DDMC September 2014 Meeting: 3D Printing @ Duke

DDMC 3D Printing Meeting

We are kicking off this semester’s  DDMC meetings with an open discussion about the state of 3D Printing at Duke. Courtesy of the DDI program, OIT-ITS has added two Makerbot extrusion 3D printers to the MPS lab’s services and are in the process of evaluating the addition of a resin/laser based Formlabs printer.
We know several schools and departments (and even students) have their own 3D Printers and many more may be interested in how this now affordable technology can be used in their research and teaching. 

We are extending an open invitation to any and all people across the University and Duke Medicine to come together for a discussion on what you are currently doing and what you’d like to see done at Duke specifically around 3D printing. 

If you have time before this meeting, please ask around your department’s staff, faculty and students to get some additional input on possible or current use cases to bring to the conversation.
Please feel free to forward this link to other mailing lists that might contain interested parties.

From idea to reality in 3 short weeks!


Well, trial and error is why we are doing this, right? Quite mind blowing that this was a real need and was really made using only Photoshop and our 3D printer.


As I mentioned previously, the drivers for the Makerbot is built right into Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC). As part of the printing process, it adds those support structures you see in the image above automatically. Chip suggested we print the device lying on it’s side, so, the printer can’t print on “air” – these structures give it something to “rest” on as it creates the open areas for the D.


Removing the “raft” was interesting as well. The printer prints a little “platform” for the unit to rest on to make it easier to remove from the platform and also to provide support for the object while it was printing. First approach above was to use an X-Acto® Knife. Wasn’t gonna cut it.


Next up was the Dremel®. Sure it worked, but it made a huge mess and I was concerned I would take too much off and ruin the object.


Brute force, courtesy of the Leatherman®. Well, it actually wasn’t that much brute force and seems to be the optimum way to remove the raft and support structures. The system seems smart enough to not attach these helper objects so tightly that it comes off with a little applied force fairly cleanly. A light sanding wouldn’t hurt. Very smart system.

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Best of all. It works!

The purpose of the grooves in the back is both aesthetic and to save materials. Same reason for the “D” which proved to be a great challenge – to cut out the face of the unit. It was really a project of putting something in my mind into the physical world and speaks volumes to the potential of this technology.

Cut It Out! 3D Design Of Negative Space in Photoshop CC

To follow up on the last story, the TobackTablet Holder v1.0 was an epic fail:


The great success was the ease in which this was sketched out in Photoshop and then printed. Realizing the failure of the design in reality before more expensive prototyping was employed is a signature benefit of this technology.

Before we did v2.0, we wanted to see if we could “cut out” the big “D” Duke logo on the back of the device. This was not only from a design aesthetic, but also to save some materials AND to just see if we can do that in Photoshop.

Well, the answer is yes and no. Photoshop DOES allow you to cut holes in objects using a path created in 2D mode then applying what they call “constraints” to an image. Unfortunately, it seems (at least at this point in our research) that these holes can only be cut from the “top” of the extrusion. Our design is extruded from the side:

Tablet Holder

We wanted the Duke logo to be on the “face” of the unit (the part that the tablet rests against). We’re still researching to see if there’s a way to cut out from another face rather than the “top”.

To test this idea of negative (holes) and positive (emboss) space, we decided our next project would be the “Julian Coin”

Julian Coin Screen Shot

This would allow us to try to “cut out” the Duke logo, and combine Julian’s picture and text, both separately extruded, into one object for printing. This is an important test as we are really looking at Photoshop as a way for those with some 2D image skills to create and edit 3D objects without having to learn complex 3D programs.

We took a normal raster image of Julian, converted it to black and white, took out the background and then using Adobe Illustrator, used the “Image Trace” function to come up with the two level image that we would use to extrude.

Julian Images

We then used standard text for the text on the coin and used the Duke logo to create a selection to “cut the hole” using the constraints.

I will add that it took several attempts to get a successful print. This was no fault of the model or Photoshop. The 3D printing process is still quite finicky and we had various problems getting the model to stick to the platen, then a miss calibrated part hit the model as it was being printed and knocked it off the printer and other random physical errors.

The results are pretty cool. We are still going to test making Julian’s image a separate color (this one was colorized with a Sharpie), but we’ve shown how some simple 2D work (the coin itself was just a circle image) can make something real. The value of course of this money is priceless.

First Print - Julian Coin


3D Printing From Photoshop? Shut up! (No you shut up!)

One of the most challenging aspects of 3D printing (beyond keeping the nozzle unclogged) has been the creation of models to print. Sure, there is value in printing other objects for reference, but creating your own objects and bringing them into the real world is the killer app. Maya, Blender, CAD, 3D Max, all have huge learning curves so those would be challenging for non-engineering experts to use.

When our resident graphics expert Michael Faber brainstormed with Chip this morning, we discovered that the new 3D capabilities of Photoshop CC might just be the killer app we’ve been looking for. Sure enough, Michael sat down and within a few minutes produced a printable* 3D Co-lab logo, we knew we were on to something.

We are certainly not the first to figure this out, but it’s still quite astonishing.


Here’s a short video of idea to object in just a few moments..

The First 3D Sensor for Mobile Devices



Your mobile device can already see the world.
Now, it can understand the world.

Measure entire rooms all at once.
The magic of 3D depth sensing begins with the ability to capture accurate dimensions of objects and environments.
And it doesn’t just capture one dimension; it captures everything in view, all at once.
Capture dense 3D models with the push of a button.

Structure allows you to capture dense geometry. This enables you to simulate real world physics. The possibilities are incredible.
Unlock the power of real occlusion and physics.
The Structure Sensor enables games where virtual objects can actually go behind real world objects. It’s going to get hard to know where reality ends and imagination begins.

Structure Sensor available (estimated) spring 2014  shipment. Pre-order being offered now. Complete kit (includes USB Hacker cable, iPad bracket, and Lightning cable) $379.00

Check out their site http://structure.io/# and watch the video.

Leap Motion

Jack showed me a cool product called Leap Motion the other day. I took a few minutes to play with it and can definitely see a wide range of applications. What is it? Basically it’s a sensor system that picks up hand gestures to control applications on your computer (or even your computer itself). While not dissimilar in concept to the Primesense family of technologies (e.g. Xbox Kinect and Asus Xtion) the system stands out in as focused primarily on hand gestures and PC applications as opposed to gaming. Many controllable apps are available through their app store with a good portion of them educational in nature such as this anatomy program that let me dissect a skull. The system has an SDK available so programmers can quickly build apps around it without much ground-up work. It certainly presents a lot of potential in the education arena.

This isn’t far out tech or some obscure device you’ll never see in the field either. The unit is $80 and as of this month HP has started shipping laptops with Leap tech built into it with Asus soon to follow. Very Minority Report-ish!

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Makerbot Desktop 3D Scanner

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Along with our 3D printers we received 3D scanner and have had a a few opportunities to play with it and learned quite a bit.  At first take our scans weren’t really successful and I was actually a little bit disappointed with the unit (a Makerbot Scanner) but after some practice we got pretty good at it.  You can see the original blue devil and a scanned version of what we made.

How It Works

Basically the object you want to scan is placed on top of a turntable that isn’t all that dissimilar to a real record player.  The unit is USB’ed into a computer an uses bundled scanning software.  A few clicks of the mouse (very limited options) starts the scanning process.  A pair of lasers kick off and on and the turntable begins rotating slowly.  The laser reflected light is picked up by an on board camera and that data is piped back to your host machine that draws you a 3D file.  The process is really simple.


One of the cool things about this scanner is the ability to do multi-scans.  There’s virtual no way to penetrate  every nook and cranny of the object you are examining with the laser beam.  The system is intelligent enough recognize that and allow you to scan the item multiple times from different angles (upside down for example).  This exposes parts of your object that may not have been visible in the first pass.  Upon completing the additional scans (you can do this as many times as you want exposing more detail) the unit will concatenate the scans into a single object, intelligently blending them together.

Sci-Fi vs Realty

Now the sad part, while the scanner does a great job for a $1500 desktop product, the result isn’t perfect.  There are always minor defects.  The hope and dream with a 3D scanner is that you can scan something then immediately print a perfect replica.  That just won’t happen.  The scans, from our experience could be as much as 90% (eyeball estimate) accurate they weren’t perfect.  For example, look at the horn of our Blue Devil rubber ducky, you’ll notice some artifacts.  However, it was a good start if your workflow involved bringing an object into Blender or other 3D software for further refinement.  It may also be good for educational applications where you need to show someone the size and shape of something but don’t necessarily need to replicate something like a gear in a machine, perhaps a skull or other anatomy component.   Another important thing to note, the scan you create will not have any color in it, only the physical shape.


There are also some important limitations to note.  The scanner cannot scan certain objects:

  • nothing larger than 8 inches high or wide
  • nothing heavier than 6lbs
  • no extremely light objects (nothing white)
  • no extremely dark objects (nothing black)
  • nothing shinny (no chrome plating)
  • nothing extremely matte (e.g. foam padding)
  • nothing translucent (no glass or plastic)
  • nothing hairy (no chinchillas)

Autodesk 123D Catch

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3D research is still going string in the Media Lab.  Today we reviewed a really cool application from from Autodesk called 123D Catch.  The concept of the application is simple, basically you use your cameras photos to take panoramic shots of a room or subject, the photos are uploaded to a cloud somewhere then converted to 3D.  You get the resulting image back.  You can see an example at the front of this post of a 3D Todd.  While 3D Todd isn’t quite as good as the real Todd, the resulting image obtained with free software using an iPhone was still competitive with even $1000 scanners.



More 3D Printing


We’ve had the better part of a week with the 3D printers.  Our printing efforts have been conservative.  Much time has been spent reading documentation and using our printing material smartly (our order of filament hasn’t come in yet).  But we have printed a few things including a model of the Duke Chapel, a steam punk iPhone case, and other cool stuff.

But so far the most interesting thing about the project has been interacting with colleagues.  The printer is setup as a usable display now at ATC.  We run it a few times a day and have even attached a webcam so that people can see the operation.  Response has been great, a lot of people have stopped by and introduced themselves to the technology.

Take a look at our webcam feed or swing by the Media Lab if you have a moment – http://people.duke.edu/~dwb36/3dprint.html

First 3D Print


We spent some time with the new 3D Printers today and managed to create a few small trinkets from the stock files they sent with.  Our first impressions are very positive.  It took a while to get everything unboxed, setup and calibrated but never the less it was worth the wait.  Above is a nut and bolt we created.  It took about 30 minutes for the system to built it and another 15 minutes or so for the unit to heat up.  Setup time was less than an hour to get a single system calibrated and loaded with new filament (3D ink).