As soon as you see their claim ("we carry out your ideas") you understand that Casper, a 3D printing laboratory inside Prato's PIN branch of the University of Florence, intends to play the role of rendering physically present digital ideas that come from a CAD or modelling program, a concept that is important in the maker movement. It's a critical role because the idea that things have to be tangible is becoming more and more affirmed - there's a sense that the potential and characteristics of an object are understandable only in the three dimensional world, while seeing it on screen provides only a partial vision.

Caspar does Rapid prototyping and gadgets

Not everyone has the ability to make prototypes, and Casper is a service that responds to this demand (the name (Casper stands for Centro Avanzato Servizi Prototipazione rapida E Reverse engineering) within the PIN Polo Universitario Città di Prato, intending in particular to be a service for this area of Tuscany. Maurizio Toccafondi, the lab's coordinator, explains: "This research group has always been involved in rapid prototyping and reverse engineering, both for base research and teaching. But given the difficulty that small and medium sized companies have in accessing this technology, the idea behind the lab has always been to have an active place that makes this technology accessible to these companies, located in Tuscany or beyond."

Over the years, Casper has worked in numerous fields, as Toccafondi says "Our clients are primarily small, local companies, but in many sectors, from mechanics to design to the fine arts. But we've also worked with some larger companies who have been collaborating with us for a few years using this technology."

Scale model of a building with wind turbines, installation for an exhibit

From a technical point of view, Casper has two units for rapid prototyping, one with Polyjet technology and the other FDM, but thanks to direct collaboration with other centers, they make nylon laser sintering and silicon mold injection available to their clients. "Casper started out with the Polyjet, the most advanced prototyping technology known at the time, that still offers an excellent service. Of course we're looking into investing in new technology that we will do as soon as it is necessary," says toccafondi. The Polyjet has a resolution of up to 0,016mm.

Three dimensional reconstruction of large objects: church of San Giovanni Battista in Matera, done with multi-phase laser scanning

As for reverse engineering, Casper also has an anthropomorphic laser and contact scanner, a multi-phase scanner for large spaces, and a mechanic point-based scanner. One interesting project they have done in this field is a scan of the exterior of a concept car that the commissioning company intended to use in order to re-elaborate the car's aesthetic aspect using a CAD system.

With a privileged view of the world of 3D printing and its trends, Casper is keeping an eye on new production, rather than just prototyping, techniques. Toccafondi explains: "We notice a tendency amongst producers of 3D printers a move from rapid prototyping to rapid production, that is, bettering the technology in order to make actual products, not just prototypes, functional, and with a cost that allows for small serial production. Certainly, we will see the cost of the materials used in these technologies diminish, which will be an advantage for production."

 

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