3D Printing What is It?
Remember the replicator from Star Trek? Personnel could press a button and out would pop food, spare star ship parts or other everyday objects, amazing! Well technology is not ready yet to allow us to manipulate molecular structure at this level, but 3D Printing is the next best thing.
3D printing involves using a machine that looks like a matrix printer or scanner gone crazy.
The machine takes a design file as input and through an additive process builds a three dimensional object.
3D printing is now accessible enough so that nearly anyone can design a 3D object and upload the design to a site like Shapeways.com, submit credit card information and receive a physical 3D copy of their design in the mail.
It's important to remember that 3D printing is an additive process. It's not removing things as is done with a lathe or a CNC machine.
Here's a video from Wikipedia that shows 3D Printing in Action
Think of the useful things that can be created with a 3D printer. I've heard of examples from:
- Repair an old screen door by 3D printing a plastic piece that can no longer be ordered.
- Create custom game pieces for homemade board games
- Custom cases for your Cell Phone or Raspberry Pi
- Lego pieces that are not possible any other way
- There are even food 3D printers including a 3D Chocolate Printer
- Create a new pair of sandals for a child out of the recycled plastic from last year's pair
3D printers have reached a price where a home consumer can consider buying one, some examples include:
- Makerbot Replicator
- Cube 3D
- Some 3D printers come in kits and are designed so that once assembled they can produce a large percentage of the pieces required to build another 3D printer!
Regardless how inexpensive the 3D printers are, the cheapest way to try 3D printing is to use an online service such as shapeways.com. On my first effort with Shapeways.com I created the "Caesar Cipher Decoder Ring" seen on the cover of this Instructable.
When I submitted my order I used the least expensive material available and a also ordered a "Sample Material Kit" (shown below). The Sample Kit allowed me and my friends to see what some of the more expensive materials are like, and it comes with a $25 store credit. (notice how one of my friends was a little too rough with the frosted Ultra Detail material)
As part of putting together this Instructable, I'm doing a redesign and creating Version 2 of the Code Wheel.