Marcus Larson/News-Register##Instead of buying a 3-D printer, Joe Kleemann made several of his own, starting with open source plans and making improvements. He’s excited about today’s technology and wants to share his enthusiasm with a new generation.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Instead of buying a 3-D printer, Joe Kleemann made several of his own, starting with open source plans and making improvements. He’s excited about today’s technology and wants to share his enthusiasm with a new generation.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleemann holds a three-dimensional map of the ranch he owns in Southern Oregon. He flew a drone over the landscape snapping photos, fed the digital information into his computer, then printed the map on his 3-D printer. The final step was adding tint to make it look more realistic.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleemann holds a three-dimensional map of the ranch he owns in Southern Oregon. He flew a drone over the landscape snapping photos, fed the digital information into his computer, then printed the map on his 3-D printer. The final step was adding tint to make it look more realistic.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleeman’s large drone can take hundreds of digital photos as it flies over a building or landscape.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleeman’s large drone can take hundreds of digital photos as it flies over a building or landscape.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleemann uses computer programs to create 3-D images.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Kleemann uses computer programs to create 3-D images.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##A 3-D printer applies thin layers of plastic as it builds an object.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##A 3-D printer applies thin layers of plastic as it builds an object.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: The shape of things to come

The McMinnville resident has developed, taught himself and created a wide range of skills over the years — ​in product design, welding, mold-making, plastic injection, machining, computer-aided design, to name a few.

Now, in addition to using his knowledge himself, he wants to pass it on to students and young entrepreneurs. “I want to teach and train what I’ve learned,” he said.

Kleemann serves clients from all over the U.S. from his base in McMinnville. He bills himself as a “Maker of 3D” on his website, and envisions teaching in a “maker’s space.”

If he can find the right building, and the right backing, he said, he would set up the space so youngsters and young adults could learn a myriad of career skills: working with drones; building and running 3-D printers; designing movie sets or fashions; practicing using CAD or other software; and more.

While students may learn some of that in their STEM classes at school, he said, an after-school or evening program like this would give them more practice and more opportunities to learn from experts working in technology fields — experts like him.

Kleemann previously ran a 60-employee company that made detailed reproductions of centuries-old artifacts, the kind that could substitute in a museum display while the priceless original was safely stored away. He now works on his own, creating prototypes and doing 3-D mapping and printing.

“It’s amazing, so exciting where technology is today, and what I can do,” Kleemann said. “I want to get youth interested so they can pick up my passion and be the next generation to do this.”

Kleemann said he would have loved having a maker’s space-style opportunity when he was a teen. Since he didn’t, he put together his own kind of training, which included teaching himself as well as watching and learning from experts in a variety of fields.

He built on his own natural talents. Always artistic, he grew up drawing portraits and making things.

As a teen, he won an apprenticeship in the aerospace industry. He said he became qualified to make three-dimensional models, or prototypes, that engineers analyzed to determine whether their designs worked and what needed changing.

“Back then, they did everything from blueprints and models,” he said. “They didn’t have computers yet.”

Without computers, they used pencils and paper in their drafting, rather than the ever-more sophisticated software he now uses. He’s glad, though, that he learned the concepts from scratch, rather than just letting an electronic brain do things for him.

After his apprenticeship, “I job-shopped and found out I didn’t fit in with LA,” he said.

So he fell back on his earlier talents and became a portrait artist. He rode his motorcycle all over the country creating art and honing his entrepreneurial skills.

“I’ve worked for myself since I was 20,” he said. 

After meeting several serious antique collectors, he realized he could combine art and engineering to make museum reproductions. He taught himself to work with metals, ceramics and other materials that could be shaped and finished to look like the real thing.

His company grew rapidly. And, in addition to working for museums, he also sold to homeowners who wanted antique-looking pieces.

He still has a few of the artifacts from the reproduction company, including a door-sized piece painstakingly reproduced in Fiberglas. It appears to be a 14th century Moroccan grille, the kind that might have served as a gate. But while it looks real, it’s merely decorative.

He hung up the Moroccan grille in his new home when he moved to McMinnville this year.

He said he chose McMinnville because “it hits all the points” he was looking for: Proximity to a big city, but in an agricultural area; a small-town feel; a green and pleasant climate; affordability; a nice dog park for Twix, his Brittany spaniel.

“I love the people here,” he added.

While still making reproductions, Kleemann became fascinated with 3-D computerized printing. It offered him the chance to combine his love of technology with his artistic sense.

But Kleemann, who describes himself as “intolerant of mediocrity,” didn’t just go out and buy a 3-D printer. Instead, he built several himself, including one that will make large items, up to about 20 inches square.

“I reverse-engineered them from open-source design,” he said. “When the patents expired, it gave us the opportunity to improve on that design.” 

To create a 3-D object, Kleemann starts with drawings or photographs, hundreds of them. For example, he’ll shoot 250 or more digital photos with a hand-held camera or a drone that flies a grid pattern over a large area.

The more photos, the higher the resolution of the resulting 3-D image, he explained. 

He said his printers can create images with a resolution that’s about a five on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the highest resolution. If he needs an object printed in a higher resolution, he sends it out to someone in his network of colleagues and suppliers.

Before printing, though, he returns to his office and inputs the digital photo information to his computer system. He then creates a three-dimensional map showing the dips and rises of the landscape, the contours of a playground, the features of an arena or parking lot.

The next step is feeding that data into one of his 3-D printers. The printer lays down thin layers of plastic to create a model of the site, with features that can be touched as well as viewed.

Such 3-D maps could be used to determine how to improve drainage in a vineyard, for instance, or where to put in streets and housing sites for a subdivision.

He can do the same thing with a building or an interior space, a piece of furniture or another object. He can create a 3-D representation of a castle, one of its rooms or the king’s throne, for instance.

He prints the landscapes and objects in white, blue, green or black, then airbrushes on tints to make them look even more realistic.

The miniatures could be used in movie special effects — picture a far more sophisticated version of Dorothy’s house falling onto the Wicked Witch — or placed in an elaborate dollhouse. Or, if he starts with the hypothetical rather than a real object, they could be used as prototypes in the design process.

“From a sketch on a napkin, I go to the computer and create a design, then fabricate it,” he said. “You can hold it and see if it will work.”

He used the same process to turn a photograph of an artifact into a perfect copy. For instance, he photographed an Etruscan vase originally made from ivory, used a 3-D copy to make a mold and, eventually, cast it in bronze. It was much quicker than sculpting a replica in wax or clay, and the results are the same: the fanciest pencil holder on the block.

The process would be useful in restoring items in a museum that’s been destroyed in war, for instance, he said — a real concern today, when groups such as ISIS are ravaging the cultural past. 

“I like to train people in museums so they can do this in-house,” he said.

His 3-D printers also can produce objects such as gears or other parts. Their eventual use dictates the material from which they are printed — nylon for working parts, for instance, or ABS plastic for display pieces.

The possibilities are endless, Kleemann said, for photogrammetry and 3-D printing.

For instance, it could be used to capture the exact appearance of a crime scene, he said. The photos and 3-D map of the scene would be enlightening for investigators and could be used in court, as well. Or a footprint or tire track could be photographed, digitized and printed in 3-D, then used to make a mold so a copy of object could be created.

Kleemann’s 3-D printers, drone and computer scanners are light years away from the pencil and paper he used when he was learning to make models. And with the Internet, he doesn’t have to be in the same room, or even the same state, as his clients — he can work with customers anywhere from his base in McMinnville, with no time delays.

“It’s ‘Star Trek,’ today,” he said. “And the industry is changing so fast ...”

That’s exactly the way he likes it.

“My love of aviation, flying, design, technology ... I think I was born too early, or too late,” he said. “I was meant to be a World War II fighter pilot — or to be flying with Spock.”

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS