As a forward-thinking airline, we’re constantly looking at how we can exploit new technology to improve the customer experience, as demonstrated by our recent trials with augmented reality, Apple’s iBeacon and Sony Smartwear.
One of the most exciting phenomenons of the 21st century is the growth of 3D printing, the future of which is set to be unveiled at this month’s 3D Printshow in London’s Brick Lane, in what promises to be a fascinating three day exhibition. In order to shed some light on the capabilities of 3D printing technology, we spoke to some of this year’s leading exhibitors to find out more about the event itself, their favourite creations and hopes for the 3D future.
What is 3D printing?
Contrary to popular belief, 3D printing isn’t an entirely new concept. In fact, production companies have used similar technologies for several decades in order to create prototypes for designs. In recent years, however, advancements in technology have seen a surge in interest and pushed 3D printers ever closer to becoming household features.In essence, 3D printing is the process through which a solid, three-dimensional object is created based on a digital blueprint. The printer dissects the digital model into thousands of layers and constructs it by layering the desired material horizontally. Some of the results so far have been rather impressive”¦
The creative wizards behind the James Bond Skyfall movie used 3D printers to create a 3:1 scale replica of the famous Aston Martin, while items such as a playable flute and high quality camera lens rank among some of their other impressive achievements. Oh, and did we mention edible foods such as chocolate and ice cream?
According to experts, however, those creations are merely the tip of the iceberg. Another goal is to make the 3D printer a viable option for households, with the ability to print furniture, clothes and art work likely to appeal to a mass audience. It’s also hoped that 3D printing will have a long-lasting impact on day-to-day life, with industry figures predicting the ability to print human tissue, artificial limbs and even organs, thereby potentially eliminating the need for organ donors.
The aerospace industry, too, is likely to be revolutionised by the advancements in 3D printing, particularly with regards to aircraft design. Manufacturing and materials costs are dramatically decreased, and components can be fabricated with the minimum of waste. It’s something that Virgin Atlantic will be paying close attention to. As part of the wider Virgin family, we’re a keen supporter of start-ups, entrepreneurs and new technology, and along with our founder Richard Branson – who is always keen to highlight the groundbreaking work of innovators – we’ll be paying close attention to any new breakthroughs that have the potential to change our industry for the better.
London 3D Printshow
Now in its fourth year, the 3D Printshow will run over three days at the Old Truman Brewery in the heart of London’s trendy Shoreditch neighbourhood. It attracts a wide range of fascinating exhibitors from a diverse group of industries, with top artists, designers, doctors and foodies all ready to show off their latest 3D innovations.
Live demonstrations will give visitors a unique insight into the workings of these complex machines, as well as let them check out the results first hand. Step into the 3D Printshow kitchen and prepare to have your mind blown as ice cream, pasta and personalised chocolate treats are printed before your very eyes. Once you’ve satisfied your hunger cravings, drop by the art gallery and enjoy a feast of intricate, colourful sculptures and designs.
There’s also a section dedicated to household items such as furniture and utensils, whilst a range of workshops, seminars and lectures will take place throughout the three-day event.
The 3D Printshow Exhibitors
So what makes the 3D Printshow so appealing to exhibitors, and what technologies can visitors expect to stumble upon over the course of the weekend? We spoke to some of the top exhibitors at this year’s show”¦
Mcor Technologies started up around ten years ago with the aim of bringing 3D printing to a mass audience, and see the 3D Printshow as the perfect platform from which to demonstrate their product. As manufacturers of the world’s only paper-based 3D printing technology, they have previously created a fully functioning hammer made entirely from paper.
“There are many advantages to working with paper: it’s low cost, readily accessible and it enables us to print in high-resolution colour. We print using ordinary A4 and letter paper but are still able to produce industry-standard colours as presented in a photographer or designer’s photograph,” said Mcor’s Deirdrie MacCormack.
“It’s much more than “˜’just” a trade show. The 3D Printshow brings together the best applications of 3D printing, beautiful art and important solutions for healthcare and industry. It is a joy for the eyes to visit this exhibition. Also, it’s an enthusiastic, innovative team with a “˜sky is the limit’ attitude,” said Frits Hoff, founder of ByFlow.
Hoff founded the company in 2014 and admits it was born partly out of frustration with the quality of 3D printers on the market. Their aim, therefore, was to create a machine that had all the key qualities wrapped into one: a multi-material, portable and intelligent 3D printer.
Their model can work with materials ranging from wood and nylon to bronze and silicon, as well as create tasty snacks such as chocolate. Their next extruder will print ten times the speed of any other printer on the market, and at one tenth of the cost. And as for their most impressive creation to date?
“A globe of real chocolate with the map of the world on it and nine chambers containing different sweets located within it. It was presented as an exclusive dessert for a Michelin star restaurant in the Netherlands. Up until then no one had ever managed to print such a high and complex chocolate structure,” said Hoff.
“We pride ourselves in having built the Ferrari of 3D printers. It’s the fastest, it’s reliable, accurate and has a fantastic design that you can customize. We feel the 3D Printshow is the best place to show off our baby and were impressed by the professionalism of last year’s event,” said Dynamo 3D’s Adrien Chareyre.
The Dynamo 3D printer utilises a range of materials, including ABS and nylon, and the team is constantly working to expand its capabilities. Some of its best creations to date include a fully functioning guitar, and the team believes 3D printers will be commonplace in households within five years.
“Kids will be able to create things for their school projects, customize their toys and bikes and print accessories for their phones. At the current development rate, we believe the 3D consumer market will explode into life within five years,” said Chareyre.
Described as being more akin to a robotic hand than a printer, the 3D machine from 5axismaker uses a 5axis head to work with materials such as modelling foams, plastic, acrylic stone and hardwood. One of their best creations to date is what appears to be a creased leather chair, but as 5axismaker employee Elena explains, it was in fact made entirely out of hardwood.
“For the chair, we took a scan of a person’s body, translated it into a digital model and thereby managed to create a chair which featured the right support and posture – despite using nothing but hardwood material,” said Elena.
Specializing in developing 3D software for arts and applied arts, Edinburgh-based Anarkik3D will be showcasing their latest innovations at this year’s 3D Printshow. Their software is built around haptic technology, also known as virtual touch – whereby the designer can actually touch and manipulate the digital objects he or she is working on.
“We were among the first companies to sign up for the first show in 2012 and have exhibited ever since. The event attracts creative artists and designers and is a great way for us to get in front of potential customers. In order to demonstrate how remarkable our 3D haptics software is, customers need to be able to feel the sensation of the “˜virtual touch’ – and the 3D Printshow allows us to demonstrate that,” explained Anarkik3D’s Ann Marie Shillito.
Looking to get in on the action? Stay tuned for a round-up post on the event in the coming weeks, or travel to the Big Smoke to see it for yourself. Virgin Atlantic operate daily departures to London from several US cities. Book your flight today.