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3D Printing - The Future is Now

Have you ever heard about 3D Printing?  This technology has been around for decades and cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy.   Although, it wasn't until products like the RepRap and Makerbot showed up that this technology has been taken off because of the sub-$1000 price point to get started. 

People are using this technology to print just about anything, for example you can print: random or customized objects, usable products (such as shoes, spare parts, gun receivers, etc.), and even food.

Lisa Harouni: A primer on 3D printing

3D printing has come to the point where you can convert pictures into an editable 3D object which can then be printed.  In the video below a person took several pictures of an object (from several different angles) and then used AutoCAD 123D to convert it into into an editable 3D object.


Current State of 3D Printing
All the early 3D printers were build it yourself projects (requiring: gears, motors, electronics, and other parts), but more manufactures are now offering per-assembled products or complete kits that you can build yourself.  After you build or buy your printer, configure it and set it up.  Then you can go to sites like Thingiverse, or use software like SketchUp or Autodesk 123D to create the objects that you want to print.

Its important to understand that the personal 3D printer market is still in its infancy.  The current personal 3D printer technology is pretty good today, but it's far from perfect and has a long way to go.  The technology is constantly getting better and cheaper all the time. 

The current resolution of most personal 3D printers under $1000 might be more rough then what you might expect.  For example the image below is from the Form 1 Kickstarter project, which demonstrates the difference between the conventional sub $1000 3D printer using theextruded plastic technology vs. stereolithography used by the Form 1.


The Future of 3D Printing
In the near future people will be able print human organs and custom houses.

Contour Crafting: Automated Construction: Behrokh Khoshnevis at TEDxOjai

Anthony Atala: Printing a human kidney

Resources and Getting Started
If you want to get started designing objects to print in 3D, below are some popular free resources (software and websites) that are used by hobbyist:
  • Thingiverse (Finding pre-built 3D objects)
  • SketchUp (Creating 3D objects from the ground up)
    • Some people, also like to use products like:
      • OpenSCAD (a programmable solid 3D CAD Modeller)
      • Blender (an open source, cross platform tool for 3D creation)
      • InkScape.(an open source, cross platform tool)
  • Autodesk 123D (Creating 3D objects from photographs)

It's worth noting 3D printing is not like conventional paper printing where you just select Print from the File menu and its done.  After you create your 3D object it will have to be exported into an STL file, which then have to be converted into G-Code to be used by your printer.  The .STL file format is currently the most universal way of sharing digital 3D objects.

Like a conventional printer which uses supplies like paper and ink to print a document.  3D printers use a plastic filament that comes in spools.  This plastic filament can be purchased from several different sources.



Image from: Thingiverse


Before you buy a 3D printer, check out HackerSpaces.org to find a local HackerSpace or just do a search in your favorite search engine to see if there are any Fab Labs in your local area that may offer this service at a low cost.  Some of these places are also equipped to help you get started and answer your questions about the technology.

Next Generation Consumer 3D Printer
If you need a 3D printer that has a higher resolution, check out products like the FORM 1 on Kickstarter:

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