Oct 6, 2015 | By Kira

The great majority of consumers today aren’t familiar with the processes behind 3D printing, never mind the practical applications, and yet all along we’ve been carrying 99% of the required technology in our very own pockets. That’s right, our beloved smartphones, which follow us everywhere and replace an ever-increasing number of tools and devices in our day-to-day lives, are on the verge of being able to create actual, 3D printed objects. Italian rapid prototyping and digital fabrication firm Solido3D has created OLO, the world’s first app-powered smartphone 3D printer, and are about to unleash accessible, affordable, and socially driven 3D printing on the world.

Ever since OLO’s unveiling at the World Maker Faire NYC, there has been a lot of talk, skepticism, and speculation surrounding how the technology actually works, what it will be capable of, and who it is intended for. To get to the bottom of it all, 3Ders.org spoke with Fonderie Digitali and Solido3D co-founder, Pietro Gabriele.

First of all: the practical specs. The OLO, for all intents and purposes, is a battery-powered box (consisting of seven parts plus an engine) that fits on top of your Android, OS or Windows smartphone. Users are simply to install the free OLO app, where they can upload, download, manage and share 3D designs, put the box on their phones and hit ‘print.’ The device has a build volume of 7.6 x 12.7 x 5 cm, and uses photopolymer technology to create high-quality resin 3D prints (more on that later). Because of the sharing-function of the app, the OLO is also being touted as the first ‘social’ 3D printer.

“The idea behind the development of OLO was to create a cheap 3D printer that anyone could easily use, regardless of their experience (or lack thereof) with other 3D printers,” said Gabriele when asked about the initial concept for OLO. “We want to break through the barrier that is holding people back from 3D printing: namely, easy access.”

Despite more and more ‘user-friendly’ 3D printers and 3D printing services hitting the market, the truth is that most people either do not understand the technology, or believe that they don’t have the skills to give it a try. Other barriers include cost, and a lack of either space or time to invest in it as a hobby. Ambitious as it may seem, OLO wants to truly democratize 3D printing technology for all (or shall we say, all who already own smartphone).

Priced at just $99 and with its free, easy-to-use app, the OLO is not meant to replace your coveted Form 2, Makerbot, or any other desktop 3D printer. Rather, Gabriele said it is intended for those who are interested in 3D printing, but not necessarily ready or willing to make a big investment in it. It’s an entry-level device for the curious, that might just get them excited enough to eventually upgrade to more complex 3D printer models and software. Given its compact size, weight, and battery power source (standard AA 1.5V that last for at least 100 printings), it is also ideal for anyone who is traveling and would want access to a 3D printer on the road.

Filippo Moreni, Fonderie Digitali's other co-founder, showing off the OLO at Maker Faire NYC

When asked about the size constraints and actual usefulness of such a small 3D printer, Gabriele was happy to point out that as with most things in life, size doesn’t matter. “The size constraints will limit what can actually be printed with OLO, but users can print anything from functional replacement parts to art, like with normal 3D printers. While the build size is small, the detail we were able to attain with the prototype OLO is very fine, meaning that small trinkets, such as jewelry, keychains, or other artistic models can be made for display or as gifts.”

Yet another advantage of resin 3D printing in comparison to FDM, for example, is that parts can be printed at full density in almost the same amount of time as hollow or partially hollow parts. “This would allow broken clasps or replacement parts for everyday items to be printed that would have similar properties to regular plastic parts,” he said.

So, we covered the concept, cost, intended market and actual utility of the OLO, but what of this mysterious technology that creates physical, 3D printed objects directly from our smartphones? It turns out, it’s not as terrifyingly complicated as it seems.

Basically, the OLO uses photopolymer 3D printing technology, wherein liquid polymer hardens when exposed to a light source—which in SLA or DLP 3D printing, is either a UV laser or projector, respectively. However, in order to make full use of the smartphone’s exising features, the OLO simply replaces expensive lasers and projectors with the phone’s own LED display. When you place your smartphone underneath the glass surface of the resin container, the app will make the screen light up in a pattern specific to the object you are printing. As the directed light moves upward and hardens the resin, the object is built layer by layer, resulting in high-resolution, durable prints.

“The big work we’ve done is to deploy the chemistry for a new resin that is capable of being cured not by UV light, but by the visible spectrum,” said Gabriele. Along with the OLO, Solido3D will be launching their patented resin, optimized for the OLO’s smartphone display light-source.

In order to get the OLO on the market and into the hands of new or would-be makers, Solido3D will be launching a Kickstarter campaign at the end of October, with pledging available as of November 10 and the goal of raising $80,000. Though the Fonderie Digitali network has successfully launched over 1,200 projects for top clients including Calvin Klein, Vodafone, and Coca Cola, this is the first time any of their companies has used Kickstarter. Then again, what better way is there to reach the socially connected in-crowd than through social media-driven crowdfunding itself?

When I spoke with Gabriele, he and his team were in San Francisco, at the end of a whirlwind tour in the U.S. that started with the OLO’s unveiling in New York and culminated with high-profile meetings with some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names. “The most common reactions from visitors at the Maker Faire in New York were intrigue, disbelief, and excitement, usually in that order,” he said. “When told that OLO could turn your phone into a 3D printer, most people were skeptical of how that could work to create such detailed models as the samples we brought with us. However, after some explaining, most were convinced enough to ask about how they could buy an OLO…overall [it] was a greater success than we ever thought.”

Based on the technology so far, we are just as blown away as those lucky enough to have seen it in New York, although it’s still too early to say whether the key to consumer 3D printing has been our smartphones all along. The official Kickstarter launch date hasn’t been announced, but we’ll keep an eye out for the latest updates. Until then, users can register to win a free OLO 3D printer through their social media contest by taking a picture and posting it to Instagram with the hashtag #olo3d.   



Posted in 3D Printers





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