16 hours to print. Ross says this sort of prototype would cost about $1,000, which includes design, materials and production.