Encounter with Connex the 3D Printer

Everyone has a first time for everything, and today was my first encounter with a 3D printer. Keep in mind I’m neither a designer nor engineer, so thanks for indulging me in my excitement.

I must confess that I’ve been having a hard time wrapping my mind around what is a “3D printer”. I’m coming from a Xerox perspective where ink gets jetted onto paper to print out text, images and occasional gag items like your hands.

After having seen some “printed” things, I’d argue that this is rather about producing objects, or as the professionals would say, prototyping objects. Replace ink jets with resin-spewing nozzles (200 per material I’m told), connect your CATIA or other CAD data to a machine like the Connex by Object, and then you let Connex purr away until it spits out items like:

This elegant decorative bowl:

How about a translucent head containing an anatomically correct brain?

Or a jaw fully equipped with teeth (notice those gorgeous roots):

Why not a gear thing-a-ma-bob to keep your fidgety fingers busy?

I find it particularly cool that with a lot of resin dots, each approximately .04 mm in size (think hair follicles), 3D printers like Connex can spew out complex, mechanically functioning objects. It’s almost like the dots are cells, but without the intelligence.

What a great way to quickly test your design concept. See if the object in question does indeed fit into your pocket, is easy to manipulate, etc.

I was hoping the resin used is biodegradable, but we’re not there yet. Maybe next year?

Many thanks to Object and their reseller from MG2 Systems who took the time to answer my questions and let me cart his “printed objects” around Devcon until I found the right photo spot. I did feel a little odd toting around the head/brain.

More to come from Devcon soon. Check out #DSDEVCON09 on Twitter if you’d like to see what people are tweeting, and please jump in the comments section if you feel inspired.



P.S. Here’s a snazzy video of Connex herself.


  • Jovan

    On the net you can find many things… and at some places you can even find an online 3Dprinter… Upload your model and ask it to be printed… 🙂


  • Michael

    Technically this is very compelling. I just have an issue with the word PRINTING which sounds so last century and wastefully non-sustainable (my own personal guilt?). Why do you need to print a perfectly real virtual object? Maybe Marketing needs to work on repositioning what Connex does: something like RAPID PROTOTYPING for validationg production readiness.

  • Aurelien

    I agree with Michael on the fact that “printing” may be outdated for that matter, but “rapid prototyping” is way too restrictive compared to the potential of those 3D printers (sorry for furthering the print metaphor :-). When you take a look at “FabLabs” (short for Fabrication Labs), you see that the potential goes beyond just prototyping.
    As far as recyclability of the material, I was told by the MG2 Systems guy that it was not possible because of the full polymerization of the material… On the other hand, other technologies uses recyclable materials, but also produce more waste in the printing process… Like Kate said, I guess this is just a matter of time (not sure early as next year though 🙂

  • I may have to learn how to use CAD software so I can have my designs resin-dot-spray-casted. (It’s still hard for me to say ‘print’ for this stuff.)

  • Aurelien

    Well the good news Kate is that you don’t even need to learn how to use CAD software… 3DVIA Shape is enough for that matter (http://www.3dvia.com/software/3dvia-shape/), and anyone can get started in minutes (the model then needs to be converted in STL but that’s it).
    And resin is just one of the materials… what about your designs in steel (http://www.shapeways.com/ previously mentionned), pasta dough (http://fab.cba.mit.edu/classes/MIT/863.07/11.05/fabaroni/) or chocolate 🙂

  • Chocolate? You’re giving me good ideas for Easter! I didn’t realize that with 3DVIA Shape you can have your models ‘printed’ up. We should get some chefs using it for the next Salon du Chocolate . . . 😉