Tech News: 3D Printers

3D PrintersBy Sandie Neri

What is a 3D printer? As explained by http://www.3dprinter.net, a 3D printer can “print” in a plastic, metal, nylon, and over a hundred other materials… it can also print manufacturing prototypes, end user products, quasi-legal guns, aircraft engine parts and even human organs using a person’s own cells.

How does it work? The printer creates a three dimensional object by building it layer by successive layer, until the entire object is complete. This is called “additive manufacturing”, which saves on unused, wasted materials. Each of these printed layers is a thinly-sliced, horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

To start off with, a 3D printer needs to have instructions, and a file. The file – a Computer Aided Design (CAD file) – is created with the use of a 3D modeling program, either from scratch or beginning with a 3D model created by a 3D scanner. Either way, the program creates a file that is sent to the 3D printer. Along the way, software slices design into hundreds, or more likely thousands of horizontal layers. These layers will be printed one atop the other until the 3D object is done.

Sparking Students Interest in Creating “When you produce something yourself instead of purchasing it, that changes your relationship to it,” says Chelsea Schelly, assistant professor of social sciences at Michigan Technological University explains on http://www.3ders.org . “You are empowered by it.” Schelly began her research by studying a teacher workshop coordinated by 3D printing guru Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science, and electrical, engineering. During one of the local high school workshops, a teacher demonstrated how he can create a mechanical replacement part, instead of running out to purchase it. “He needed a snow blower part that would normally cost $200,” Schelly says. “Instead, he made it himself and saved the money.” Since this workshop, students routinely beg to stay after and create things on the printer.

Past and Present 3D printing has technically been around since the 1980s, but there have been many upgrades and improvements since. According to m.t3.com, the gadget website, Hp is planning on getting into the 3D printing business. Hp will launch it’s 3D printer next year, and while this will initially be for businesses, they do not see this lasting very long. Hp is also researching ways of bringing down the cost of the printers, and to speed up the 3D printing process, which can take from 8-10 hours currently.

Currently, makerbot.com is selling a MakerBot Digitizer at $1,400.00, a MakerBot Replicator 2 at $2,199.00, and a MakerBot Replicator 2X at $2,799.00. One link you will find at makerbot.com is to thingiverse.com. Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. Thingiverse has uploaded over 100,000 3D models. Go to makerbot.com for a video demonstration.

With Good, Always Comes Bad bbc.com reports that the first gun made with 3D printer technology was successfully fired in the US in May of 2013. Also, downloads for 3D-printed the Liberator gun design reached 100,000 in May of 2013. The BBC’s home affairs correspondent, Dominic Casciani, said in response to this growing concern “ The worst case-scenario would be a cheap and 100% reliable device that could be made overnight and then destroyed after just one use, disposing of crucial evidence to pin to a suspect”.

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