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Shapeways and Sitara Update Dana-Farber 3D Printed Zebrafish Display, Adding NFC Tags

  • The 3D printed Zebrafish Display is located in the lobby of the Boston, Massachusetts Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
  • The installation was updated recently, with each of the 477 3D printed fish bearing a Near Field Communication (NFC) tag facilitating the wireless communication of donor messages.
  • The original team worked together in refreshing the 3D prints and integrating the new touch-free technology.
  • Nylon 12 and Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) were still the 3D printing materials and technology of choice, ten years later.

Shapeways and Sitara Systems recently updated the Zebrafish Display at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. Created nearly a decade ago by Shapeways and Small Design Firm, the same team came back together to update all of the 477 fish that had been 3D printed over the years, as well as updating the interactive technology.

3D Printed Zebrafish Display is a Symbol of Hope

The Zebrafish Display bears homage to the hundreds of individuals and families who made donations over time for critical cancer research at the internationally-renowned facility, famous for excellence in medical research and education. 3D printed to include 477 zebrafish models, each one lights up when activated, as part of a system that is now touch-free thanks to a comprehensive ‘refresh’ by Shapeways and Sitara Systems, including Nathan Lachenmyer, Director of Technology, who worked on the original project.

Lachenmyer was asked to come back for selecting the new technology, executing the vision for the project, and acting behind the scenes to bring the installation to life.

“Shapeways was really great when we worked together before, which led us to reach out to them again,” said Lachenmyer, who headed up the technology end of the project this time with his wife, Sadiya Akasha, Co-founder and Director of Product Development at Sitara Systems.

The installation remains in the lobby at Dana-Farber. This means everyone coming in through that common area is greeted by the large school of zebrafish, a model organism that although tiny has earned enormous respect in the biomedical research community due to its similarities with the human genome; in fact the small minnow shares 70 percent of the same genes as a human–making it an extraordinary symbol of hope for fighting cancer and performing other types of research too.

Each 3D print has been updated in materials, finishing, and coating, and has also been imbued with the power to interact via mobile devices. Once a 3D printed zebrafish is ‘activated,’ the wall’s patterns begin to transform, reflecting the messages on the smartphones of visitors.

New Touch-Free System Pays Tribute to Donors

The second round of design and production included 3D printing the fish again so that they all matched in bright white, along with removing the current sensors and turning them into a touch-free system lighting up the fish and displaying donor information transmitted wirelessly to visitor smartphones.

“The idea was to eliminate the original touch sensors because obviously, Dana-Farber is a cancer institute, and a lot of their patients are immunocompromised,” said Lachenmyer. “They wanted to do something new with the installation wall that would not risk the health of their patients who are in the building all the time.”

The requirements for touch-free sensors resulted in a new system featuring Near Field Communication (NFC) tags for each of the 477 3D printed models, facilitating the wireless communication of donor messages.

3D Printing Materials and Technology

A permanent installation at Dana-Farner, the Zebrafish Display is mounted on an undulating wall with steel rods acting as the fixing points for the 3D printed models. The team 3D printed numerous prototypes, testing different materials and finishes.

Ultimately, they settled on Nylon 12 [Versatile Plastic] and Selective Laser Sintering again, but this time with Premium finish. Upon receipt of the 3D printed fish at the team’s studio in Las Vegas, the project team applied three layers of a UV-blocking clear coated finish to help the fish retain their bright white color and repel dust.

“The second time around we kind of broached the topic of changing materials or colors, but Nylon 12 was still a great choice because of the aesthetics, and especially because it works so well with the LED light shining through,” said Lachenmyer.

“We had a great rapport in working with Shapeways in 2012 as well into 2022, examining the choices for materials and finishes.”

About Shapeways

Shapeways is a leader in the large and fast-growing digital manufacturing industry combining high quality, flexible on-demand manufacturing powered by purpose-built proprietary software which enables customers to rapidly transform digital designs into physical products, globally. Shapeways makes industrial-grade additive manufacturing accessible by fully digitizing the end-to-end manufacturing process, and by providing a broad range of solutions utilizing 11 additive manufacturing technologies and more than 90 materials and finishes, with the ability to easily scale new innovation. To date, Shapeways has delivered over 21 million parts to 1 million customers in over 160 countries.

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