Sometimes you have to dig a bit underground to hear the noise of a trend in the making. I attended MakerFaire, NY earlier this year and saw the world of 3D exploding with possibility. As the costs come down and the ease of use goes up we should start seeing 3D printing become more mainstream.
What is a 3D printer? Just what it sounds like – a printer that prints solid objects out of all sorts of base materials. The most popular material looks a lot like the plastic strings used in weed whackers or summer-camp lanyards. The material is melted, then forced out of jets in successive layers to build a 3D object. Have you ever seen potters lay down coils of clay on the wheel to build a pot? It’s kind of like that.
The printers get their instructions from various inputs, like a CAD drawing or a 3D scanned object.
If you want to see the types of final projects, check out MakerBot TV. The Makerbot printer even got the Colbert thumbs-up. The printer sells for $1,299, and with its wood construction, it’s a hip melding of old and new.
Others, like the Fab@Home Project, are a bit slicker looking and will set you back about $2,400. With the base material layered on by syringe-like droppers, these printers are said to be able to make objects from silicone, cement, stainless steel, cake frosting, and even cheese. Some of finished products include a battery, a flashlight, a bicycle sprocket, toy parts, and various food products.
Origo, a relative newcomer to the field is the most polished-looking and has been dubbed a “3D printer for your ten year old”. With a program called TinkerCad, kids can fashion their own blocks from recyclable plastic, and design+print anything they want to play with.
Can’t afford your own 3D printer quite yet? You’re not alone, so Shapeways will take your design and send back your object, or sell you some of the other creator’s designs. You can even send along some text and the company will print a Lightpoem for you – your words in the form of a cylindrical candleholder.
I expect that 3D printing will be done by outsider service industries first, then it’ll probably involve a trip to the local Kinko’s or Staples. Finally you’ll have your own 3D printer – better for printing bowls than that letter to Mom.