For the past few blogs I’ve teased the wonders of 3D printing. This week, I’ll finally deliver!
What is 3D printing?
3D printers work very similarly to your normal paper and ink printers, except they add a Z-axis. Using a variety of materials as ‘ink’, a 3D printer extrudes layer upon layer of material, from the bottom of the object up, in order to create a 3D object. Most commonly, plastics are used, but metals and other industrious materials can be 3D printed as well. From toys to instruments, medical materials to clothes. You can 3D print just about anything.
How do 3D printers work?
As far as consumer 3D printers are concerned it all begins with the CAD file. CAD or ‘computer aided design’ files have become the preferred format for consumer 3D printing. There are many free options out there for sculpting your own object and saving it to a CAD file, or downloading someone else’s. After you’ve sent your CAD file to the printer, the process begins. An extruder preloaded with plastic filament heats up and deposits material through a small opening on the tip, to the ‘build platform.’ This process is additive, meaning the material is deposited in layers that build on top of each other, until the object is finished.
What can you Print?
The short answer is, pretty much whatever you want. People have created a wide array of immensely useful objects and distributed them for free on the internet. From small hardware such as screws and bolts to amenities such as toothbrush holders and light switch plates. If you can dream it, you can print it. Check out thingiverse to see what people have come up with. It’s quite the trip.
The Future of 3D printing
Consumer 3D printers are only dropping in price. You can build you own for less than $500.00 now. At such an affordable price point, these printers can get in the hands of engineers and innovators who would otherwise been unable to afford them. Because of this, people’s creativity can flourish and we get things such as affordable 3D printed prosthetics for amputee victims, or a cheap splint to help injured patients heal. Medicine is the poster child for 3D printing, but in reality engineers are going to change the world with these things. In a few years you may buy the new iPhone and print it at home.
-Shatter Buggy, Denver