The Economist magazine this month calls 3D printing (or rapid prototyping) a technology that “will change the world”. 3D printers work by laying down layer after layer of a given material until a real, 3 dimensional object has been created. Printers differ in the materials that they use, and the methods that they use to print, but all share the same concept. The Economist talks about the technology’s ability to “undermine economies of scale”. In short this means that you can have a machine on your desktop churning out widgets and gizmos, without having to make thousands of them. It means that anyone can make physical, real, solid things without sinking their life savings into having plastic moulds created and tooling carried out.
3D printing is a dream come true for students, academics, product designers, hobbyists, engineers, architects, teachers, or anyone who has a brilliant idea that they need to be able to see and touch.
So all of this is important for us (and hopefully you!) because we’re thrilled to be bringing a fantastic, affordable 3D printer to the market. It’s not a kit (lots of people have told us about their frustration with 3D printer kits) and takes about 15 minutes to assemble from box to 1st print. It uses ABS plastic filament but can be adapted to use other materials. Don’t get us wrong – our printer won’t be able to create Stradivarius violins, but it can make some pretty complex and exciting parts. We’ve been using the free and amazing Google Sketchup to make our parts, but any 3D package that can produce standard STL files is good.
We’ve seen people make working water pumps, produce anatomic prints from real medical topography data or even just produce a custom enclosure for their latest Arduino project. Using the printer is very easy – similar to printing a 2D print!