Pittsburgh TechShop Provides AV WEEK Tour of 3D Scanning/Printing

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pittsburgh Techshop's Lizzee Solomon demonstrated innovative 3D scanning and printing capabilities recently at Westminster College as part of Audio Visual Services annual AV Week celebration. The presentation took place in Witherspoon Maple from 12:30 to 2:00 and was open to campus community and public.

Lizzee Solomon is the Education and Events Coordinator at Pittsburgh TechShop, a community-based workshop and prototyping studio "on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation." The Pittsburgh location is the newest, and the 6th TechShop in the country. Spurred by the growing "maker-movement" across north America, the facility encourages tours, provides training, and offers access to unique high-tech tools from all varieties of manufacturing. Solomon said they continue to expand nationally, with another TechShop to open soon in Arizona.

3D, or "additive manufacturing" printing, has exploded in the last year, with innovations in the printing process and the printers themselves. It has revolutionized manufacturing in everything from architecture and construction to art, agriculture, medicine, and various experimental design fields.  Gartner projects that 3D printer shipments are expected to grow by 50 percent this year and 75 percent in 2014. As printers and print materials become more accessible, so has the process to create a printable 3D object. Once incredibly tedious, Solomon demonstrated through use of a common gaming platform scanner that a the process now only takes about 10 seconds to create a 3D mesh with a free downloadable program called Skanect. This program and scanner work in conjunction with an object rotated 360°, creating a mesh network of thousands of dots that map the exterior of the object. In post processing, color data is added, the mesh is made water tight, noise is subtracted, and the object can be scaled or cropped.

Solomon demonstrated how easy the process was with a number of audience members. Volunteers were able to spin slowly in front of the scanner to create their own 3D mesh, prompting nearly all in attendance to try it out.

Erin Sullivan, Audio Visual Equipment Manager and Operations Manager, was impressed with the results. "The demonstration used an xBox 360 Kinect to scan images to the computer," Sullivan said. "Lizzee noted that this opened possibilities to make your own at-home 3D scan. I personally have a Kinect and I hope to setup my device and try it out myself, especially since much of the software required is free to download." (See a quick scan of Audio Visual Director Gary Swanson here, using the Chrome browser.)

While the scanning process is quick, actual printing is still a time-consuming process. "An inch and half tall object takes about 35 to 40 minutes to print," Solomon shared. "Things that have a wider base print well, but items that have a narrow base need to have mini trusses incorporated into the design so that the object doesn't fall over during the print process." Solomon encouraged the audience to visit sketchfab.com, a sort of "Flickr for 3D scans" to see what others are creating, and perhaps generate ideas for future projects. Some of the current successes that generated out of product development at a TechShop include the Square credit card reader and the SolePower power generator.

"Makers are anyone really," said Solomon. "I think everyone is inclined to create something and the community that develops at TechShop can help you with that."

For more information on Pittsburgh TechShop, 3D Printing and Scanning, this or other AV Week events please contact AV Services at (724) 946 7188 or via email avstaff@westminster.edu

Contributed by Savanna Adams, AV Assistant Public Relations Manager

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Solomon demonstrates 3D scanning tools during AV Week.

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TechShop has a location in Pittsburgh, PA

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AV Director Gary Swanson is scanned into a 3D computer file.

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Reactions to the speed, accuracy, and ease of producing a 3D map.

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The Square credit card reader was prototyped at TechShop.