Archive || Highlights || Docs || 1. Artifacts || 2. Industry || 3. Ennex || 4. Demo || 5. Offset || 6. Digital: E, F, W, Z || 7. MB || 8. KB
by Marshall Burns, PhD
With over 20,000 items, it can be a challenge to become familiar with what is contained in the Fabbers Archive. In this article, I walk through some of the items that I find most interesting.
On this page, orange text indicates potential future links to an illustrated inventory of the archive that may be implemented online in the future. Each item discussed is illustrated with a thumbnail image, below which is a one-letter code consisting of the first letter of the name of the items section in Ennexs original organization scheme of the archive: [A]rtifacts, [I]ndustry, [E]nnex, [O]ffset, [D]igital, [M]. Burns Papers, and [K]nowledge Base Events. Some items are also marked with a blue star next to the section code, ★, to indicate they are of particular interest.
Table of Contents
- The Fabricator Industry
- Personal Notes
The Fabricated Artifacts are the whole reason I got excited about this technology in the first place. The objects preserved in the Archive represent what is most exciting about the technology, either because of how they were made, how they were used, the materials they were made of, or other characteristics. Here are the some of the items that Ive cherished the most:
Gear trees, December 1991 and June 1993:
The gear tree is the most astounding object, I think, ever made on a 3D printer. Its a mechanism; it has moving parts that are interlinked, that never existed apart from each other. In 2018, many machines can make that routinely, but in 1991, it was mind-blowing. Thats why I kept two of them, because they are just astounding.
Fractured skull, January 1994:
When a team of surgeons have a patient on the operating table with a broken bone, its covered by skin and they dont know what they will be facing when they go inside. So they cut open the skin and the first thing they do is look around to figure out what the persons injury is like.
The fractured skull in the Archive is a model of a real patient who had sustained a skull injury, a fracture to his skull. The surgeons at UCLA Medical Center who were going to operate on him used CT data, essentially a 3D X-ray, of the mans skull to have a plastic model made of it by Stereolithography. This told them what they would be dealing with before they took scalpel to skin. From studying the model, they knew where the bone was broken and were able to design a plate in advance to mend the fracture. This revolutionary, new technique was tremendously valuable. It saved the surgeons many hours in the operating room, thus reducing the trauma of the surgery on both the patient and his insurance company.
The model shows where the bone of the skull was fractured, so you see exactly what the surgeons learned by studying the model.
Ear prosthesis, December 1991:
A young man had lost his left ear to a cancer operation. The University of Illinois digitized the shape of his right ear and the data were flipped to fabricate a mirror-image left ear model by Stereolithography. This model was used as a pattern to mold a rubber prosthesis that was affixed firmly on the side of the mans head. The patient even enjoyed water-skiing with his new ear.
A human ear is very difficult to reproduce, except with computer data. To get it exactly the same as the opposite ear, so the persons face is symmetrical, is extremely difficult to do without a computerized process.
Disposable razor, July 1992:
This prototype of a new design for a Gillette disposable razor was made in two parts. One part is the handle and the other is the head that does the shaving. The two parts were assembled by snap-fitting, in other words by pressing them together so that a clip on the head stretched slightly to grab onto a bracket on the handle.
The earliest models made by Stereolithography were very brittle; they were prone to breaking with the slightest touch. This razor model demonstrated a new material with the resiliency to endure the stretching of a snap-fit, which was an important breakthrough in material properties.
Gavel, November 1991:
Another breakthrough was materials that were tough and machinable, meaning they could undergo cutting operations, such as drilling, without breaking apart.
Like the razor, the gavel was made in two parts, the handle and the head. But instead of snap-fitting, the gavel was assembled by inserting one end of the handle into a cavity in the head. A hole was drilled into one side of the head, through the end of the handle, and out into the other side of the head. Then, the far side of the head was tapped, meaning that a thread was cut into the hole, allowing a screw to grip onto it. Finally, a screw was inserted into the hole and screwed into the threads to hold the gavel together solidly. An executive from 3D Systems demonstrated this new, tough material by banging this gavel loudly on the podium at the 1991 Dayton Conference.
The ability to drill and tap fabricated parts that could be assembled into a strong, solid product was a tremendous breakthrough.
Ball in a cage, November 1991:
A company called Quadrax made a machine called the Mark 1000, which was similar to the Stereolithography machine made by 3D Systems. A lawsuit for patent infringement was settled by Quadrax taking its product off the market. During its short life, the Mark 1000 was used to make this intriguing ball in a cage, the first demonstration of fabricating a combination of multiple, interlocked parts without assembly. This was the same capability that was later taken to a much higher level by Cubital in its gear tree.
Digital sculptures, Ennepers surface, December 1991, and Trefoil torus knot, September 2000:
There were some people who, early on, started using this technology for what we can call digital sculpture. They made artwork using these machines. One of the first to do that was Stewart Dickson, a digital artist who makes art from mathematical equations. There are three sculptures by him in the Archive. The earliest one is called Ennepers surface, a mathematical term for a set of equations that define the three-dimensional shape of this object. It was made in the DTM Sinterstation using the process of Selective Laser Sintering.
The other Dickson digital sculpture is again based on mathematical equations that define its shape. Because it looks like a snake chasing its tail, a kind of a serpentine shape that connects back to itself, Dickson put a snakeskin texture on the data. Then, because he was working with a Z machine, the first fabricator capable of making objects in full color, he also colored the surface so that it looks like the skin of a snake. Like the gear tree, I found this sculpture so remarkable that I kept two of them.
Im pleased to have played a role in having the Torus Knot sculpture produced. After Marina Hatsopolis, CEO of Z Corporation, told me at a trade show in April 2000 of their plans to introduce the first full-color fabber, my notes indicate that I sent Marina an e-mail recommending that Z work with Stewart Dickson on color products to fab. Five months later, one of the objects featured in the launch of the color fabber was Dicksons Torus Knot under the name, Snake.
Tensile bars, Translucent material and flexible material, November 1991:
Du Pont, the chemicals giant, developed a selective curing technology that it licensed to a small company called Aaroflex. It also was very creative in developing new materials for use in the 3D Systems SLA. The Archive includes two tensile bars made from the first flexible material and the first translucent material available for digital fabrication.
A tensile bar is an object made from any material for the purpose of testing how strong it is. The tensile strength of a material means how far it can be stretched before it breaks. A tensile bar is made with the shape to fit in a machine designed for testing tensile strength. You clamp the two ends of the bar into the machine, which then pulls it apart, keeping track of how much force its applying. This allows you to see how much force it takes before the item breaks.
With the flexible tensile bar, you can hold it in your hands and bend it to experience directly how flexible the material is. This was another important breakthrough in material properties for digital fabrication.
The Autofab Collection, Two briefcases and a Plexigas display case
I started collecting objects made in fabricators from the very beginning, as soon as I started meeting people in the industry and visiting their labs. I did it because of a combination of personal fascination with the objects, professional interest in using them to explain the technology to other people, and a sense that these were historical artifacts that would be valuable one day. In 1992, I bought a salesmans sample case, some sheets of grey foam, and an electric carving knife to cut the foam, and created the Traveling Selection of the collection. The next year, I had a display case made of Plexiglas, which I took to conferences to display the growing collection. I revamped that Traveling Selection three times and then created a new display briefcase in 2001. Unfortunately, I never took a picture of the Plexiglas display case. The only, meager, evidence Ive found of it is a faint glimpse of it visible in the background of the Polaroid taken at my apartment by the photographer from Discover magazine in 1993.
Im proud of the Industry Library because it has a nearly complete collection of books and periodicals about 3D printers from the 1990s. This includes every book published on this subject anywhere in the world up through the mid-1990s, plus some of the most important early books after that. It includes the proceedings of every English-language conference held on the subject anywhere in the world up through the late 1990s, plus two in Japanese. And it includes a complete set of all 129 print issues of the Rapid Prototyping Report until the newsletter went online-only in 2002.
Ennex Fabrication Technologies, precursor of Ennex Corporation, had a two-pronged strategy. The Expertise Line provided information products and consulting services in order to generate revenue to support the Technology Line, which was intended to develop future generations of fabricators. This strategy succeeded throughout the 1990s, as Ennex was hired by clients ranging from small technology start-ups to some of the largest companies in the world, such as IBM, Dow Chemical, Rockwell International, and the German chemical giant, Hüls AG. Proposals or reports from these projects provide a unique glimpse into how people were thinking about exploiting opportunities with this technology in the 1990s or improving the technology and its utilization.
Selected Ennex client reports, 1995 to 99:
The most interesting of these is probably the third one above, for Hüls AG, the large German chemicals company, who hired us in 1997 to study The Personal Factory as a Market Opportunity.
Meeting notes: Visit to Peter Sferros lab at Ford, 1991, where I first laid eyes on an SLA, Mike McEvoy of Baxter Healthcare, 1992, telling the story of how he bought the first SLA, visit to Jean-Claude Andrés lab in Nancy, France, 1995, meetings at AutoFact trade show, 1995, meetings around Rapid Prototyping conference in Kyoto, Japan, 1996 (part 1, 2, 3), trip report for Midwest sales trip, 1997, start-up meeting for the Hüls consulting project, 1997:
Historical data: More than 1,100 references on automated fabrication, as of 1993, analysis of fabricator processes, as of 1998, analysis of fabricator sales, 1988 to 98, analysis of the fabricator market, as of 1998, daily stock price data and charts, as well as market cap data, for fabber vendors, 1989..2006:
UPS and HP Foretell the Fabber Revolution
By an incredible coincidence, United Parcel Service and Hewlett Packard both put out advertisements in November 1999, a TV commercial and a print ad respectively, that inadvertently but dramatically depicted a future world with products delivered by 3D printers. The UPS ad was so amazing that I wrote two articles about it, UPS Foretells the Fabber Revolution in Rapid Prototyping Report, December 1999 and Fabbers and the Internet in Zone News, January 2000. (I didnt come across the HP ad until sometime later.) As part of my research for those articles, I contacted UPS and obtained from them a copy of their commercial on a VHS cassette, which is now included in the Industry Library.
Printer, TV commercial by UPS, and True to the Original, print ad by HP, both November 1999:
Articles about the UPS ad: RP Report, December 1999, Zone News, January 2000:
Composite image showing fabbing of football in UPS ad:
What was most amazing about the UPS commercial was that the four scenes in it portrayed, entirely by accident, a sequence of major technical challenges that must be overcome for fabricators to advance towards their dreamed-of capability to make absolutely anything. Moreover, the four scenes were presented in the correct order of technical difficulty! I started writing, but never published, a series of articles that used the four scenes from the commercial to discuss each of the four challenges, plus a fifth article about pushing the technology even farther.
Draft articles (with frames from commercial illustrating the first four): The scube fin, Trombone: Sliding Smooth and True, Bottled Water: Its In There!, Football: Artificial Natural Tissues, The UPS Commercial: Paying the Piper
Automated Fabrication brochures and books
I suppose my most important contribution to the field was the book, Automated Fabrication. Although the data on machines and materials are dated, I think some parts are as valid in 2018 as they were when it was published in 1993, such as the chapters on how to use a fabricator, what to use it for, and how the technology will affect economics and society in the future. The book went to a second printing after only four months. In addition to several copies of that 1993 Prentice Hall edition, the Archive has two copies of the 1992 advance edition, four copies of the 1995 Italian translation, and two of the 1998 paperback edition published by Ennex after the Prentice-Hall edition went out of print.
Before the book came the Pocket Guide and a series of brochures that explained the concept of automated fabrication to a world that mostly thought of these technologies as rapid prototyping.
Automated Fabrication: Pocket Guide and revised edition, 1991, brochure, 1992, Resource Guide, 1993, and brochure, 1994:
Automated Fabrication, the book, 1992, 93, 95, and 98:
When the book was published, I had a plaque custom made for Mike Hays, the acquisitions editor who made the deal for Prentice Hall. The inscription was a take off on the famous line from The Wizard of Oz: A brain? Why, thats a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature … has a brain! … But they have one thing a scarecrow hasnt got: A publisher! / Michael Hays, Thank you for believing in Automated Fabrication and turning it into a real book.
Purchase order and camera-ready art for the plaque addressed to Mike Hays:
Major speeches: Keynote to StereoLithography Users Group, 1992, Speech to internal manufacturing conference at Arthur Andersen & Co (notes and slides, video), 1996, Ennex presentation on The Genie Fabricator, 1997, with instructions for operating a genie in 500 BC and in 2000 AD, Napster Fabbing (slides, video), 2001, and presentation to a Washington think tank, Beyond Solid Freeform Fabrication, 2003, laying out a timeline for four generations of digital fabrication technology, well into the future:
The Genie Prototypes
The most exciting part of the business was building our own prototype fabricator. The technology went through a series of names, first Cut-Sheet Fabrication, then Conveyed-Adherent Fabrication, and finally Offset Fabrication. There are materials related to this project in most sections of the Archive.
Selected notes re Genie prototypes, 1992 to 2000:
Selected design documents for Genie prototypes, 1994 to 2000:
Selected photos of Genie prototypes, 1996 to 2000:
Selected experiments with Genie prototype, 1993 to 96:
Models made on Genie prototype, 1994 to 96:
Board of Customers
In 1998, Ennex assembled a Board of Customers to provide feedback on its confidential plans for development and marketing of the Genie Studio Fabber. The board included representatives of Disney Studios, Mattel Toys, Sandia National Laboratory, and other users of the fabricators then on the market. Disney asked us to keep their participation confidential at the time, so we replaced their logo in the composite image below with a picture of the Hollywood sign.
My favorite strategy for getting the fabber on the market was customer financing, meaning that companies that needed the technology would pay us to develop it for them. Short of that, if they would at least give us earnest money deposits, we could use that to show investors there was a demand for the product. We did succeed in convincing one prospective customer to ante up a $10,000 deposit, Sandia National Labs. It is my greatest embarassment in the running of the fabber business that we took that nonrefundable deposit and then were not able to deliver.
Two meetings were held, in which members of the board spoke frankly about their needs and wants in digital fabrication technology. Eight hours of video recordings of these meetings on four VHS cassettes, offering a unique look into the perspectives of the early adopters, are in the Industry Library.
The first meeting was on January 12, 1998. After self-introductions of those present and an introduction to Ennex, Board members were asked to discuss their experiences in using fabricators or more conventional methods of model-making. This was followed by an introduction to the studio fabber concept and Offset Fabrication, including showing and explaining fabrication of models made on the Genie prototype. Next was a presentation and discussion of the specifications of the Genie Studio Fabber. This all led up to the description of the proposed Flagship Customer Program and feedback on it from the members of the Board.
In the second meeting, on March 30, 1998, self-introductions of those present was followed by a review of the Offset Fabrication technology with Q&A on details of machine design and operation. Then two representatives of FrogDesign, the Silicon Valley firm that had created the design for Apples revolutionary Macintosh computer, unveiled the design theyd developed for the Genie Studio Fabber. Next was a demonstration of the FabManager software for handling design files to be sent to the fabber. This was followed by a presentation of results of experiments on a variety of candidate fabrication materials, with assistance of two repesentatives of Avery Dennison, candiate suppliers of adhesive films for the fabber. Finally, the primary component of the meeting was an hour-long session in which Board members were asked to answer a series of questions about their potential use of and need for the technology. In the last half-hour of the video, two members of the board stayed behind after the others had left and had an informal discussion about their efforts to promote adoption of the Genie fabber within their organizations. Also present at the meeting was the business development manager of the contract manufacturing division of Xerox.
In September 1998, Ennex made a presentation to Doug Glen, senior vice president of Mattel. We gave him a CD with the PowerPoint file of our presentation, along with mockups of two proposed new products for Mattel, Barbie Designer and Custom Car Designer, our copies of which are included in the Ennex Library. (The PowerPoint format of the file on the presentation CD is now obsolete, but an updated pptx file is provided in the Digital Files.)
Selected other materials about the Board in the Digital Files: Presentation to Disney: Downloading Mickey: 21st-Century Fulfillment in the Home and Office (doc, htm), Flier, Quotes From Our Board of Customers, Presentation slides for second meeting (with slides for first meeting at the end), miscellaneous Board information (member list, member agreement, second meeting agenda, notice, and handouts; file states wrong date of meeting):
Miscellaneous documents: Outbound letters, 1991 to 94, Preliminary Financial Projections, 1995, Sales Scenario: Conservative, 1995, application to technology incubator, Garage.com, 1998, Synthetic Termite Fabrication: Concept Sketch, proposal for biomimetic accretive method of fabrication developed with Kris Pister at UC Berkeley:
My work on fabbers brought me in touch with some of the great luminaries of 20th-century technology and commerce, such as George Kozmetsky, co-founder of Teledyne and mentor of Michael Dell, Presper Eckert, coinventor of the UnivAC, the first commercial computer, John Diebold, the computer pioneer who coined the term, automation, Mike Markkula, the original seed investor in Apple Computer, Peter Norton, pioneer of personal computer software, and John McTague, chief technology officer of Ford Motor Company. When this happened, I took good notes.
George Kozmetsky, 1990..98, Presper Eckert, 1992, Buzz Aldrin, 1993, John Diebold, 1994, Mike Markkula, 1995, Peter Norton, 1996, John McTague, 1997:
In 1995, Viewpoint Datalabs agreed to provide us with five 3D data files for experimental runs in the Genie prototype. They sent the five files on eight diskettes by Federal Express. The files were too big for e-mail at that time and presumably CDs were not yet in widespread use for data.
In 1996, e-mail was still fairly new. My patent lawyer wrote in a reply to an e-mail, I feel so high tech using E-mail. So far youre the only client who corresponds by e-mail, which is better than fax.
Miscellaneous notes: Calendar for October 1990, showing flurry of activity after seeing presentation by DTM at the Austin Technology Incubator, Research and Development at DTM Corporation, paper written in search of employment at DTM, 1990, Strategy for Success, drawing based on advice from Steve Gebler, 1996, e-mail re how I got involved in fabricator industry, 1999, Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned on the Basketball Court, concept book outline, 2001:
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Archive || Highlights || Docs || 1. Artifacts || 2. Industry || 3. Ennex || 4. Demo || 5. Offset || 6. Digital: E, F, W, Z || 7. MB || 8. KB