Tuesday 1 April 2014

3D printing isn't futuristic. It's here.

In case you've somehow missed it, 3D printing is

...a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.

Layers of molten plastic are laid down over one another, to form more or less any shape. It reminds me of crochet: once you have a foundation chain, you can move in just about any direction, but you're always building a layer on top of the one below it.

If you have the time and inclination, you can 3D print a kayak, a human skull, a ukulele, or a house. You couldn't crochet those things.

You can also print another printer.

Most printers print in plastic, but you can also get ones that print metal - or even food.

If you're in Auckland, you can head along to the Central Library, and try out their 3D printer. (Yeah, the library has a printer.) I did today.

The MindKits 3D printer at Auckland Library.

I downloaded the files I was interested in from Thingiverse, and the team at the library popped them on to their computer, and started the machine printing.

The printer bed is a sheet of glass, which is prepared by slathering it with Pritt Stick. Apparently, it has to be Pritt Stick, not just your generic glue stick.

A close up of a 3D printer's nozzle, printing something yellow.

The printer head shifts back and forth, building up the layers. It's surprisingly musical, especially the circles.

Turn your volume way up if you can't hear that. "Every 3D printer sings a different song," I was told.

I printed a feather:
A yellow 3D printed feather on a chain.

It took about five minutes: that's only about two layers of printing.

Me, smiling, wearing a 3D printed feather on a chain.

If I had a 3D printer of my very own, this is what I'd use it for: new necklace and earrings every morning. I've been looking at examples of 3D printing, and in my opinion, the most interesting and sculptural interpretations of the medium have been in jewellery design. 

Follow Rachel Rayner's board 3D Printing on Pinterest.

Let's be practical though. I also printed a bottle opener.

A yellow bottle opener, with a copper coin inserted in it.

That bottle opener promises it's for an "Australian coin," but a New Zealand ten cent piece fits perfectly. It took about an hour to print.

It needs the coin, because the 3D printed material is on the soft side. 

A yellow 3D printed bottle opener, posed as if opening a bottle of beer.

It's biodegradable, so I can compost it when I'm done. It's the same stuff that's used to hold in the insides of capsules and pills, apparently: I'm sure my vitamin tablets are covered with the same stuff.

How much did this all cost me? A grand total of seventy cents. Auckland Libraries charges ten cents per gram to print. They have a bunch of different colours you can print with, and you can just wander up to the MakerSpace during their advertised hours, and they'll help you print just about anything.

I'd love to see 3D printers become household items, but they're not quite at that stage yet. They're fiddly, and kind of expensive to buy. 

Still, 3D printing's really cool, and if you've got the chance, I'd encourage you to have a play with a machine. 

If you're interested in 3D printing in Auckland, or New Zealand, check out these links: 


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