My friend Josh just recently bought his second 3D printer because he was getting into more precise design work, and his first generation Cupcake printer from MakerBot Industries wasn’t serving his needs any more. He got a new Replicator instead. So, he’s just given the printer to my school’s Design Lab, and I’ve been experimenting with it after a night of calibration, instruction and fiddling with hardware and software with him.
We printed out three test or calibration cubes, which involved a lot of dialing in settings, and discovering they didn’t work. If you look at the picture on the left, you’ll see a bunch of sprues from the failed test cubes, for example. Then we printed one test cube (middle of the picture on the left) that came out correctly, more or less. Then we printed a third cube which came out pretty much perfectly. And then, Josh (@Paperbits on Twitter) showed me how to print out a bottle opener. Welcome to the future, ladies and gentlemen — I have a bottle opener that I printed out at home from a spool of ABS plastic. Eventually I’ll have a lot more than that.
There’s a whole host of sites, as well, like Ponoko or Shapeways, that specialize in taking these sorts of extruded designs to the next level — casting them in bronze or steel or sterling silver. Obviously I haven’t tried any of them yet; I only got this 3D printer today. And this one, a modified first generation kit model, has very wide tolerances for failure. There’s lots of wiggle room, quite literally, in how the device takes a design and translates it into real world materials.
But it changes a good many things. Before, if a plastic object broke, you were done for. If you lost a part to a game, you couldn’t replace it. If you could imagine a thing, that didn’t mean you could make it. None of those things are true any more. And there’s power and strength involved in providing access to a new kind of education…
The next thing I printed out was a TARDIS. Because there are scaleable models of the good Doctor’s vessel, so you can print them in many sizes — from one that takes about twenty-minutes to print and is about the size of a golf ball, to one that takes three hours and is roughly the size of a grapefruit. Mine took an hour, and it’s about half the height of an iPhone.
My next piece of printing was a filament guide. The filament is the name given to the ABS plastic wire that gets fed to a heating element, and heated to around 210° C. Without a filament guide, the filament has a tendency to rub up against the motor belting for the drive-train that powers the Z axis of movement. And that can stall or slow down a build, and even ruin a print. So I printed a filament guide.
I want you to understand how bizarre that is… my printer didn’t work properly, so I printed the components to make it work better.
A few weeks ago, I reminded you, oh readers, that you cannot think through problems and find solutions to them which require tools that you do not have. One of those tools, of course, is the ability to think through problems abstractly. But one of the other tools is the ability to replace any broken plastic bit of any object, at will. It used to be expensive, or difficult, or impossible even, to replace such parts. The ability to print parts will change how the kids at my school think about the world.
Does the computer lab at your school, or your classroom, have a 3D printer yet? Why not?