3D printing. It’s the stuff that futuristic dreams are made of, but with an array of displays exhibiting some of the best advancements in 3D technology, the recent 3D Printing Show in London proved that it has become quite the reality. The 3-day event was hosted over two floors of the Truman Brewery on Shoreditch’s Brick Lane (what a venue) – an area of London that’s become synonymous with the arts and creativity.
With a vast array of 3D printers, prints and design software on display, the show wasn’t just for traders. Brands and makers were on board to display the ways in which 3D printing can be used, and all visitors were encouraged to mingle, take part where possible and get caught up in the excitement. They didn’t need to ask us twice.
We met a huge number of people from all kinds of industries; there were jewellery designers, surgeons and numerous creative professionals, all with one thing in common – a serious passion for innovation.
Exciting, enlightening and totally inventive – the show highlighted the areas in which 3D printing is set to take off, and where it’s already making waves.
The wonder of 3D food
We were lucky enough to taste some 3D printed food, which was served up by Fablab Maastricht – 3D printed food specialists and creators of the 3D ByFlow. Presented to us in a top-floor restaurant space by the Head Chef himself, here are the dishes that we sampled during a truly unforgettable dining experience:
The texture: Well-defined jelly balls which popped in the mouth.
How it tasted: Light, refreshing and zesty, preparing the palate perfectly for the foods ahead. As far as we know, no actual fish eggs were involved; instead the “˜caviar’ was created by placing droplets of liquid in a bowl of sunflower oil.
The texture: Smooth, satisfying, and not too grainy.
How it tasted: Like the best hummus we’ve tried to date! The presentation was very detailed, and along with the salad garnish, rather impressive.
Squid served with cellular potato
The texture: The potato was smooth and creamy, and the squid was just as squid should be!
How it tasted: Delicious, and the presentation on the plate was so intricate. This wasn’t far from something you would expect from a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Chocolates (served with cheesecake)
The texture: Velvety and rich, with the perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness.
How it tasted: The chocolates were served atop a cheesecake, resulting in a delicious combination of flavours. The chocolate itself was very moreish, and looked appetising from the off.
Our top 3D picks
From the medical area showcasing machines that could potentially 3D print organs to the educational area demonstrating tools to be used in schools, the variety at the show was fantastic. The calibre of high quality technology on offer meant that picking the most innovative was impossible, but here are three innovations that stood out to us for different reasons:
Best for kids: the 3Doodler
Initially funded by Kickstarter, the 3Doodler – the world’s first 3D printing pen – allows you to quite literally draw on air. Create a version of your signature you can hold, bring your favourite animal to life (almost), or be really adventurous and create an intricate 3D structure, much like the Tower of London model we witnessed being built at the show. Not only is the 3Doodler great fun to play with but it could potentially help shape the minds of our future engineers.
Best glimpse into the future: My 3D twin
Who needs photos when you can have a miniature model of yourself instead? Your whole body is scanned by a 3D laser scan before a little model is printed out, and the detail is scaled to within a millimetre, with a level of precision that may surprise you. Perfect for presents or mementoes, it’s likely that my3Dtwin‘s figurines will gain popularity in the years to come.
Best for quality output: Be3D
Be3D create 3D printers which produce high-quality objects that everyday consumers can rely on. The DeeGreen printer is fully automated and environmentally friendly, and can be used everywhere from normal workplaces (e.g. schools, offices and interior design studios) to the everyday household. The DeeRed is a more professional 3D printer designed to meet the demands of an industrial setting while still only requiring a conventional power source.
3D Print UK
We challenged 3D Print UK to produce a 3D object that represents the fun, inventive and efficient Virgin Atlantic brand. Here’s what they created:
The Boeing 787
Material: White nylon
Print time: 30 hours
3D Print UK was set up for designers, by designers, and the owner, Nick Allen, has spoken at industry events around the world. Despite using the same technology as bigger companies (top of the range machines which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds), their low overheads allow them to keep their prices down as much as possible for clients, while still maintaining a high quality. Thus, they’re known for their stellar customer service. Their miniature take on the Boeing 787 is a brilliant metaphor for a mutual love of innovation. It also perfectly illustrates the VAA mission statement: To embrace the human spirit and let it fly.
The SLS technique
3D Print UK also happen to be specialists in Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). We asked them to explain exactly what it is, and why it’s so useful.
Is the process similar to that used by other 3D printers? “The process that we use for SLS is a little more complex than the normal 3D printers that most people will have seen. The material used is a white Nylon powder that is constantly heated inside of the printer at 170 degrees.”
How does it work? “Once the laser hits it and takes the powder over its melting point, the layers are bonded together, creating a very strong bond that means the parts that come out are able to withstand day-to-day use. This plastic also has the similar properties to mass manufactured parts, so it is perfect for small batch production and prototypes. SLS cuts the 3D CAD file into hundreds or thousands of 0.1 mm slices and then melts each of those layers into the ones beneath it with a laser. The top layer of parts then drops down and a new layer of powder is laid down on top, ready to be sintered.”
So, does this explain why the printing time for the plane model was so long? “The major benefit of SLS is that we are able to stack hundreds of parts into the printer as we can print anywhere in 3D space, this means that everything that we print takes at least 48 hours. Normally 30 hours to print and then 18-20 hours to cool down to a manageable temperature.”
If you’re interested in technology, don’t forget to check out some of the other innovations Virgin Atlantic has been involved with in the past year, such as our trial of Sony Smartwear and Apple’s iBeacon – or find out more about how 3D printing technology is changing air travel.
Ready to experience the capital’s creative scene for yourself? Virgin Atlantic operate daily departures to London from several US cities. Book your flight today.