3D Printing Vending Machines: Virginia Tech and UPS


VT experiments with 3d printing


In its pursuit of additive manufacturing innovation, Virginia Tech’s Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Laboratory has invented the DreamVendor, a 3D printer that students can use to print CAD files.

The DreamVendor operates no differently than the 2D printer you might have used as a student in the library. Upload a file, swipe your student card and voila! A short time later, you walk away with your printed output.

Except the output is plastic. And three dimensional.

The whole process is pretty straight-forward. Yet, what students are doing with this application is changing how they experiment with custom designs. For example, one student needed a stand for her microscope. Designing a microscope stand to her own specs on a CAD system, she then printed it out on the DreamVendor. Her new microscope stand now sits on her desk.

3D Printing in a Store Near You

Virginia Tech is not the only place experimenting with making on-demand 3D printing widely available. UPS is testing the ability for customers to stop in at a UPS store and print a CAD file on their resident 3D printer. The UPS product development team will even offer design help for a fee. Some of the people who are pretty excited about this service are engineers, product designers, artists, inventors, students, and architects.

UPS experiments with 3d printing

UPS offers 3D printing on demand

One common use for 3D printing at a UPS store is rapid product prototyping. Product designers, manufacturers and inventors can now test a product without going to the expense of actually developing it. Oftentimes, a 3D facsimile is all you need to demonstrate the efficacy of a part or the aesthetics of a design. Product developers can test new designs quickly and at a low cost by taking advantage of this new service by UPS.

Although possibly not yet in a store near you, UPS offers the service in about 50 of their retail locations.

Making 3D Printing Available to Everybody

The way it stands now, you need to know something about CAD to create your files. Or, you can pay someone at UPS to do that for you. But we envision the next generation of on-demand 3D printing to include options for multiple product features that anyone can use by making selections from a menu.

Let’s say you want a pair of sunglasses with some cool lizard-skin stems. You walk up to the UPS 3D vending machine and start pushing buttons:

1) Choose your product: Sunglasses
2) Choose your style: Funky
3) Choose your color: Red
4) Choose your texture: Lizard

Then hit PRINT, put your funky red lizard shades on and go get a latte at Starbucks.

We’ve been experimenting with tactile, textured 3D product surfaces—Surface Skins™—on multiple consumer products. It’s pretty do-able to add Skins to most 3D product files. What we can’t do yet is give you the option to do it on your own.

But consumer product design is heading toward personalization so that each person can have what he or she wants. We think you’ll be printing your own skins from our Library of Surface Skins in no time.

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