Asda 3D printer makes mini models of you

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MILK – check, bread – check, ham, cheese, cornflakes – check, eight inch 3D figure of myself...er, believe it or not – check. The experience has just been made available to Edinburgh supermarket customers after retail giant Asda began offering 3D-printed “mini-me” statuettes alongside fruit, veg and other everyday staples in its store at The Jewel.

Edinburgh customers were among the first in Scotland to have access to the technique when it was trialled in the east of the city.

News reported John-Paul Holden with his "mini-me". Picture: Jane Barlow

News reported John-Paul Holden with his "mini-me". Picture: Jane Barlow

Already producing everything from guns to car parts, 3D printing – which uses computer-controlled robots to make three-dimensional objects of virtually any shape from a digital model – has moved into the most intimate areas of private life, with one American couple grabbing global headlines after they launched a business which uses the technology to make ultrasound-based unborn foetus figurines for parents.

And far from being creeped out, city shoppers have swooped on the opportunity to pay up to £60 for a ceramic replica, with Asda bosses saying last month’s 3D trial sessions were completely booked.

Tommy Hornby, Asda photo operations field manager, isn’t surprised.

“What you’ve got to think of is that this is the next stage of photo personalisation,” he says.

“You’ve gone from having a 2D photo on the mantelpiece to the point where now you can have a 3D figure of yourself.

“We had a gentleman who was sent to Afghanistan only yesterday and had one done for his wife, so she has that memento of him at home.

“And one couple came in with different outfits – the groom in his basketball kit and the bride in a ballgown – for two figures for the top of their wedding cake.”

Asda shopper Thomas Tucker, from Cooperfield, says having a replica of himself is almost a matter of life and death.

Diagnosed as clinically obese, the 62-year-old spent £60 on an eight-inch model after he lost between five and six stone last year.

He says: “It took me about a year to lose that weight.

“I was coming up for about 15-and-a-half stone. I’d gone to the doctors and been told I had diabetes. I had to do something, so I changed my diet and started to go out walking near the house.”

And what motivates Thomas to stay in shape? His mini-me, of course.

“When I first saw the models in the shop, after losing the weight, I thought I’d get one of them and look at it now and again to remind myself of how I should be,” he says.

“Looking at it is an incentive. I feel as though I’ve prolonged my life.

“Sometimes I look at it and say, this is how it should be. This is how it should stay.”

The store is set to offer more 3D scanning trials later in the year.

Pasta with a hi-tech twist

WOULD your taste buds be tickled by a plate of 3D-printed pasta?

Although the technology has been around since the 1980s, use of 3D printing – in which layers of material are laid down in different shapes by a computer-controlled robot – is exploding as the cost of the machines drops rapidly.

Now an Italian food giant has announced plans to offer customers cartridges of dough that they can insert into a 3D printer to create their own pasta designs.

The principles of the 3D printing process are simple.

After the surface of an object has been captured during the scanning process, the image is ‘read’ by the printer machine, which lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections.

These layers – corresponding to the virtual cross sections from the model – are joined or automatically fused to create the final shape. The main advantage of this technique is its ability to create almost any form or geometric feature.

Construction with contemporary methods can take anywhere from several hours to several days, depending on the method used and the size and complexity of the model.

A large number of ‘printing’ processes are now available - from methods which melt or soften material to produce the layers, to others which cut super-thin sections to shape before joining them together.

Used for prototyping and distributed manufacturing, the technology is now applied in sectors ranging from the military and medicine to jewellery and food.

Shoppers clamour for newest twist on classic photograph

ERECTED in front of the fruit and veg, Asda’s blob-shaped 3D scanning booth at The Jewel looked like it could have come straight from a top secret research facility – or even the set of ET.

But the bizarre structure is set to become as familiar as the cheese counter.

Curious shoppers have been clamouring for an eight-inch, 3D-printed version of themselves – a surreal, hi-tech twist on the classic mantelpiece photo.

Stepping inside the white booth, I was met by a calmly smiling assistant, surrounded by wires and standing next to a computer monitor. Not what you’d normally expect to see when out to grab some milk and bread.

The key to a good scan, I was told, is to stand as still as possible and stare straight ahead, ensuring no body surfaces are obscured and as much detail as possible is picked up.

I then came face to face – literally – with the magical 3D scanning “gun”.

Emitting a mysterious ring of pulsing white light from its centre, it was brought carefully up to head-height and the process of creating a 3D “mini-me” got under way.

Proceeding methodically, the assistant held the scanner at key positions in front and behind me, enabling it to generate a series or “cloud” of geometric points, from which my body shape, including colours, would be built up.

Whirring along at up to nine frames a second, the scanner is able to capture each detail – from the smallest crease of a trouser leg to a decidedly wonky shirt collar – with astonishing accuracy.

“Every time it flashes, it essentially takes a picture of you,” I was told afterwards by Asda photo field manager Tommy Hornby.“During a normal scan, it takes about 1500 pictures of a person. The software will then stitch these images together to create a complete 3D image. That gets sent off for further editing before it’s sent to the printers.”

Three weeks later and – voilà – my own mini-me has arrived and is smiling up at me.

All in all, an uncanny experience – but one that has struck a chord with Edinburgh shoppers.

Another trial of 3D printing is due for later in the year.