Jan 17, 2018 | By Benedict

Apple has had a patent approved for a color 3D printer. The listed inventors are Geoff Stahl, Software Director of Apple’s Technology Development Group, and Howard Miller, a former Apple printing expert.

Patents aren’t always a reason to get excited, since they often hint more at legal defensiveness than genuine technological creativity, but anything Apple does is worthy of a little scrutiny—especially if the tech giant files a patent for a technology it has never dabbled in before.

On January 16, the California-headquartered tech behemoth had a patent granted for a “Method and apparatus for three-dimensional printing of colored objects.” A color 3D printer, in other words, with descriptions of several possible processes for adding color to a 3D model, either during the printing stage or after.

As you might imagine, it’s not the most specific-sounding proposal, and it’s not even particularly radical—the patent was, after all, filed way back in May 2014. But we’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt and consider this patent as though it really could come to fruition.

So why might Apple want to create its own 3D printer? Is there a gap in the market for a big-brand color additive manufacturing system? The creators of the patent, Apple’s Geoff Stahl and Howard Miller, seem to think so.

“To extend the use of 3D printers to more industries and encourage more household use, it may be desirable to improve the 3D printing technology to make objects that are more versatile and useful to an everyday consumer,” the patent states.

More versatile and useful 3D printed objects? Sign us up. But how? Well, the patent offers three possible embodiments of its proposal, each a slight variation on the general idea. One involves the use of a “non-transitory program storage device” that can read a 3D printable file, automatically apply color to it, and send code to a 3D printer.

Another embodiment includes a platform for holding a 3D printable object during the 3D printing process as well as a “color application head for moving in cooperation with the 3D print head,” while the third embodiment—perhaps the vaguest—proposes a “computer-implemented method of printing a custom manufactured object.”

In fairness, the inventors of the Apple 3D printing patent have pedigree. Stahl has been at Apple since 1999, and is currently Software Director of its Technology Development Group. Miller, now a councillor for the city of Saratoga, served as Senior Engineering Manager at Apple between 1993 and 2016. Interestingly, his focus was on printing technology, being responsible for the OSX Printing System and the iOS Printing System, as well as co-inventing AirPrint, a wireless printing service first launched in 2010.

Those qualifications certainly lend some weight to the patent’s suggestion of two possible kinds of color application: either during printing, which corresponds to the aforementioned second embodiment with synchronized heads, or after printing, as a kind of post-processing stage.

But will it happen? The possibility of Apple getting into 3D printing remains an interesting one, but—as always—it’s best not to get too excited. After all, this was just one of 44 patents granted to Apple in a single day.

Patent 9,868,254 abstract in full:

Systems, computer readable media, and methods for printing of 3D objects in color are disclosed. In general, a 3D object may be produced and colored by a 3D printer using the same digital 3D model. The digital model for a desired 3D object may be revised to include a process for coloring the object by the 3D printer. In one embodiment, this may involve coloring to the object after it has been made. In an alternative embodiment, color may be added as the object is being made. Because the 3D model provides knowledge of the surface, contours and all the coordinates of the 3D object being printed, the object can be colored using the same digital model.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printer

 

 

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patents must die! wrote at 1/19/2018 4:55:13 AM:

Yay, more patents, what could possibly go wrong? Just the inability to use or advance anything based on this technology for a lifetime if not more.

ydoucare wrote at 1/18/2018 10:25:35 PM:

Being the patent trolls that they are, I doubt they even make this into a product for at least another 5 years so they can spend that time suing people over the patent.



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