Written by: Gina Abbas
In a world where instant gratification and technology have taken over, it’s no surprise that 3D printers have seen a surge in sales. 3D printing is no longer a concept of the future; these machines are now mass-produced and a basic model can be purchased for $200 or less. To some, this is still a thing of disbelief: the idea that a gear or an action figure or even a circuit board can be mimicked or designed and printed all from one machine certainly seems like a faraway concept; one that is still reserved solely for commercial labs or research.
But the future is here. And at TechFarms, we are living it.
The true birth of 3D printing first began in 1981, when a Japanese scientist applied for a patent, but was denied after failing to file the patent requirements before the deadline. At that time, the concept was known as rapid prototyping, and would not be widely referred to as 3D printing until around 1986. It was then that the first successful patent was secured by an American inventor named Chuck Hull and in 1987, his first 3D printing machine was developed.
TechFarms tenant, Sean Hoffman, has been evaluating our newest printer – the Ultimaker 3 Extended addition which features dual print heads that allow simultaneous printing of two different types of materials. Sean and other tenants have been printing a wide variety of items using various filaments and have been impressed with the results.
“The basic idea is that you’re printing things in 3 dimensions instead of 2,” he answered when asked how he would describe 3D printing to a novice. “Regular printers print on a flat sheet of paper. 3D printers would print that sheet of paper from plastic, but add sides.”
So how does 3D printing actually work?
According to Sean, it’s rather simple.
“First, you start with a 3D model, which serves as the “blueprint” for the design. Next, you feed the model to the software, which uses “Slicing” to convert the model into something the printer can read. The printer then uses melted plastic to build the object.”
“Slicing is basically the industry term for the way the software takes the object you want to create and vertically “slices” it into thin sheets so the printer can understand how to print it one layer at a time. The printer itself cannot understand what to do until the object is sliced by the software. Most 3D printers come with their own software, but there are other free programs out there that work just the same, if not even better.”
While TechFarms’ 3D printers can only print using plastic, more advanced machines exist, though they are far more expensive. Some can print with metals and even have bigger print beds, making them capable of printing much larger objects.
Though 3D printing has become a household concept, the potential for what it could be used for is growing. Some companies hope to be able to expand the ability to print custom parts for outdated technology held onto by consumers (laptops, cameras, cars), while others are working to use this technology to successfully print human organs. Over the next several years, it is expected that rapid prototyping will continue to rapidly change the world we live in today.
3D Insider: A Detailed History of 3D Printing
Sean Hoffman, Software Developer