Bacchus and Han Dog
At the beginning of the month, TCT and Personalize hopped on a train to London. Our task: to get to know some of the most exciting 3D printing users and designers in the Big Smoke.
The first meeting ticked off our jam-packed agenda was our trip to Shoreditch-based Inition - and what a great way to commence our 28 hours in the capital.
Our visit was with Communications Manager Jonathan Tustain and resident 3D printing expert Robert Jeffries, who led us downstairs to Inition's workshop-slash-exhibition space to better demonstrate the varied work the company does, pushing additive manufacturing technology and its applications further.
One of the projects Inition is most proud of is its work with the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The company has been working alongside the attraction, 3D scanning and then 3D printing exact copies of some of its collection - namely a Han Dynasty ornamental dog, a Buddha Lady and a renaissance sculpture of Bacchus, amongst others - using a ZPrinter 450.
Jeffries explained: "Working with Feathercast and the Fitzwilliam Museum, we chose several objects that were suitable for reproduction. The pieces were scanned with our white-light non-contact scanning technology. The data was analysed and processed to create a 3D-printable model that was used to create a mould for each piece."
Tustain noted: "We made the finished items out of jesmonite. They (the museum) are now doing more."
Jesmonite has been something of a revelation for Inition. The material is a composite of gypsum and acrylic resin and is favoured for its durability, flame-resistance and finish - which can be hewn to resemble a variety of materials.
Tustain continued: "The Han Dog was made well. You can barely tell the difference between the real one and the 3D print. When you put them side by side it's so difficult to tell the difference."
Jeffries added: "This process of combining traditional casting techniques with scanning and printing has allowed the cost-effective production of highly accurate replicas without any risk to the original artefacts."
"The great thing about jesmonite is that it has a weight to it, it's not like other 3D printing materials - it's not Lego."
Indeed, one of the main themes of our trip to Inition was that the company is passionate about demonstrating how 3D printers are capable of producing items of high quality, with a good finish that is removed from the plastic Yoda busts and rooks currently associated with the medium.
Taking a closer look and handling the items Inition's machines have produced, you can appreciate the fact people might want these exact replicas of the museum's collection in their homes - and this is certainly one of the aims of the exercise. Tustain and Jeffries explained that 3D scanning and printing technologies are allowing them to print copies of works that can then be sold in the museum's gift shop and can therefore become an additional source of revenue.
This was something Geomagic Founder Ping Fu discussed at Develop3D Live in Coventry last month, as she explained how having the entire collection available to 3D print at a museum would take some of the financial pressure of establishments, who rely on ticket sales and wealthy donors to make ends meet.
But there is still work to be done explaining how the system would work to many museums. Jeffries noted the retail market within the museum community is still learning about 3D printing technology and many do not yet understand how it works.
In addition to working with the Fitzwilliam Museum on its exact 3D-printed copies, Inition has been involved in community projects, such as its collaboration with Hackney Council.
Tustain explained Inition was tasked with using 3D printing to make something representative of the community, and so the company tried to engage with the public, gathering data about them that would be used as an algorithm to create unique 3D-printed trees.
He said: "For example, the large trees have more branches because the individual's data shows they have lived in the area for a long time.
"We like to call this sort of thing an 'info-sculpture'. We like using algorithms to create things like this."
Jeffries added that they have done similar work, using MRA scan data and even Twitter data to make snowmen.
This approach to the growing 3D printing market of customisation is fun and appeals to those with an interest in social media interaction, but Inition's involvement in new technology extends further than this.
The company has been working with augmented reality for a decade and is now harnessing the technology with the use of tablet computers, allowing a computer program to apply different, interactive data or images onto a 3D printed architectural model. One such program we were allowed to play with enabled the user to move around the prototype with an iPad, which could show the user visuals including wind resistance, traffic and how light and shade alters over the course of a day.
"Tablet computers - the iPad - are now much more accessible, also we do a lot of projects based on these because the technology is really exciting," Jeffries stated.
For an established company, Inition is not content unless it is at the very cutting edge of technology. It is an organisation with its fingers in a lot of pies, maybe because it truly understands the myriad applications for 3D printing and its related technologies.
We rounded off our meeting with Tustain and Jeffries all too soon, but we know it will not be long before we are in touch again to learn of the latest exciting developments to roll off the production line in the Inition basement.