Another Dimension

Michael Raphael (left) and Todd Blatt have been instrumental in the worldwide growth of 3-D printing and scanning.  (Provided)

Michael Raphael (left) and Todd Blatt have been instrumental in the worldwide growth of 3-D printing and scanning.
(Provided)

No matter what your tech IQ, chances are the Bmore 3D Store in Canton will blow your mind. But you’ll have to hurry. It’s only open through the end of December.

The pop-up store sells unique items such as jewelry, vases and Baltimore-themed gifts, all created by 3-D artists using 3-D modeling software and fabricated by 3-D printers. Sound out of this world? If so, read on.

Although it’s been around for about two decades, the 3-D printing and scanning industry has exploded in recent years. Jewish Baltimoreans Michael Raphael, 50, and Todd Blatt, 30, who collaborated on the store, have been central to its growth, both in Maryland and around the world. In fact, Raphael’s engineering services firm, Direct Dimensions, located in a remarkably unassuming location in Owings Mills, is the largest company of its kind in the world. And Raphael, a Milford Mill High School graduate and Beth Israel congregant, is one of the world’s leading experts on 3-D scanning.

What is 3-D scanning?

“We take things — cars, planes, buildings and people — and we digitize their shapes and put them into the computer. Using a 3-D printer we bring the object out of the computer and into the physical world,” said Raphael.

There are more than 50 types of printers and 100 different manufacturing materials used to create the 3-D objects. The process happens through robotic technology.

Raphael’s work translates into fields as diverse as medicine, art, architecture and film. “We have worked with the sculptor Jeff Koons, the Smithsonian, the BMA [Baltimore Museum of Art], MOMA [Museum of Modern Art] and the Walters [Art Museum],” he said. “With 3-D technology, anyone with creativity can both design and manufacture immediately and affordably.”

Unlike conventional manufacturing techniques, 3-D printers can reproduce any design, no matter how complicated.

“The complexity is free,” said Raphael.

At his Owings Mills offices, Raphael and his staff create facial prosthetics for cancer patients, architectural models of historic sites and 3-D renderings of buildings, bridges and monuments that are yet to be built.

Raphael also owns ShapeShot, a business he founded several years ago that utilizes the world’s first fully automated 3-D photo booth (called the ShapeShot) to create 3-D snapshots. The booth, which is available for use at the 3-D pop-up store, takes 3-D photos that can be reproduced on a variety of items such as busts, jewelry, bobble-heads and coffee mugs. Raphael has used the ShapeShot to create 3-D images of celebrities including Natalie Portman, Ben Stiller and Megan Fox, among others.

While Raphael handles 3-D scanning, Blatt, a Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate who lives in Mount Vernon, does 3-D modeling. He and others who use computer-aided design (CAD) software, custom electronics, computer programming, laser cutting and woodworking to create unique designs are known as “makers.” Blatt said Baltimore has a small but growing community of makers.

Blatt’s interest in 3-D fabrication began as a young teen, when he became fascinated with 3-D video-game modeling. He saw his first 3-D printer on a BT field trip to Northrop Grumman in 2000 and went on to study the field in greater depth as a college student at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

After college, Blatt worked for several engineering companies in town and also became involved with Baltimore Node Hackerspace, a membership organization with headquarters in the Station North Arts District in Baltimore City. Baltimore Node offers 3-D artists and engineers access to the high-tech tools and workshop space they need to create prototypes for their designs.

“Having the clubhouse enabled me to break away from my job to start my own company,” said Blatt, whose company, Custom 3D Stuff makes jewelry, movie props, promotional materials and engineering prototypes.

Although Raphael and Blatt’s pop-up store is only temporary, 3-D scanning, printing and manufacturing is clearly here to say.

“We’ve been taking photographs for 100 years,” said Raphael. “Why not take them in 3-D?” JT

The Bmore 3D Store is located at 2150 Boston St., Baltimore. For more information, visit Bmore3D.com or call 443-963-9456.

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