Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
OK, maybe we are not quite there yet, but with 3D printing you really can take what you imagine and later have it sitting in the palm of your hand as a tangible 3D object. While not Star Trek cool, it is still cool.
What can you do?
Personally, being a bit of a nerd, I tend to create robot parts, props, have made my own Tardis (it’s kind of my “hello world” of making things), and I make custom Lego pieces. It’s not all novelty and geek fun, though. You can make useful stuff too.
Take a look at Thingiverse. Browse some of the 3D designs. You could make a …
How 3D printers work
There are quite a few different kinds of 3D printer technology used in varying amounts, for home hobbyists and industry, from zapping material with lasers or ultraviolet light, through to pumping out blobs of concrete. In most cases though when we talk about 3D printing around Protospace, we will be talking about FDM, or Fused Deposition Modelling. That’s a fancy way of saying “melting plastic in layers until you get a 3d object” (hopefully).
Your design might start off as an existing digital file (purchased or downloaded), or maybe a design you created in a 3D package such as Fusion, Tinkercad, 123D, Solidworks, etc. These 3D files are often output in a more universally accepted format called .STL. But before you can print, it still needs converting into a format ready to turn into physical layers. This is called slicing.
If you take a look at the 3D printer currently residing at the space (on long term loan from the generous Protospace member, Alan), you can see some common features amongst FDM printers.
Right at the back there is a roll of filament. That’s the plastic that is fed into the extruder Hot End, which as the name suggests, gets hot. The Hot End extrudes lines of molten filament (usually PLA, Nylon, or ABS) by following X, Y and Z instructions from the computer. These instructions are called G Code and are generated by the slicer to be interpreted by the controller board (a popular example is the Arduino/Reprap RAMPS board) that manages the stepper motors. Either the printer head or the platform can move up and down, depending on the design, to offer the Z movement, and again the head or platform can move laterally.
But wait, this describes Cartesian printers. There are also Delta style printers that have 3 arms that together guide the head in all three directions. Getting confused yet? Don’t worry, it’s all quite simple once you have seen it in action. If you would like a demo, grab someone at the next Tuesday night Meet and Geek!