For Mother’s Day this year, you could have given your mom a $30,000 3D printed model of ‘you’ if you cashed in on the viral Groupon offer. The idea was that you could give your mother the ever-lasting gift of your presence, or at least something to occupy your now-empty childhood bedroom. While this was a unique one-time promotion, making full-size custom mannequins is actually possible, and costs only a fraction of the hefty Groupon price tag. To prove this out Voodoo Manufacturing teamed up with NYC-based startup, Body Labs, to build an economical end-to-end pipeline for 3D printing life-sized human bodies in our Brooklyn 3D printing factory.
Body Labs makes highly-sophisticated software for interpreting human body shape and pose by translating raw 3D scans, or basic measurements, into 3D digital body models. In essence, they’ve built a way to take unprocessed 3D scans of people that may be noisy or incomplete, and turn them into fully semantic, clean models of your actual body shape. There are many applications for Body Labs’ technology beyond making 3D printed mannequins, such as predictive health tracking, advanced clothing design, mass product customization, virtual simulation, and more.
With Body Labs and our high-volume 3D printing factory, we were able to print 88 unique pieces in less than 24 hours, to complete a life-size 3D-printed ‘me’. The coolest part — this costs much less than traditional methods of creating custom mannequins, which usually start at $10,000 or more.
Here’s how we did it:
It begins with a 3D body scan. There are many types of 3D scanners, but the general idea is that a scan produces a 3D “point-cloud” that digitally represents the object being scanned. In the same way a camera collects light and color data on a per-pixel basis, a 3D scanner collects the XYZ coordinates of physical points in 3D space. As you can see below, 3D scans can be noisy and missing data in areas where the scanner’s view was obstructed. Most importantly, the computer understands nothing about the subject of the scan — all it sees is a collection of 3D points, whereas you and I can clearly tell that it’s a human with arms, legs, and so on.
Once you have a 3D scan, Body Labs processes the collection of 3D points into something the computer can understand using their statistical model, which is trained with machine learning and is composed of the world’s most robust database of human shape and pose. The result is what you would call a “body model”.
A body model is a clean, complete, semantic model of my exact body geometry that the computer can interpret and interact with. For the purpose of this project, it was critical to use a body model rather than a scan, since the scan itself isn’t 3D printable, and furthermore, would have been horribly noisy — loaded with scan artifacts that aren’t even part of my actual body. Additionally, using their statistical model, they were able to automatically place small bumps on the surface of my body, representing accurate anthropometric landmarks that can be used as reference points for taking measurements and the like.
With my body model in hand, it was now time to prepare it for 3D printing. At Voodoo Manufacturing, we use desktop 3D printers with build volumes of roughly 11” x 6” x 6”, so it’s not quite possible to print out a full-size, 6’1” version of myself on a single printer. Thankfully, without feeling any actual pain, my body model was cut into 88 unique pieces, each piece small enough to print on a single 3D printer. These pieces were then individually “sliced” (or prepared) for printing using our in-house cloud-slicer. The key point here is that instead of having to manually prepare each of these 88 files, waiting for your computer to generate the .gcode the printers run on, we were able to offload all of this computing to the cloud. It made it a lot easier and faster.
One benefit of doing this rather than trying to print out the entire body on a single larger printer is that we can now parallelize the printing of all 88 unique pieces across 88 separate printers. By doing this, you’re speeding up the manufacturing time by close to 30x. While cutting up the model, we added labels and pin holes to the interior of the pieces so that we could easily assemble them once printed. Think of it as a big puzzle.
Our software-driven factory let us print the entire model within 24 hours. In total, it took 623 printer-hours and used 14.7kg of plastic!
Once all of the pieces of me had been printed, they could be easily assembled into the final life-size model.
Although this started as a pet project, we quickly realized the pipeline we had just built was more valuable than originally thought. What does that mean? It now may be much easier to design for and around specific body shapes and sizes than ever before.
All the parts to this model are available for download on Thingiverse.