Although the concept of 3-D printing began in the 1980s, only recently has the technology and its potential applications come to the public's attention.
Today in Frisco that trend is becoming increasingly visible and useful on educational, business, entrepreneurial, retail and commercial levels.
Three-dimensional printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of being able to use a 3-D computer design to create a 3-D object by building it layer by layer. Three-dimensional printing is now used to print everything from trinkets to airplane pieces.
"It's an awesome industry," said Jordan Williams, who, with his father, Doug Williams, owns Captured Dimensions, a Frisco company dedicated to 3-D scanning and printing. "3-D printing has come a long way in a few years and there is a long way for it to go. It's a whole new way of thinking about creating stuff, so it's neat to see the changes."
From the Williams, who recently opened a retail 3-D image studio, PhotoSculpt, to patrons of the Frisco Public Library, to Frisco ISD students and local small-business owners, 3-D technology is being utilized and explored in Frisco and is inspiring and educating residents in other cities as well.
Retail and commercial uses
Although many online stores exist that will print 3-D objects from a customer's design, 3-D printing is in the infancy stages of providing services on a personal level.
The Williams are taking the 3-D realm to a new level not just in Frisco but in the U.S.
The two started Captured Dimensions about two years ago and recently moved the business to Frisco's North Texas Enterprise Center.
Using a specially designed 3-D scanning method, the team is able to capture objects or people for use in both digital media and 3-D printing. Some of their main clients are video game and film companies.
"It's an awesome industry. 3-D printing has come a long way in a few years and there is a long way for it to go. It's a whole new way of thinking about creating stuff, so it's neat to see the changes."
—Jordan Williams, co-owner of Captured Dimensions
They started a spinoff, retail storefront PhotoSculpt, in January. PhotoSculpt shrinks Captured Dimensions' largely commercial 3-D scanning and printing business to a more retail-friendly level, Jordan Williams said.
The custom studio features a round curtained room with more than 80 digital cameras strategically placed in a full circle to photograph a subject from every angle. The digital representations can then be transformed into a 3-D model and preserved digitally and/or 3-D printed.
With a special 3-D printer using a gypsum/sandstone material, the company is able to print full-color, detailed sculptures of people or pets.
"I think we were the first company in North America to do 3-D scanning and printing of people," Jordan Williams said.
The Williams concentrate on the technology that creates the 3-D model.
"Our focus is not so much the 3-D printing itself—that is just the tool to get the end product," Doug Williams said. "Once the models are there, it's easier to print them, but somebody's got to put them in there in the first place. That's Captured [Dimensions'] role—the content-manipulation side."
Jordan Williams uses the example of his 2-year-old daughter, whom he said he has scanned once every few months since she was born, to explain what he sees for PhotoSculpt's future.
"We want to be able to capture people in the things that are temporal and transient, which is everything," he said. "You are never going to get this opportunity again to capture your kids at this stage again or your parents at their age or your pet while it's still around."
Small business applications
The Frisco UPS Store location on the southwest corner of Eldorado Parkway and Custer Road in September 2013 was chosen as one of six UPS stores in the country to test having 3-D printers for retail use because of its high customer volume.
"It started off slow, like anything, but as we've gotten more and more going we are printing customers' stuff almost every day," store owner Rick Hildebrande said. "It's fun technology. When we first got it we were like 'Well, who are our customers?' But every day we have people coming in with things. Our customers are very creative."
Using a printer that utilizes ABS plastic—the same material from which Legos are made—the store has printed items for its customers including a bracket for an expensive bookcase, a pair of doll glasses for a collector, and even a prototype for an underground tornado shelter, Hildebrande said.
"People are really creative," he said. "Especially small-[business owners]—we are always looking for a way to save nickels. That's what we deal a lot with."
A group of seventh-graders from Pioneer Heritage Middle School is learning about how 3-D printers can change a person's life.
The 3D Scienteers formed to compete in the Lexus Eco Challenge, a national Science, technology, engineering and mathcontest focusing on solutions to environmental issues.
Students Arjun Nair, Jackson Young, Jaden Mendez, Rishab Krishnan and Sam Kulkarni, led by sixth-grade teacher Taylor Davis, set out to show how using 3-D printers can reduce the carbon footprint by 3-D printing generally manufactured items.
The 3D Scienteers set up a website, https://shop3d.weebly.com, where they made available free 3-D model downloads, 3-D printing research and added a feature that will allow people to find a local 3-D printer.
Another portion of the project is dedicated to teaching people how an affordable, working prosthetic hand can be printed on a 3-D printer without any formal medical or engineering training. The Frisco ISD students printed and, with help from University of Texas Southwest Medical Center students, assembled the hand. The end result of the project is a YouTube video detailing instructions for anyone to be able to 3-D print and assemble a prosthetic hand.
"Seeing what [the 3D Scienteers] are doing now is something that I could have never contemplated as a sixth-grader," Davis said. "These kids are seeing it at 11 and 12 years old."
The students have already won a regional Lexus Eco Challenge contest, earning the students $10,000 in grants and scholarships, and they are now competing nationally for an additional $30,000.
If won, the grant money could be used to fund more 3-D innovation at the school.
"For science and math and art, the applications are endless," PHMS Principal Rocky Agan said. "We are looking at how we can benefit not just our students but the community with it."
Uses for entrepreneurs
The Frisco Public Library has had a 3-D printer since June, and library staff said it has been a bigger success than they expected.
"As soon as a new technology comes online, libraries are very good at becoming that interface for that new technology for the masses," Assistant Director of Public Services Mayra Diaz said. "Libraries have been doing that for a long time."
Adult Services Manager Thomas Finley said the 3-D printing technology is perfectly in line with the library's mission.
"We are the educational arm of the city and [the Frisco Public Library] and libraries in general are taking ownership of the fact that we are educators in the community," Finley said.
Finley said the largest demographic of people using the library's 3-D printer are adult entrepreneurs creating prototypes.
Objects printed in the library have included custom cookie cutters, a prototype for a new bike seat and a car accessory.
"That is the magic of 3-D printing—it's not what you can mass-produce. It's the thing that is customized and specific, something new," Adult Services Librarian Adam Lamprecht said.
The library staff is trained to use the software and the printer and walk patrons through the process.
The library has a quick-start guide that talks about the costs, size of a printable object and free software or publications that can help a user learn how to design a 3-D object. However, Finley recommends beginners take one of the library's free 3-D design classes to learn the basics.