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Q: Three-Dimensional Fax ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Three-Dimensional Fax
Category: Science > Technology
Asked by: mickeylt-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 05 Feb 2004 17:20 PST
Expires: 06 Mar 2004 17:20 PST
Question ID: 303956
About 10 years ago I saw something on TV about a tech company (maybe
Silicon Graphics?) that was developing a three-dimensional fax machine
-- a machine that could transmit three-dimensional replicas of
three-dimensional objects. One machine would scan the shape of the
object and then transmit the data to another machine in a remote
location that would then produce a replica out of some kind of wax or
resin-type material.  What ever happened with that?  Was the
technology ever perfected?  Marketed?
Subject: Re: Three-Dimensional Fax
Answered By: clouseau-ga on 05 Feb 2004 18:23 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello mickeylt,

Thank you for your question.

You're reasonably close in your remembrance. Actually, it was about
1996 and it was at Stanford University:

Stanford researchers fine-tune 3-D fax machine 
Article in San Jose Mercury News, February 5, 1996

"...Researchers at Stanford University's Computer Graphics Laboratory
have demonstrated the ability to quickly make a highly detailed,
three-dimensional computer model of an object, send it electronically
to Southern California and use it to produce an almost exact

And more information here:

An article in the New York Times in June 2000 shows that work
continues on this technology:

"The New York Times Magazine (July 11, 2000)
Tech 2010: #28 
Working It Out: The Company Where Everybody's a Temp 
By David Pescovitz  
A company in Valencia, Calif., called 3D Systems makes a startlingly
futuristic contraption that might best be described as a
three-dimensional fax machine. Instead of spitting out a mere piece of
paper, it produces an actual object. A ThermoJet office printer,
working from a digital blueprint, squirts out precise drops of hot
plastic to make the proper shape. The resulting object can be
anything, a blender, say, or a cell phone, and ready in just hours.
Sadly, you won't be able to make a milkshake with that blender or
place a call on the phone, but the 3-D fax machine is prized by
companies that do a lot of industrial design. It enables a group of
people, spread out anywhere on the planet, to collaborate in a way
that only recently would have required them to be in the same

3D Systems can be found here:

Their multijet modeling products can be found on these pages:

ACFNewsSource offered this article in 2001:

3-D Fax

"Forget overnight shipping, now you can fax three-dimensional objects 

In the movie "Apollo 13," NASA scientists scrambled to find a way to
connect two incompatible valves to save the astronauts' oxygen supply.
But instead of rigging the necessary component with duct tape, a torn
notebook binder and loose spaceship parts, what if researchers on the
ground could have just faxed up the needed part? Recent breakthroughs
in 3D printing could revolutionize how we communicate. Research firms
are developing devices that would allow people to send data to a
copier-like machine, which then assembles ? or sculpts ? the desired
part by spraying a molten thermoplastic to form the needed item.
Prototypes of these machines have already been built, and though the
high price currently blocks 3D printers from practical commercial use,
experts say it's just a matter of time...

...The technology is evolving rapidly, but the principle of spraying
layer by layer has remained the same. One notable improvement is the
use of molten thermoplastic, sprayed onto a surface layer by layer,
much like an ink-jet printer. An ink-jet printer works by spraying ink
from tiny jets to make images on a page. Instead of shooting ink,
Hulls' Thermojet sprays thermoplastic, which is a material that
softens when heated or hardens when cooled to room temperatures. 3D
Systems' Thermojet uses 352 tiny jets to fire the material and sculpt
the object. This newer technique is cheaper than the original
stereolithography, but less capable of making industrial-strength
products. Currently, the objects it produces have a waxy, Crayola
crayon texture to them, and cannot be used for heavy-duty
manufacturing. Experts agree, however, that this technology is still
at its infancy and soon it will be shaping objects with more

So, it appears that this technology is about 20 years old, still
evolving and extremely expensive. But much like the original fax
machine, should come down in cost and gain capabilities as research
continues and the technology is adopted. 3D Systems currently sells
CAD system 3D printers now as you can see at their site.

Here are a few more links related to this search:


Behold, the 3-D Fax!
Discover, Feb, 2000, by Brad Lemley

"...This fantasy is not as farfetched as it sounds. Three-dimensional
printers--known in the industrial world as solid-imaging machines--are
already here in nascent form, transforming the way products are
designed. Once the first home models arrive, in a decade or so,
consumer culture may never be the same. "Your children's children will
print their own toys," predicts Mervyn Rudgley; senior director of
business development for 3D Systems of Valencia, California, the first
and largest company in the field. Charles Hull, founder of 3D Systems,
expects the technology will eventually lead to the ultimate in on-line
shopping: goods delivered directly into the customer's living room.

Hull cooked up the first solid-imaging system in 1984 in a back-room
lab while working for a company in San Gabriel, California, that made
ultraviolet lamps. Some of the lamps were used to treat special
coatings that harden when exposed to ultraviolet light. By extending
the process, Hull realized, he could make solid objects from
light-cured plastics. Laboring long nights and weekends, he finally
persuaded a computer-guided light beam to dance in a precise pattern
on the surface of a basin full of gooey polymer. After the jittering
beam solidified a thin layer of plastic, a platform just below the
surface dropped a fraction of a millimeter, submerging the layer under
another coat of polymer, and the procedure repeated itself. Finally;
with the topmost layer hardened, the platform rose dramatically,
revealing Hull's first creation: a translucent, bluish, inch-tall cup.
It still sits in his office. "It's crude," he says, "but it showed
what was possible."..."

An article from 1994 at

3- D printers or Fabbers - the first glimpse 

If you'd like to read even more, search Google for "solid imaging
machines". Its a fascinating subject.

Search Strategy:

Three-Dimensional Fax
3 Dimensional Fax
3D Systems
"3D Fax"

I trust my research has provided you with the answer you were seeking.
If a link above should fail to work or anything require further
explanation or research, please do post a Request for Clarification
prior to rating the answer and closing the question and I will be
pleased to assist further.


mickeylt-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

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