Nokia’s 3D printing kits will produce only “scrap”, says 3D printing pioneer

22 Jan, 2013

Those 3D print kits that Nokia released last week that can be used to print your own, custom Lumia 820 shells are essentially useless for hobbyists trying to print custom shells, an industry pioneer told Whiteboard.

“Thousands of hobbyists in the 3D printing scene will try it, and all they’ll be printing is scrap,” said Materialise founder and managing director Wilfried Vancraen in an interview with Whiteboard today.

Vancraen is not your ordinary tinkerer with a 3D printer. In June 2012 Vancraen was named the ’Most Influential Figure in Additive Manufacturing’ by trade publication TCT Magazine. He is one of the 3D printing industry’s visionaries, who started his 3D printing company Materialise more than twenty years ago in 1990, after seeing the technology at a convention and becoming convinced that it would be a game changing technology.

Here’s what Materialise engineers did with the open source 3D printing kit that Nokia released for home 3D printing enthusiasts:

Materialise engineers printed a few of the shells for the Nokia Lumia 820 and say that their tests show that the shells just don’t fit right. One of the shells Materialise printed broke when an engineer tried to remove it again. Another shell was fitted on the phone, but after affixing it, it proved impossible to operate the buttons on the device.

Here are the results:

Materialise says on its blog that there are two main problems with the 3D printing kits:

1. The [default Nokia Lumia 820] shell consists of two materials: hard plastic for the shell a rubber-like material for the buttons. If you print the shell in one piece, you’re not able to push the buttons any more. If you print them separately, the buttons won’t fit in the shell. 

2. Wireless charging isn’t possible any more since there is the wireless charging component is embedded in the shell . But that doesn’t need to stop you from printing it of course!

From top left, clockwise, these are the different techniques that Materialise tested:

1. This was printed on the UP!, a personal portable printer. The material that’s been used is nylon; you clearly see the support structure  that needs to be removed. And that can be a little problem: you need be really careful when removing it otherwise your shell will be broken.
2. Resin: This is one of the best materials to use since the wall thickness is only 0.9 to 1 mm. But the problem with the buttons remain.
3. ABS: This material is not appropriet to use with this wall thickness.
4. Polyamide: The material is a little less flexible than resin, but ok. Same problem with the buttons.

Here’s the video:

Materialise promised that in the next days, they will release updated versions of Nokia’s 3D printing kits (3DK) that do work.

In the interview with Whiteboard (to be published one of the following days here), Vancraen warned that 3D printing is currently such a hype that it might become a bubble soon, with the real danger of a backlash that brings.

“What is irksome is the simplistic way in which Nokia launched this 3DK. That’s why we did this Mythbusters-like test of those files. It’s symptomatic for the simplistic way the industry communicates today.”

“3D printing is not like ‘printing’. There are different types of technology, and for each of those different types of 3D printers, you should use a different file. An SLS printer is not the same as a stereolithography printer. You have to know the materials and the printing techniques, and understand the weaknesses and strengths of each material and techniques.”

On its website, Materialise lists 16 materials that are commonly used in 3D printing, among which polyamide, alumide and different types of resin.

For the sake of completeness, let me add that Makerbot also used the 3DK’s by Nokia (see feature photo), and says it had great results with it:

According to the MakerBot team, the outcome is “an awesome shell that fits great,” just as Nokia would’ve hoped for.

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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