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» » The name's Printing, 3D Printing
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By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor

James Bond's Aston Martin in Skyfall was in fact a 3D-printed model Photo: Voxeljet

James Bond has long had difficult relationship with cars – none seems to survive a whole film. But when his immaculate, iconic Aston Martin DB5 reappeared in Skyfall, its demolition was particularly comprehensive. Putting it back together again seems almost impossible.

In fact, however, the film’s producers adopted a novel approach: they made three models, each with 18 parts, so they could be filmed - and then blown up - without damaging the original. Immaculately finished, each model is indistinguishable on screen from a real DB5. If a part needed to be replaced, or to appear to be damaged on screen, they could just print out a new piece to the right configuration.

This ‘3D printing’ made its Bond debut in Skyfall, but it’s rapidly gaining widespread adoption across a host of industries. Sceptics point out it’s been touted for more than a decade, but finally it is beginning to gain real-world appeal. Makerbot, a maker of dmoestic 3D printers, has even opened a shop in New York to showcase what the technology can do.

No wonder then that such shrewd investors as Martha Lane Fox are putting their own money into such companies – Lane Fox recently joined the board of Makie, describing the 3D toy printing company as among the most exciting of her current projects.

James Bond's Aston Martin in Skyfall was in fact a 3D-printed model

3D printing allows the rapid fabrication of objects by using printers who are full not of ink and paper but of liquid, powder or resin, quick to set and easy to bond together into almost any shape users, designers or engineers can come up with. Built up layer by layer, just as ink is printed line by line, objects can be made cheaply and easily. In theory it spells the end of any part for an old product going out of production, and questions the very nature of what we think of as original.

Autodesk, the company whose software was in large part behind the special effects images used in Skyfall, is also heavily involved in consumer 3D printing. Even though the cost of printers themselves is falling, it makes far more economic sense for users to print their creations on larger, faster industrial printers than to buy their own domestic versions for several thousand pounds.

Currently, unless you’re making a Bond film, consumer 3D printing is most usually to be found in arts and crafts., where makers of jewellery and homewares sell their goods directly to the public, is rapidly showing that if you make necklaces there’s no need to hold stock. Simply print the right beads when you get an order. The economics of the business are comparatively straightforward, and is also attracting technology accessories makers such as Sculpteo, who make iPhone cases using the technology.

There are, of course, limitations to what can be printed in 3D currently. Costs for larger items remain suited to expensive objects (such as parts of a DB5, which for Skyfall were printed at one-third of real life size by German company Voxeljet), as large printers are necessarily expensive. But this is a technology that has been around for a considerable period already, with companies such as Microsoft using it for a number of years to produce mock-ups of their keyboards and mice to test ergonomics. Indeed, some of the pictures on the front of Microsoft’s product boxes have in the past been of 3D-printed models, as real functioning versions were only available just in time for delivery.

Makie dolls are 3D printed to customers' unique specifications

The possibilities for the technology, however, are almost endless: rapid prototyping and manufacturing mean that new products no longer have to be whittled and tooled over great periods of time. As Lane Fox puts it of Makie, “It’s rare to find a start-up that combines the disruption of a whole industry with a fabulous consumer facing product.” Little wonder, with such economic potential seh says she’s delighted to be chairing the new board – “even if it means my house is now full of 3D printed toys.”

Source: Telegraph

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