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Tech Talk Live Blog

3D Printing – What is All the Hype About?

Don Dagen


My first exposure to 3D printing was at Penn State Behrend (Erie, PA) as a student completing a BS in Mechanical Engineering way back in 1989.  Two local corporations (I believe LORD and GE Locomotive) had each pitched in $500,000 to purchase the million dollar Stereolithography 3D printer (a laser cures a liquid resin, growing the object out of a pool).  Students ran this machine 24/7 to produce all of the prototypes that the investors needed.  When I watched the printer I felt mesmerized and transported into a futuristic Star Trek world.

Over the next 10 years, I saw this technology shorten product design and reduce new product launch costs at my day jobs in juvenile products and medical devices.  But I never imagined that in 2013 that I would end up buying a 3D printer for $300 and a year later, another for only $100.  Both of these companies launched their product on Kickstarter.  I have been learning to use my Printrbot Simple slowly since building it from a kit last December.  And I am still waiting on my Peachy Printer that cost $100 and uses the same process as the million dollar printer I watched at PSU Behrend.

So many things are fueling the buzz around 3D printing:

  • ​The do-it-yourself world found in Make Magazine and at Maker Faires or Instructables (a place where you explore, document, and share your DIY creations).
  • The open source hardware movement epitomized by Arduino, the “brain” controlling many 3D printers.
  • Crowdsourcing (Kickstarter, Indiegogo).
  • The lapse of patents from the original commercial 3D printers of the 90s.

​Basically, the 3D printer market has broken into 3 segments: the commercial printers costing $20,000 and up; the increasingly closed source, middle space owned almost exclusively by Makerbot at $1,375 to $6,499 (owned by one of the big players in commercial printers); and the low cost market where a new player pops up daily with printers from $100 to $2,000.  Lower costs result in more challenging printing, or a higher “tinker” mentality required to succeed.

Here are some examples of the things that I have 3D printed:

This was a tag of my twitter handle, notice the “en” is missing from @DonDagen. It broke off.  This is a good example of tinkering required.  I could change the model to strengthen the weak area with some 3D modeling time.

This is a model of earphone wraps in the shape of a pug from Thingiverse (a website dedicated to sharing user-created digital design files).  Notice the stringy and uneven layers, another example of tinkering required to get optimum prints.

This is another ear phone wrap found on Thingiverse.

This is my best print ever, a Christmas gift for my daughter.  It is also from Thingiverse.

My last example is a print from a model I created from an iPhone app called 123D Catch.  I took about 40 pictures of a wood turned bowl and then created a 3D model that I could print.  This resin is wood filled, so I could sand and stain it.

Next week I will blog about 3D printers in education.  How are they used?  Can anyone implement them?  What are the cost implications?

Don Dagen is an instructor at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, a new product development consultant, and a makerspace founder (Make717). Don is a Mechanical Engineer with a broad range of technical experiences in project, design, R & D, technical/automation sales, quality, and manufacturing engineering.  His interests lie in education, manufacturing and business development within​ automation, servos, robotics, and industrial vision solutions. He has also dedicated some of his spare time to teaching robotics to elementary-aged kids!

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