What is the best prototyping method for a plastic product? Well, that depends. A panel discussion at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West in Anaheim, CA, next month will explore the various options and discuss the advantages and limitations of each. In advance of that Tech Talk session, panelist Michael Paloian, President of Integrated Design Systems Inc., shared his insights with PlasticsToday. An industrial designer and plastics engineer with hundreds of products under his belt, Paloian will be joined at the session, scheduled for Feb. 12 at 8:30 AM, by panelists Rick Puglielli, President, Promold Plastics; Albert McGovern, Director of Mechanical Engineering, Shure Inc.; and George Wilson, Senior Program Manager, ARRK Product Development Group USA. MD&M West, co-located with PLASTEC West, comes to the Anaheim Convention Center from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020.

young engineer

The panelists will discuss the use of 3D printing for prototyping, of course, but they will also delve into CNC machining, polyurethane casting, limited production runs of injection molded prototyping and other technologies, said Paloian. The best process ultimately depends on the designer’s objectives. He or she should ask the following questions before settling on a prototyping process, recommends Paloian.

  • What’s the purpose of the prototype—if it’s for show and tell, don’t bother spending a lot of money replicating details.
  • What’s the lead time? If you need something really fast, that will dictate the optimal process.
  • How large (or small) is the part?
  • What manufacturing process—injection or blow molding, thermoforming, extrusion—are you trying to replicate? That will have some effect on the prototyping process you select.
  • What are the tolerances, material properties, level of detail, quantities?
  • What are you intending to test or evaluate?

“If properties are a critical aspect of your evaluation and testing, CNC machining the part from a particular resin will give you a better indication of how the product will perform than 3D printing,” said Paloian. Don’t be misled by claims of material similarity. “If they tell you it’s similar to ABS or similar to PE, that leaves a lot of gray area. ‘Similar to’ means nothing,” stressed Paloian.

If you’re more interested in the structural behavior of a detail on a part—say, the front bezel of an ultrasound scanner—you could 3D print or machine that portion of the part and subject it to the loads to which it might be exposed, said Paloian. “But if you’re trying to evaluate the wear resistance of a material, for example, you really have to use the material in question, or your evaluations will be erroneous.”

But if your key goal is the best design replication at the lowest cost, it’s hard to beat 3D printing. Then the question becomes, which type of 3D printing?

The three most common platforms are selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), according to Paloian, but SLS is fast becoming the preferred platform. “According to one survey, its market share in prototyping will almost triple over the next 10 years, from about 13% to 33%, while SLA and FDM will shrink.” Materials are playing a big role in that.

“SLA typically is based on a UV-cured acrylic or epoxy, and your properties are limited. There’s no way you’re going to replicate PP or PE with an SLA part,” said Paloian. “With SLS, you’re basically fusing together a powder, so you can use the actual resin, similar to FDM, for testing.” FDM, which Paloian likens to stacking Lincoln logs on top of each other to create the part, lacks resolution. “SLS gives you the best of both worlds—the fine resolution of SLA and the material selection of FDM,” said Paloian.

At the end of the day, understanding the pros and cons of each prototyping process will steer design engineers toward the best option for achieving their objectives. And that won’t always be 3D printing, added Paloian.

Image: Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe Stock


Forget new TVs and smartphones. These are the real game changers introduced at CES 2020.

  • Now that the smoke is cleared from CES 2020, we can take a step back and see which technologies were the real innovations of 2020. Let’s be honest, CES can be a black hole of vaporware, false promises, and concepts intended to be just that.

    We’ve compiled a list of our favorite technologies introduced at CES 2020 – innovations that we’re sure will be having a lasting impact in 2020 and beyond.

  • AerNos AerSIP Gas Sensor

    The AerSIP from AerNos is a 5 x 5-mm, mulit-gas sensing module that combines nanotechnology and machine learning algorithms to monitor indoor and outdoor air quality. The system-in-package (SIP) is an embedded plug-and-play solution that can be integrated into wearables, mobile devices, and other IoT devices and is capable of detecting hazardous gases and other dangers at parts per billion levels.

    (Image source: AerNos/CES)

  • AMD Ryzen 4000 Series Mobile Processor

    AMD’s Ryzen 4000 could be a literal game changer for high-end laptops users – particularly gamers and designers. AMD says its new Ryzen 4000 series is the world’s first 7-nanometer laptop processor. Designed for ultra-thin laptops, the Ryzen 4000 series features up to 8 cores and 16 threads and configurable 15W thermal design power. AMD pledges the Ryzen 4000 series offers up to four percent greater single-thread performance and up to 90 percent faster multithreaded performance than its competitors, as well as up to 18 percent faster graphics performance over competing chips.

    (Image source: AMD)

  • Atmosic Technologies M3 Battery-Free Bluetooth 5 SoC

    Atmosic says its M3 Battery-Free Bluetooth 5 SoC uses so little power that it can even eliminate the need for battery power entirely in devices such as wearables, keyboards, mice, asset trackers, beacons, and remotes. The M3 integrates Atmosic’s Lowest Power Radio, On-demand Wake-Up, and Managed Energy Harvesting technologies to deliver what the company says is 10 to 100 times lower power than other SoCs, while still complying with Bluetooth standards. The M3’s radio uses two “ears” – one for listening in a low-power state to perceive incoming commands, and another that only wakes when alerted. The SoC uses energy harvesting technology to gather power from radio frequency, photovoltaic, thermal, and motion.

    (Image source: Atmosic)

  • Bot3 Zen-P VSLAM Deep Learning Module

    Bot3‘s Zen-P VSLAM Deep Learning module integrates visual simultaneous localization and mapping (VSLAM) technology (a version of the same technology used in autonomous vehicles) into mobile robots ranging from industrial machines to smart home products. Bot3’s image processing algorithm, Pascal, allows for autonomous navigation without tracks as well as indoor mapping and positioning. (for instances such as warehouse applications).

    (Image source: Bot3)

  • BrainCo BrainRobotics Prosthetic Hand

    Many companies have been developing mind-controlled prosthetics for amputees and other disabled patients. What separates the prosthetic hand developed by BrainRobotics is the integration of AI technology. The BrainRobotics hand utilizes machine learning to allow the hand and its user to learn from each other over time – leading to more lifelike movements. The company is aiming to provide accurate and reliable prosthetics and at affordable price for all patients. BrainRobotics is a subsidiary of BrainCo, a software developer focused on brainwave measuring and monitoring.

    (Image source: BrainCo/BrainRobotics)

  • MultiWake Word and Voice Control Engine is a technology company focused on AI for voice interface and speech recognition. The company’s Multi-Wake Word and Voice Control Engine is an edge-based, noise robust, and multilingual speech technology that consumes minimal power and storage, allowing it to be embedded in small devices. The solution is Cortex M4-based and supports four separate wake words and 100 multilingual commands, according to has recently partnered with semiconductor designer Ambiq Micro to implement’s software solutions into Ambiq’s ultra-small footprint, low-power microcontrollers. Ambiq’s MCU supports frequencies up to 96 MHz, and’s solution requires only 16 MHz from the MCU. The new partnership means and Ambiq will be releasing MCUs for OEMs looking for an easy way to add speech recognition and voice command functionality to their smart home devices and other products.

    (Image source: / CES

  • Intel Tiger Lake Chip

    When Intel announces a new chip, the whole world takes notice. The chipmaking giant is launching its latest chip for consumers this year. Dubbed Tiger Lake, the new chip is said to be optimized for AI performance, graphics, and USB 3 throughput. Rather than desktops, the new chips will be focused on mobile devices such as ultra-thin laptops and tablets. The first products featuring Tiger Lake are expected to ship later in 2020.

    (Image source: Intel)

  • Monster MultiLink Bluetooth Technology

    Sometimes its the most straightforward ideas that can make the biggest difference. Most of us love our Bluetooth wireless headphones and earbuds. The problem is they don’t create a sharable experience. What if you want to show your friend the video you’re watching without disturbing the people around you? Monster has debuted a new technology called Music Share that uses MultiLink technology to allow devices to send Bluetooth audio to multiple devices in sync. The technology expands how Bluetooth headphones can be used and opens up new use cases ranging from air travel to fitness classes as well as new avenues for social interaction.

    (Image source: Bluetooth SIG)

  • Murata Coral Accelerator Module

    Working in partnership with Coral and Google, Murata Electronics has developed what it is calling the world’s smallest AI module. The Coral Accelerator Module packages Google’s Edge TPU ASIC into a miniaturized footprint to enable developers to embed edge-based AI into their products and devices. The new module forms an integral part of Coral’s integrated AI platform, which also includes a toolkit of software tools and pre-compiled AI models.

    (Image source: Murata Electronics Americas)

  • Pollen Robotics Reachy Open-Source Robot

    Reachy is a robot developed by Pollen Robotics, in collaboration with the INCIA Neuroscience Institute in France, that is fully open source. The robot, which can be programmed using Python, is modular – employing a variety of 3D-printed grippers – and comes with prepackaged AI algorithms to allow developers to customize it for a variety of applications ranging from customer service and assisting the elderly or disabled.

    Read more about Reachy, and the rise of open-source robotics, here.

    (Image source: Pollen Robotics)

  • VRgineers 8K XTAL Headset

    VRgineers, a maker of premium VR headsets for enterprise applications in industries ranging from automotive to defense and military, has released a major upgrade to its flagship XTAL headset. The latest version of XTAL features 8K resolution (4K per eye), improved lenses with a 180-degree field-of-view, and a new add-on module for augmented reality and mixed reality functionality. The headset also still includes eye tracking as well as integrated Leap Motion sensors to enable controller-free navigation and interactions.

    (Image source: VRgineers)

  • zGlue ChipBuilder

    zGlue is a software company that develops tools for chipmakers and designers. Its latest offering, ChipBuilder 3.0 is a design tool to for building custom silicon chips and accelerating time to market. The software suite features an expansive library of chipsets and allows engineers to capture schematics, route and verify designs, and download netlists. The tool allows engineers to create realistic 3D models and code their own chips and even place orders for physical chips via zGlue’s Shuttle Program.

    (Image source: zGlue / CES)

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics


You might call it a giant leap for 3D bioprinting: Human heart cells have been 3D printed on the International Space Station (ISS) and are making their way back to Earth this week inside a SpaceX capsule. The 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) was developed by Techshot Inc., a commercial operator of microgravity research and manufacturing equipment, in partnership with nScrypt, a manufacturer of industrial 3D bioprinters and electronics printers.

“Our BFF has the potential to transform human healthcare in ways not previously possible,” said Techshot President and CEO John Vellinger. ”We’re laying the foundation for an entire industry in space.”

3D BioFabrication Facility
The 3D BioFabrication Facility is the first U.S. 3D printer capable of manufacturing human tissue under microgravity conditions, according to Techshot Inc.

If you’re wondering why they don’t just print the cells here on Earth, the answer is gravity. When attempting to print with soft, easily flowing biomaterials on Earth, the tissues collapse under their own weight, resulting in little more than a puddle, explained Techshot in a press release. “But when these same materials are used in the microgravity environment of space, the 3D-printed structures maintain their shapes.” The bio-ink used in the space station, consequently, did not contain the scaffolding materials or thickening agents normally required to resist the Earth’s gravitational pull.

The test prints made in space are large by terrestrial bioprinting standards, measuring 30 mm long by 20 mm wide by 12.6 mm high. The BFF printed inside a Techshot-developed cell-culturing cassette that strengthens the assemblage of cells over time. The tissue-like structure is expected to be viable and self-supporting once it is back in Earth’s gravity.

More 3D bioprinting in space will take place in March following the delivery of additional bio-inks to the ISS National Laboratory aboard SpaceX mission CRS-20.

Following that round of test prints, Techshot expects to declare BFF open for business to industrial and institutional life science customers. Including the bioprinter, Techshot owns and operates five commercial research and manufacturing payloads aboard the ISS, reportedly the largest catalog of any American company operating inside the orbiting lab. A sixth payload, the Techshot Cell Factory, is under development. It will enable the company’s customers to continuously generate multiple cell types in space and not rely entirely on cargo resupply spacecraft transporting the cells.

Although the prospect of manufacturing human hearts and other organs via a 3D bioprinter in space is at least a decade away, Techshot is hopeful that the long-term success of the BFF could lead to a reduction in the shortage of donor organs.

Founded more than 30 years ago, Techshot operates its own commercial research payloads in space and serves as the manager of three NASA-owned ISS payloads. Test experiments, such as the one described in this article, aside, the company rarely conducts its own research. Its business model entails providing equipment on board the station for a fee to those with their own independent research programs, serving as a one-stop resource for organizations that want access to space.

Headquartered in Greenville, IN, and with an office at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Techshot is an official Implementation Partner for the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. It has agreements with NASA that provide the company and its customers with access to space cargo transfer services and assistance from the on-orbit crew.


The Cleveland Clinic reported yesterday that FDA has cleared patient-specific 3D-printed airway stents developed by one of its physicians, Tom Gildea, MD.

The stents are used to keep open the airways of patients with serious breathing disorders, such as those caused by tumors, inflammation, trauma or other masses. Until now, the patient-specific devices were being implanted under FDA’s compassionate use program, which allows patients who have failed all available forms of treatment to receive investigational ones not yet available to the public, said the Cleveland Clinic in a news release.

Standard airway stents come in a limited number of sizes and shapes and are generally designed for larger airways. However, no two patient anatomies are alike, making it difficult to get a perfect fit, especially for those with complex conditions. Ill-fitting standard stents can result in stent kinking and bending as well as airway complications such as growth of new tissue, mucus impaction and tissue death.

The patient-specific stents developed by Gildea and his engineering team are designed using CT scans and proprietary 3D visualization software. The molds for the stents are then printed using a 3D printer and injected with medical-grade silicone. This process allows them to perfectly fit a patient’s anatomy.

By using CT scans, visualization software and a 3D printer, Cleveland Clinic physician Tom Gildea is able to produce airway stents that precisely fit patient anatomies. This image courtesy Cleveland Clinic shows implantation of the stent.

“Breathing is something many people take for granted, but for many of these patients, every breath can be a struggle. It’s been gratifying to see patients receiving the customized stents feeling relief right away,” said Gildea, section head of bronchoscopy at Cleveland Clinic. “We are excited to be able to bring this technology to more patients across the country and grateful for the patients and donors who have worked with us to help pioneer this technology.”

Unlike standard stents, which may require frequent changes and cleaning because of a poor fit, patient-specific silicone stents lasted, on average, about a year in studies conducted at the Cleveland Clinic. Furthermore, the patient-specific stents exhibited shorter procedure times and improved patient-reported symptoms, leading to a reduced need for stent changes and modifications.

Approximately 30,000 airway stents will be implanted in the United States in 2020, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Patient-specific products manufactured with 3D printing, including the airway stents, were named as one of the top 10 innovations at Cleveland Clinic’s annual Medical Innovations Summit in 2018. Gildea received the Outstanding Innovation in Medical Device award at the 2018 Inventor Awards Reception held by Cleveland Clinic Innovations.

A new subsidiary named VisionAir Solutions will be formed around the technology with the sole mission of bringing more personalized medical devices to interventional pulmonologists. By the end of the first quarter of 2020, this new spin-off company plans to begin providing the personalized stents to patients in a controlled launch at many of the country’s top medical institutions.


2019 was an amazing year for 3D printing. We’ve seen the development of new materials as well as advances in the production capabilities in additive manufacturing. Here’s a quick look at the progress in 3D printing during 2019.

Additive Manufacturing Automation Brings Down Costs; Increases Productivity 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation
(Image source: Digital Metal)

This automation technology uses robotics for the most laborious manual step in metal additive manufacturing, which is de-powdering the system after printing. Previously, this step was done by humans using specially designed glove boxes for safety.

Breakthrough 3D Printed Materials Make Strong, Lightweight Structures 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, lightweight structures
(Image source: ETH Zurich / Marc Day)

New materials that take advantage of a new interior structure could be the way forward for new lightweight, strong materials for myriad uses.

LMD Additive Manufacturing Expands in Aerospace 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive
 (Source: Form Alloy)

The 3D printing processes of laser metal deposition (LMD) and directed energy deposition (DED) are revolutionizing how the aerospace industry designs and builds high-value components across the manufacturing spectrum from prototyping to production.

Is 3D Printing Ready for Scaled Production? 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production
(Source: Forecast 3D)

While additive manufacturing has received attention for its promise of mass customization and generative design, not everyone believes it’s ready for large-quantity production.

Why 3D Printing Is Going to Need Blockchain 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, Blockchain
(Image source: Pixabay)

Blockchain has the potential to solve 3D printing’s inherent security risks before they become a major issue.

Biorefinery Waste Can Be Used for 3D Printing 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, biofinery
(Image source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Researchers at the Department of Energy have used lignin, a byproduct of the biorefinery industry, as part of a new composite material that’s well-suited for 3D printing processes.

Using Light to Control Multimaterial 3D Printing 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, biofinery
(Image source: A.J. Boydston and Johanna Schwartz)

A new light-based technique developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison allows for more than one material to be printed at a time.

The Untold Truths of 3D Printing You Need to Understand 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, biofinery
(Image source: Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay) 

With all of the hype surrounding additive manufacturing and 3D printing, it’s easy to forget that, as with all new technologies, there is a learning curve.

3D-Printed Robot Merges Additive and Smart Manufacturing 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, biofinery, robot
 (Source: HP)

Bastian Solutions worked with Fast Radius to create a shuttle system that uses additive manufacturing to design and construct a custom-designed modular robot system.

3D-Printed Tissues Could Help Heal Serious Sports Injuries 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, printed tissue
(Image source: Jeff Fitlow)

Researchers have achieved new structures that can mimic the seamless interconnection of bone and cartilage needed to repair serious sports-related injuries.

Ceramics Offer Amazing Diversity for 3D Printing 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, ceramics
(Image source: Ren Services)

3D-printed ceramics offer many industries a range of applications not found in many other materials.

Researchers Invent New Dynamic Material for 3D Printing 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, dynamic materials
(Image source: Queensland University of Technology)

The polymer properties of new materials developed by a cross-institutional group of researchers respond dynamically to light and darkness in a novel way.

5 Reasons You’ll Need a 3D Printer on Mars 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, 3D printing on Mars
(Image source: NASA)

3D printing will play a vital role when we get to Mars. Here are five reasons why.

Harvard’s new multimaterial 3D printer moves at hummingbird speeds 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, hummingbird speeds
(Image source: Wyss Institute at Harvard University)

A new technique developed at Harvard speeds up multimaterial printing by allowing up to eight different printing materials to fabricate objects.

New Process can 3D Print Living Cells with Precision and Speed 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, living cells
(Source: TU Wien)

A novel bioink can integrate living cells into 3D scaffolds at a speed of one meter per second, making it possible to study the spread of diseases and produce tailor-made tissue.

Cool and super cool 3D printed projects 

3D printing, additive manufacturing, automation, LMD additive, scaled production, blockchain, cool projects

Here’s a look back at several cool hobbyist-level gadgets and a few super cool printed car projects.

(Image Source: 3Deddy, via Thingiverse)


Design News caught up with Paul Benning, chief technologist for HP 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing to get an idea of where additive manufacturing is headed in the future. Benning explained that we’re headed for mixed-materials printing, surfaces innovation, more involvement from academic community, and greater use of software and data management.

Automated assembly with mixed materials

Benning believes we will begin to see automated assembly with industries seamlessly integrating multi-part assemblies including combinations of 3D printed metal and plastic parts.  “There’s not currently a super printer that can do all things intrinsically, like printing metal and plastic parts, due to factors such as processing temperatures,” Benning told Design News. “However, as automation increases, there’s a vision from the industry for a more automated assembly setup where there is access to part production from both flavors of HP technology: Multi Jet Fusion and Metal Jet.”

HP, 3D printing, additive manufacturing, multi-materials additive manufacturing, academic training, design data
HP built its Multi Jet Fusion 3D printer to be an additive manufacturing machine. The future may include machines that print multiple materials. (Image source: HP)

While the medical industry and recently aerospace are incorporated 3D printing into production, Benning also sees car makers as a future customer for additive. “The auto sector is a great example of where automated assembly could thrive on the factory floor.”

Benning sees a wide range of applications that might combine metal and plastics. “Benefits of an automated assembly for industrial applications include printing metals into plastic parts, building parts that are wear-resistant and collect electricity, adding surface treatments, and even building conductors or motors into plastic parts,” said Benning. “The industry isn’t ready to bring this technology to market just yet, but it’s an example of where 3D printing is headed beyond 2020.”

Surfaces will become an area of innovation

Benning sees a future where data payloads for 3D printed parts will be coded into the surface texture.  “It’s a competitive advantage to be able to build interesting things onto surfaces. HP has experimented with coding digital information into a surface texture. By encoding information into the texture itself, manufacturers can have a bigger data payload than just the serial number.”

He notes that the surface coding could be read by, humans for machines. “One way to tag a part either overtly or covertly is to make sure that both people and machines are able to read it based on the shape or orientation of the bumps. We have put hundreds of copies of a serial number spread across the surface of a part so that it’s both hidden and universally apparent.”

Benning sees this concept as p[art of the future of digital manufacturing. “This is one of our inventions that serves to tie together our technologies with the future of parts tracking and data systems,” said Benning.

Universities will introduce new ways to thinking

Benning believes that academia and training programs can offer new thought processes to liberate designers from old thinking and allow them to tap into technologies of the future. “3D printing’s biggest impact to manufacturing job skills lie on the design side,” said Benning. “You have a world of designers who have been trained in and grown up with existing technologies like injection molding. Because of this, people unintentionally bias their design toward legacy processes and away from technologies like 3D printing.”

Benning believes one solution for breaking old thinking is to train upcoming engineers in new ways of thinking. “To combat this, educators of current and soon-to-be designers must adjust the thought process that goes into designing for production given the new technologies in the space,” said Benning. “We recognize this will take some time, particularly for universities that are standing up degree programs.” He also believes new software design tools will guide designers to make better use of 3D printing in manufacturing.

Software and data management is critical to the 3D printing future

Benning believes advancements in software and data management will drive improved system management and part quality. This will then lead to better customer outcomes. “Companies within the industry are creating API hooks to build a fluid ecosystem for customers and partners,” said Benning.

HP is beginning to use data to enable ideal designs and optimized workflows for Multi Jet Fusion factories. “This data comes from design files, or mobile devices, or things like HP’s FitStation scanning technology and is applied to make production more efficient, and to better deliver individualized products purpose-built for their end customers.” The goal of that individualized production can support custom products build with mass production manufacturing techniques, leading to a batch-of-one or mass customization.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? Register to attend!


Here’s a look back at several cool hobbyist-level gadgets and a few super cool printed car projects.

The price of 3D printers has become reasonable enough to where hobbyist and businesses can own at least one machine. But once you’ve got it, what do you do with it? Engineers and techies will want to pursue DIY projects, repair machines and equipment, prototype their latest and greatest invention, or just have fun. All of these – but especially the latter – require a STL file and a 3D model. Here’s a very short list of places to get the coolest files for your 3D Printer (and many are free).


One of the biggest content repositories for 3D printer models on the internet is Thingiverse – the site offers close to 2 million STL files. The website is operated by MakerBot Industries, the creators of the Replicator series of 3D printers. The Thingiverse community mostly share their STL files for free in varying categories and complexity.

Need a few gift ideas for the holiday? Try this imaginative bottle opener and cap gun, uploaded by 3Deddy via Thingiverse. Aside from the printed parts, all you’ll need are a set of M3 bolts, an elastic rubber band and a penny or 10 cent eruo coin.

Image Source: 3Deddy, via Thingiverse

Researchers have taken inspiration from human bones to help improve the strength of lightweight structures that have been 3D-printed for potential use in the construction and other industries. A team of scientists from Cornell University, Purdue University, and Case Western Reserve University has observed how a beam that’s contained in human bone can help maintain the integrity and strength of, for example, a leg or an arm after many years of wear and tear.

3D printing, human bones, structural strength, Cornell University, Purdue University, Case Western Reserve University
Researchers 3D-printed polymer models of trabeculae in human bone and applied loads to them, investigating if certain structures play more significant roles in bone durability than previously thought. (Image source: Purdue University/Pablo Zavattieri)

They have taken this observation and applied it to the development of 3D-printed lightweight materials so that they may one day be used in the construction of buildings, airplanes, and other structures that would benefit from less weight but need to retain their strength and structural integrity.

“Bone is a building,” said Pablo Zavattieri, a professor in Purdue’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering and one of the researchers on the project. “It has these columns that carry most of the load and beams connecting the columns. We can learn from these materials to create more robust 3D-printed materials for buildings and other structures.”

Researchers did exactly that. Specifically, they mimicked the beam, or trabeculae, found in bones by 3D-printing polymer models of the structure and applying loads to them, they said. In the end, they made adjustments and created beams that were about 30 percent thicker using a material that can last up to 100 times longer than the beams in actual human bones do.

Mimicking natural materials

Trabeculae is a spongy material comprising a network of interconnected vertical plate-like struts and horizontal rod-like struts that act as columns and beams for human bones to give them their durability. The denser the trabeculae, the more resilient a bone is for everyday activities, with factors such as disease and age affecting the density and therefore degrading the material and its performance.

Those factors would become integral to the work of the researchers in this study, who discovered that even though the vertical struts of the trabeculae contribute to a bone’s stiffness and strength, the key to decreasing the longevity of the bone lies in the horizontal struts, said Christopher Hernandez, a professor of mechanical, aerospace, and biomedical engineering at Cornell. “When people age, they lose these horizontal struts first, increasing the likelihood that the bone will break from multiple cyclic loads,” he said. This discovery is contrary to the beliefs scientists long have had about trabeculae.

Researchers used this finding to inform the design of 3D-printed polymers with architectures similar to trabeculae, which they then tested for load-bearing to identify how the horizontal struts are affected by strain as a part of the overall structure.

Proving the theory

Simulations of the bone microstructure under cyclic loading confirmed the team’s belief about the importance of horizontal struts to the trabeculae structures. Researchers observed that strains get concentrated in those struts, coming to the conclusion that if they increase the thickness of the horizontal struts in their 3D-printed models, they can mitigate some of the strains.

Researchers also found that thickening the struts did not significantly increase the mass of the polymer, so the design can lend itself to creating more resilient lightweight materials. “When something is lightweight, we can use less of it,” Zavattieri said. “To create a stronger material without making it heavier would mean 3D-printed structures could be built in place and then transported. These insights on human bone could be an enabler for bringing more architected materials into the construction industry.”

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They also published a video of their research on YouTube.

The team believes that their work has numerous future applications not just for the construction industry, but also in other fields like medicine, where studying these structures further could inform better ways to treat patients suffering from diseases like osteoporosis.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

DesignCon 2020 25th anniversary Logo

January 28-30: North America’s largest chip, board, and systems event, DesignCon, returns to Silicon Valley for its 25th year! The premier educational conference and technology exhibition, this three-day event brings together the brightest minds across the high-speed communications and semiconductor industries, who are looking to engineer the technology of tomorrow. DesignCon is your rocket to the future. Ready to come aboard? 

Register to attend!


Various glass objects created with a 3D printer using a new fabrication technology developed by researchers at ETH Zurich. (Image source: Group for Complex Materials / ETH Zurich)

Researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland have joined the ranks of small group of scientists who have successfully 3D-printed glass objects. The new method is based on stereolithography, one of the earliest 3D-print techniques, and uses a special plastic-based resin containing glass precursors bonded to organic molecules

Currently, scientists have reported only a few successful processes for 3D-printing glass . A team from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany printed glass objects in a similar way to the ETH Zurich team—using stereolithography and a combination of polymer and glass. Others have printed molten glass using additive methods.

Other methods have created glass objects in an indirect way by using ceramic particles that are printed at room temperature and then sintered later to create glass. This technique, however, does not allow for the fabrication of complex objects.

Solving material complexity

The technique from the ETH Zurich team solves some of the complications other researchers have encountered through material choice—a resin that can be processed using commercially-available digital light processing (DLP) technology, said Kunal Masania, one of the researchers in ETH Zurich’s Complex Materials group who worked on the project.

DLP applies UV light to the resin, hardening it in the places where it strikes because light-sensitive components of the polymer cross link at these points. The end result combines the plastic monomers to form a structure that creates a polymer, with ceramic molecules filling in gaps in the structure, Masania said in a press statement.

In this way, a glass object can be built up layer by layer, just as typical 3D-printed polymer objects are built, he said. Various aspects of each layer can even be changed to create more complex objects – a result that researchers didn’t plan, Masania added.

“We discovered that by accident, but we can use this to directly influence the pore size of the printed object,” he said in a press statement. Weak light intensity creates large pores in the object, while intense light produces small pores.

Making complex glass objects

Pores aren’t the only parameter of objects that the ETH Zurich researchers can manipulate. According to a paper published in the journal Nature Materials, they can also can change the microstructure of an object layer by layer by adding a mixture of silica and either borate or phosphate to the resin. This means they can fabricate complex objects from different types of glass, or even combine different parts in the same object.

One drawback to this new technique is that it can only print very small glass objects about the size of a die, according to the ETH Zurich researchers. However, Masania said still believe they achieved the goal of the project, which was to prove that 3D printing can be used to produce complex glass objects, no matter what the limitation is currently.

Masania said his team has applied for a patent for their technology and is currently lining up commercial partnership with a Swiss glassware dealer.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


One of the most consequential aspects of 3D printing is the capability to produce objects that often cannot be manufactured using any other existing technology. At a fundamental level, 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, can consolidate parts in a single assembly. One famous example is the GE Catalyst turboprop engine, where 3D printing enabled the consolidation of 855 parts into 12 assemblies, reducing weight and simplifying the supply chain in the process. At a higher level, the technology allows the creation of “previously unimagined complex shapes,” noted Paul Benning, Chief Technologist for HP Printing & Digital Manufacturing. That creates unprecedented design opportunities, but to take full advantage of them, design engineers need to retool their thought process. “You have a world of designers who have been trained in and grown up with existing technologies like injection molding. Because of this, people unintentionally bias their design toward legacy processes and away from technologies like 3D printing,” said Benning.

3D printing hologram

According to some estimates, more than half of manufacturing employees will require retraining, as 3D printing and Industry 4.0–related technologies enter their workspace. “This effort requires collaboration across industry, academia and government to ensure that future design engineers are prepared for the fourth industrial revolution workforce,” Benning told PlasticsToday. Moreover, there will be a shift in existing roles, he added. “New elements of the design process will be introduced into engineers’ roles—they will need to learn the mechanics of 3D printing to become experts in the processes to support operational functions during production. New roles will also be created, such as reverse 3D engineers, for instances when 3D printing is used to build replacement parts for items that have no digital equivalent,” said Benning.

A shortlist of what design engineers should know about 3D printing, according to Benning, includes:

  • The new wave of design capabilities that allow the creation of previously unimagined complex shapes as well as durable prototypes and end-use production parts.
  • Thinking beyond cost reduction and speed optimization for existing products. The “true potential of 3D printing is realized when engineers can integrate the physics, software, materials and creative thinking around 3D printing to develop products that cannot be manufactured today,” said Benning.
  • In rapid prototyping applications, understanding that 3D printing enables the physical realization of initial ideas in a low-risk process. “Essentially, you can ‘fail faster’ using this technology,” said Benning. “Design changes are easier and learning cycles are faster, so you can use that extra time to create better products.”

Educating budding design engineers and re-training employees to operate effectively in this new environment requires a “holistic” approach that incorporates the supply chain, industrial engineering, materials science and manufacturing, according to Benning. A number of training programs have been established that impart the skill sets needed to shift “from old thinking and tap into new, creative ideas.” One such program, cited by Benning, has been developed at Oregon State University (OSU).

The students and faculty at OSU are working with HP to help translate basic research into technologies and materials, explained Benning. “For example, Oregon State University students are using 3D printing to design and build combustion, electric and driverless cars. The project, a collaborative effort with the University of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, will put one-tenth-scale autonomous cars into the hands of researchers nationwide.” And at Clemson’s College of Engineering, Computing & Applied Sciences, the use of HP Jet Fusion 300/500 series 3D printers are allowing students to see and touch products they have designed and physically test them. It’s this type of hands-on experience that will “teach graduates how to think in 3D, iterate designs and produce future ideas using additive manufacturing,” stressed Benning.

Other universities should follow these examples and “build out programs that foster creative, new ways of thinking and designing,” said Benning. The future of advanced manufacturing depends on it.

Image: Sdecoret/Adobe Stock