Living with Technology: 3D printing, it’s not just for making Yoda anymore
Published 8:10 am, Wednesday, July 22, 2015
I’ve written about 3D printing a handful of times. It gets better and better every time. 3D printing, not necessarily my writing.
By way of background, 3D printing is using a computer to design an item in a computer and then output it on something called a 3D printer. We’re all familiar with laser and inkjet printers. These all print on flat paper.
3D printers print real, usable objects.
While 3D printers have been around for decades, they have been very expensive. About 10 years ago, a small company called MakerBot (www.makerbot.com) came out with a commercial 3D printer that cost about $2,000 that most people agree brought 3D printing to the masses.
A MakerBot printer is much like a hot glue gun that can print items out of plastic by taking a 3D model in a computer and, layer by layer, building up items.
This is called “additive” 3D printing. Starting with nothing and adding things to it until you have your object.
Another form of 3D printing is best epitomized by the company Formlabs (www.formlabs.com) essentially has a bowl of liquid plastic and light is focused in the plastic to solidify the item layer by layer as a mechanism pulls the finished product out of the vat. It’s way cool.
The other sort of 3D printing is called subtractive. In subtractive printing, one starts with a solid piece of material and removes all the parts that you don’t want. I wrote about how my dentist made a crown for me using subtractive printing in a matter of hours instead of weeks.
One of the more common consumer subtractive 3D printers is the ShopBot (www.shopbottools.com). These are also called routers or milling machines.
Because subtractive 3D printers start with an existing piece of material, they can more easily work with wood, steel, stone and other materials that can’t easily be created.
Early consumer use of 3D printers included plenty of statues of Yoda from “Star Wars,” chess figures and other items.
As people’s skill with these devices has soared as well as the introduction of new materials with new properties, people are starting to make innovative items such as tools, medical devices, art and more.
The point is that people are starting to think of 3D printers as more than interesting toys and now as tools for learning and innovation.
I remember the first personal computers on the market that were rudimentary in capabilities and yet are now fixtures in business and personal life.
I believe that people will continue to use 3D printers in ways we never imagined and as new materials and techniques, it won’t be long before having a 3D printer in one’s home will no longer be an oddity, but will hold its place alongside a television, computer, microwave oven and more.
I can’t wait!
Mark Mathias is a 35-plus-year information technology executive and resident of Westport. His columns can be read at http://blog.mathias.org online. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.