Meet the Designer: Ulrich Schwanitz
by David | April 11, 2012
Today I’d like to introduce you to our beloved friend and designer Ulrich Schwanitz. A man that continued a vision of his son through 3D printing and managed to bring adorable stainless steel characters to life in the name of love. He also just started an interesting funding campaign on Indiegogo (see video below) where you too can play a part in the realization of 3D printed love.
So for this lovely occasion we thought it would be interesting for our readers to get to know Dr. Ulrich Schwanitz a bit more ans the ideas and thoughts behind his latest project, The Scrappies. Here’s his story…
Tell us a bit about yourself… Who is Ulrich Schwanitz?
I am everything but a typical designer. I grew up as a scientist in the 1970’s and 80’s, and I still remember the times when computers were controlled by punch cards, typewriters and without undo buttons. I have worked in the IT departments of multinational manufacturing companies in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. During that time, we raised three children who are now all living in the UK.
For the last 10 years, I am working independently on my own projects. The creation of real, tangible objects from virtual design is one of my latest passions.
Where did you find the inspiration for the Scrappies?
Almost 10 years ago, our son Nils welded a few garden-sized sculptures from real scrap metal and I have to credit him for the original idea. But much to our dismay, he has now found other interests and will not continue along that path. The old garden sculptures are slowly, but surely rusting away and we often dreamed about how to preserve them and make them available to an interested audience.
In the end, I had to step into Nils’ footsteps to carry the idea forward, and the rise of additive manufacturing and 3D printing came to our advantage. Since I am a lot more into computer applications than into drills and wrenches and welding gear, my natural choice was to try to start off with some digital models and to work from there. And that’s what I did.
I have to admit it wasn’t an easy start. Despite the various success stories and glossy brochures praying the potential and capabilities of 3D printing, I found it difficult, sometimes disillusioning and often frustrating to master the numerous steps from idea to final outcome, be it the odds-and-ends of the computer software, the limitations of the available fabrication methods and materials, or not to the least, the cost of manufacturing.
But meanwhile, the project has gained some momentum and I have just set up a funding campaign on Indiegogo, in an attempt to present one of my latest creations to a larger audience.
What made you choose 3D printing over other techniques for these lovely little beings?
I am always inclined to new technologies and to a certain extend, I see myself and my objects as ambassadors for the possibilities of an evolving technology.
Other people have asked why we would not just cheaply weld and solder the figurines together, but that’s not the point. Especially with the Scrappies figurines, there is also an intentional twist in the design: You first see the supposedly worthless components and only on second sight, you become aware that they are manufactured in one single piece.
I had looked into having the objects cast in bronze, but the complexity of the Scrappies did not allow that in a cost-effective manner, at least at their current size. The casting process is also less flexible in respect to the desired customizations. And last not least, it’s not an option to have them assembled by a kid in China…
What software packages did you use to create your design?
I am using a variety of CAD and 3D graphics applications and utility programs, but I cannot really pray one, since I am not really satisfied with any of them. The current state of 3D software constantly reminds my of the early days of of Word and WordPerfect. On screen, everything looks gorgeous and more than perfect, but beware when you send it to a printer. Yes, it may produce something, but not what you intended. The entrire thing may even crash at you altogether.
I think I am not the only one who spend more time fixing STL files than anything else. I may be a little biased since I am also doing quite a bit of textured models which appears to provide an extra hurdle in the process. The 3D service providers are going great lengths to provide us with automatic repair tools, but that’s nothing more than an ugly workaround. What we really need is 3D application software which does not only produce impressive screen renders, but also the correct instruction sets for printing.
Have you 3D printed anything else besides the Scrappies?
I am working to further extend our collection of bronze figurines and sculptures with original designs beyond the Scrappies family. We already received some positive feedback on the Bubble Men series and you may see others coming up in the future.
We also have developed a method to convert ordinary 2D photos of people or animals into three-dimensional photo-reliefs and have them printed in full-color or monochrome materials. As with any of the other projects, I have found the team at i.materialise to be extremely flexible and helpful with our trial-runs.
What can we expect you to 3D print next?
I am personally fascinated by the possibilities of metal printing. Of course I hope for a fantastic response from the current funding campaign at Indiegogo. If the »You & Me« project becomes overwhelmingly successful, I plan to bundle some of the processing into larger runs and should be able to make some profit from the project. This would certainly help to bring similar future projects along.
Where can we find more about you and your work?
You are invited to visit our site at trompe.nl . Not everything is always available in every language, but we try our best. I apologize for being little old-fashioned and not overly active on social media, but you may give it a try on Facebook.
Finally we at i.materialise would like to thank Dr. Ulrich Schwanitz for bringing a universal theme such as love to 3D printing and sharing his wonderful story with our community. As always we’ll continue to offer our support and services to our beloved friend and designer of 3D printed love in stainless steel and we wish him the best of luck with his Indiegogo campaign.