So last week I was in training- learning all about 3D printers, and I have to say, it was the coolest thing ever. Well the second coolest thing ever, since I still hope to have that threesome with Katy Perry and Wonder Woman.
A 3D printer is capable of creating objects. It resembles an ink jet printer, but instead of spraying ink on to a piece of paper from a nozzle, a 3D printer sprays/melts plastic from a nozzle into a project work area. In the picture above, Yoda is sitting in the work area.
An ink jet printer works in two dimensions as the print head moves back and forth. A 3D printer moves back and forth, but also up and down. It creates one layer of plastic at a time, until the object is fully formed. It’s like building a model skyscraper out of Legos – you lay out the first floor, then add the second floor, then the third floor, etc….until the skyscraper is complete.
3D printing is amazing, but still not mainstream. You really have to know what you’re doing. You can’t just go in to a store, buy the printer, and take it home. It’s not an HP printer that runs perfectly and is a breeze to set up.
No, you have to understand how the hardware itself works as it requires frequent adjustments, alignments, and troubleshooting. You also have to understand CAD (computer aided design) software which allows you to design in 3D. It also helps if you have a bit of talent as an artist or engineer. So while 3D printing is out there now, it still has a high-cost and steep learning curb.
Jay Leno uses a high-end 3D printer to help him with his antique car collection. With his 3D scanner and 3D printer, he is able to re-create car parts that are no longer available.
Recently, he recreated a part for one of his steam powered cars. The part was so old and brittle he was barely able to remove it from the engine compartment. But once he did, he placed it on his 3D scanner and scanned the part into a computer.
Once it was in the computer, he was able to print out an exact copy of the part in plastic. He was then able to tweak it using the CAD software, and print it out again. He repeated this process until the part was perfect. He then took the plastic part to a machine shop and had it produced in steel. Back in the car, the part worked flawlessly.
While this sounds like a lot of work, the thing to understand here is he was able to do all this in plastic. Before 3D printers, the part would have to have been reproduced, tested, and tweaked all in metal, which would have been costly and time-consuming.
Another use for 3D printers? A bald eagle had been shot by a poacher and had lost a great deal of her beak. When the rangers found her, she was near death because she couldn’t eat. While they nursed her back to health, the lead veterinarian worked with a 3D engineer to build her a new beak. The beak was then printed using plastic mixed with a special, high-strength polymer.
The bird was put under anesthetic, her damaged bill sanded down and reshaped, and the new plastic beak attached. It was a success, and one month later, she was released back into the wild where she promptly flew head first into an airplane engine (just kidding).
I am hoping to buy a 3D printer and scanner next year, and continue my learning. I’m sure I can figure out the hardware and software, but I’m a lousy artist, which means I will have to rely on someone else to help me draw things.
I think my first project will be to hook up an airport scanner to a 3D printer and create my first artificial woman. I will call her “Katy”.