Design your world – online robots, 3D printers at CeBIT

March 18, 2015 by Frank Zeller
A visitor passes an installation during the opening day of the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, central Germany, on March 16, 2015

Need a copy of your wedding ring, a new name tag for the dog, or a spare part for the washing machine? Just print it, is the message at the CeBIT IT fair in Germany.

A host of companies are showcasing new tech marvels, from web-connected robots to 3D printers, that can turn homes, schools and offices into design labs and mini factories.

They say the merging of the virtual and physical worlds will unleash a wave of creativity, democratise manufacturing, and lead people to print rather than buy their Christmas presents.

One of the most eye-catching projects at CeBIT in Hanover is "Robochop", where heavy-duty industrial robots carve foam cubes into furniture or sculptures, based on designs people upload online.

Part tech show, part digital-age art installation, it invites Internet users worldwide to create a shape on their PC or tablet using simple design software and upload it for the bots to cut using a hot wire.

The 2,000 most inspiring designs will be mailed free of charge to their creators' homes, anywhere in the world, say the brains behind Robochop, design duo Clemens Weisshaar and Reed Kram.

They say the installation is "a means of translating digits into things".

"These robots are a mini factory that is connected not to the owner of the factory but to everyone else," Weisshaar told AFP.

"That's what's going to completely change over the next years. Software will be written that allows users to take over machinery without having the engineering knowledge that you would normally need if you just bought a robot."

Dentures and spaceships

On a more modest scale the 3D printer has for years been a vital tool for designers, engineers, architects and researchers, who typically use it to create models and prototypes.

But here too, breakneck advances in precision, resolution, speed and available materials are rapidly changing the industry.

A sign reads "robots in automatic mode" at the booth of Robochop during the opening day of the CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, central Germany, on March 16, 2015

3D printing has made headlines with eye-popping uses, including downloadable designs for handguns, a prosthetic beak for a Costa Rican toucan, and the "printing" of entire homes with a mix of concrete and recycled rubble by a Chinese company.

The technology "has in fact been around for more than 25 years, but it has been covered by patents", said Sara Bonomi, of US 3D printer maker formlabs. "The industry is really developing so much now because these patents are expiring and the technology is becoming accessible for everyone."

Formlabs makes high-resolution desktop 3D printers that have been used to design everything from jewellery to dentures, and medical devices to the model spaceships seen in Hollywood blockbuster "Interstellar".

While most 3D printers create models "from the bottom up", using resin from a nozzle to add layer upon layer, formlabs employs lasers that solidify a resin to create objects with ultra-crisp detail, in a process sometimes called "optical fabrication".

Compostable plastic

As 3D printing advances, becomes more affordable and enters more family homes, it will change the way people live, Bonomi said.

"Definitely in the future we will be able to customise rings and shoes, and then you can just print them at home," she said—cautioning that this may lead some do-it-yourselfers to create counterfeits of branded products.

"There will be more questions about copyright and what you can actually make," she warned.

Vitezslav Musilek, of Czech company be3D, predicted that "the world in 10 years will be much easier to live in".

"If you need to purchase a replacement part or you want a new product, you will either download it from a webpage or model it yourself and then print it on your home 3D or somewhere else," he said.

Such objects would include "a mobile phone case, or a name tag for your dog ... household appliances like a missing part in your dishwasher, or maybe your own chess set".

So will the 3D printing revolution add new mountains of plastic to a planet already choking in garbage?

Not necessarily, according to Musilek, who said his company's DeeGreen printers use a thermoplastic that is 80 percent corn starch, biodegradable and free of toxic fumes when used.

"When you put it in the compost," he said, "given the right temperature, humidity and bacteria, it will completely dissolve, leaving no pollution to harm the environment."

Explore further: Beyond the trinkets: Voxel8 shows 3D electronics printer

Related Stories

Beyond the trinkets: Voxel8 shows 3D electronics printer

January 13, 2015

Beyond plastic angel paperweights and keychain elves, how complex can complex be in today's output from 3D printers? Voxel8 says they have the world's first multi-material 3D electronics printer, the nature of which can give ...

New company aims to bring 3-D printers to home users

February 13, 2015

Imagine you have an idea for a new object—say, a custom phone case that perfectly molds to your hand or a cupholder that attaches to your laptop. Then, an hour later, a tangible plastic version of that item materializes ...

The iBox Nano 3D resin printer offers precision at low price

November 3, 2014

iBox Printers is issuing a claim that it has the world's smallest, most affordable 3D printer. "Most 3D printers are expensive, large, noisy and complicated," said Trent Carter, founder of the Melbourne, Florida-based company. ...

3D Builder is free 3D printing app for Windows 8.1

November 18, 2013

Microsoft continues to beat the drum as a technology company out to inspire and support 3D printing. After announcing earlier this year that it would be supporting 3D printing in Windows 8.1, Microsoft earlier this week took ...

Recommended for you

Volumetric 3-D printing builds on need for speed

December 11, 2017

While additive manufacturing (AM), commonly known as 3-D printing, is enabling engineers and scientists to build parts in configurations and designs never before possible, the impact of the technology has been limited by ...

Tech titans ramp up tools to win over children

December 10, 2017

From smartphone messaging tailored for tikes to computers for classrooms, technology titans are weaving their way into childhoods to form lifelong bonds, raising hackles of advocacy groups.

Mapping out a biorobotic future  

December 8, 2017

You might not think a research area as detailed, technically advanced and futuristic as building robots with living materials would need help getting organized, but that's precisely what Vickie Webster-Wood and a team from ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.