Preston Tobery Visit to University of Michigan

Report on University of Michigan 3D Lab Visit

May 9, 2014


Preston was able to visit the University of Michigan’s 3D Lab after attending the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) conference. I spent approximately 5 hours with a host of managers, specialists and technicians that work in the lab. The setup was an entire floor of the Duderstadt Center, located on the North Campus. The other departments in the Dudestadt Center are the Art, Architecture and Engineering Library, Computer Aided Engineering Network (CAEN), and the Digital Media Commons. Mr. Shawn O’Grady (Digital Fabrication Specialist) was my contact for 3D printing and scanning. Mr. Ted Hall (Advanced Visualization Specialist) was my contact for 3D visualization and motion capture.

Open Access 3D Printing

Their public 3D printing consisted of up to 9 Cube 3D printers. Patrons are able to watch tutorial videos on how to operate the printer. After watching the video, they would take an online knowledge test. Once they passed the test, they were able to secure time on the printing calendar to print their models. The patron would hand over their campus ID to receive a key to unlock a printer. Patrons would provide their own material, and printing is free. The Cube printers takes a cartridge of PLA filament, unlike our MakerBot printer which takes rolls of filament. The initial cost of the printers was $1,000 each. The cost of the filament cartridges are $49.00 each. I was told by Mr. O’Grady that the service hours on these printers have been massive. He has spent over 65 hours fixing these printers in the last 6 months. Currently, only 3 of the 9 printers are operational.

Rapid Prototyping Lab

They had several different machines to create 3D models from patron’s 3D files.

The Dimension Elite is a 3D printer that uses ABS filament to create the models. It has dual print heads and can print the model and supports separately. The support material is chemically dissolvable after the print is finished. The builds are slightly faster than the MakerBot and have greater resolution when complete. Price for printer and startup pack – $31,900

Next was the ZCorp Spectrum Z510 composite 3D printer. This printer uses a powdery composite material to produce the models. It prints in full color using inkjet-like ink cartridges. The printer spreads a thin layer after thin layer of composite, binder and color ink at 1 inch per hour. After the model is complete, the technician digs it out of the un-bonded composite. It is then finished with several chemicals to make the model stronger.

Finally, Mr. O’Grady showed me a 3D print model from a printer that they are looking to purchase, the 3DSystems ProJet 3500HD. The model was very detailed. The model looked like it had been injection molded. There were no visible lines and the model was able to be taken apart and snapped back together. There are times that our UMD patrons ask about very detailed models being printed on our MakerBot. Unfortunately, our printer doesn’t have the capability to print in such high resolutions.


3D Scanning

They had only one handheld 3D scanner, the Handyscan 3D laser scanner. The scanner featured an eye-safe scanning laser in tandem with an optical camera. The user applies small, white synthetic dots to the surface of an object in a random pattern. The camera tracks the relative position of these dots, and thus the object’s position in space. The laser records the object’s geometry and Handyscan’s software renders a 3D mesh in real-time, letting you know as you scan what areas to focus on. A small 4 inch scan took about 1 minute to complete. The scanner was $29K

3D Visualization

There were a few different pieces of equipment available to patrons.

The Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus (M.I.D.E.N.) is a stereoscopic projection system that they playfully call “The Cave”. The room is a 10 foot square space with projections on 3 walls and the floor. The M.I.D.E.N. uses advanced cameras to track where the user is within the room. It adapts the simulation to what the person would expect to see. Users can walk around virtual objects, look underneath them, and interact with them. I was able to walk around inside of a castle with a flashlight, fly through space and worm holes and finally (the coolest part) was able to view and manipulate a 3D image of a male cadaver. This cadaver was a part of the Visible Human Project completed in 1994 by the National Library of Medicine. Total cost for the M.I.D.E.N. was around $100K.

The Stereowall is much like what you’ll find in a movie theater. It is a large stereoscopic projection system capable of projecting 3D movies, interactive simulations, live 3D video feeds, or 3D powerpoint slides. This system was low-cost, easy to build, and can accommodate large audiences. I thought it would be great for presentations, class discussions, etc. Total cost for this project was about $25K.

The Oculus Rift is a low cost virtual-reality headset designed to create an interactive virtual environment. The Oculus is about the same size as ski goggles and is worn the same. It has 360° head-tracking, so users can look around an environment seamlessly. Movements are tracked in real time creating a natural feeling of movement and visual perception. I used a keyboard to move around and explore.

Motion Capture

Vicon Motion Capture system consists of 8 portable 4MP cameras. It has the ability to capture a wide range of movements and object types. Using reflective markers strategically placed on an object of interest, the cameras can accurately record the object’s movement. Real-time access to the data can be provided through an SDK. Or, the data can be post-processed for greater fidelity. I did not get to see this in action since a student was using the system at the time. But, I did see a few videos.

Other areas in the 3DLab

I visited the GroundWorks Media Conversion Lab. The lab was used for production, conversion, and editing of digital and analog media. There were Macintosh and Windows computers equipped with CD/DVD drives, document scanners, slide scanners, slide film exposers. The video & audio equipment are available on a walk-in, self-serve basis. Also, there was a large format color printer available for a fee. They also had three conference rooms available for use in the lab.




The Dimension Elite 3D Printer – printing with dual filaments. White is the model, black is dissolvable supports.


Spectrum Z510 composite 3D printer.


Prints from the Spectrum Z510 – All models were student designs.


A print from the 3DSystems ProJet 3500HD that they are purchasing soon. Notice the high detail, these parts snapped together.


This is the Open Access 3D printing area using Cubify Cube 3D printers.


The lockable boxes were custom made on site and includes everything needed to print.


The setup for the Oculus Rift Virtual reality headset.


The Stereowall. It was interesting to be able to virtually walk through a student’s architectural building plans before the building was even built.


The dual projectors for the Stereowall. One filtered image for each eye.


The M.I.D.E.N system. I walked into 3 walls and a floor that needed to be logged on J


M.I.D.E.N uses 4 very large projectors and utilizes mirrors to project images onto the walls and floor.


M.I.D.E.N motion capture cameras (red lights) and speakers. The circles and squares are for calibration.


This is me flying through a virtual outerspace with sound. Motion was picked up on the 3D glasses I’m wearing and the PS3 controller in my hands.


The MakerSpace reservable electronics room. The bins contained electrical components like resistors, boards and wiring.


The opposite side of the MakerSpace reservable electronics room. Used for soldering components and vacuuming excess solder.


MakerSpace’s lounge area for patrons. This was in the larger MakerSpace area.


The MakerSpace area also has a workbench and many engineering related tools and equipment for making designs. This space also had 10 lab computers for instruction. They could make and learn in the same area.


Green screen setup in the 3D lab.


The 3D lab also had a setup for photography.


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