I am a sucker for 3D printing. I find the ability to print out a toy, or any object for that matter, to be fascinating. To keep up to speed, I asked Sam Green, the Creative and Content Manager for Objet Ltd., to bring us up to date. Sam states that Objet is “a leading provider of 3D printers and 3D printing materials for rapid prototyping.” He also indicates that he has “over 10 years’ experience in hardware and software technology marketing and despite this remains quite a pleasant guy once you get to know him.”
In the toy industry appearances are everything. Luckily, the design and rapid prototyping needs of toy creators have been aided greatly by the 3D printing revolution. And when I say revolution, I’m not using the word cheaply.
3D printing and rapid prototyping has advanced a long way since its inception more than 20 years ago. First of all, 3D printers are today far more cost-effective than ever before. A good high quality desktop 3D printer can be obtained today for under US $20,000. This makes it much easier for smaller design houses to now acquire their own rapid prototyping capabilities. Having a 3D printer, especially if it’s in-house, allows designers to go through many prototyping cycles in a very short time – a process that encourages perfectionism and helps the overall decision-making process.
A 3D printer in-house also encourages designers to be more creative which results in greater product innovation, i.e. better toys! With 3D printing, experimentation and vision fulfillment are no longer a function of time constraints when designing a new toy.
As for print quality – there are of course variations, depending on the sort of 3D printing technology you opt for. For the toy industry, which generally requires a high level of fine detail accuracy and true-to-life visual representation, inkjet-based 3D printing technology is a good match.
Inkjet-based 3D printing provides the combination of accuracy (down to 16 micron layers), and simultaneous multi-material printing that makes the models sometimes impossible to tell apart from the real end-product! This multi-material capability is actually unique to Objet Connex 3D printers and has to be really seen to be believed. For this reason I’ve included a video showing how I print a series of one-of-a-kind Halo ‘Spartan’ toy soldier prototypes on the Objet Connex multi-material 3D printer.
Also important to note for the toy industry, 3D printing material versatility has exponentially improved
over the last few years. Objet for example, has expanded its material range from a single material in 2001 to over 60 materials today. This gives designers the ability to simulate a very wide range of properties ranging from rigid to flexible, opaque to transparent and standard to even engineering plastics – this last property being particularly useful if you want to functionally test your toy prototypes with the children who will eventually play with the real thing!