The two 3D printers have arrived. One has been unboxed, assembled, and made operational. The second has been unboxed but awaits further attention. I have been trying to get a little smarter on this technology, which by the way, goes by the name of Additive Manufacturing (AM). The 3D printer works by gradually adding layer after layer of material slowly building up the object until it reaches completion. This is opposed to more traditional manufacturing which is subtractive in nature, e.g., material is cutaway to create the object. In some ways it can be compared with a sculptor who builds an object out of clay and shapes it into a finished object, maybe a duck vs. a sculptor that takes a block of stone and chisels away everything that does not look like a duck. Both end up with a duck, they just got there in different ways.
There are in fact, multiple types of 3D printers. Some, which use plastic for material, are more suited to the consumer market whereas others, are industrial in nature and product metal parts for jet engines. The techniques used vary quite dramatically. The printer I have up and running is the TAZ5 made by Lulzbot. It uses a method known as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which is a fancy name for a hot glue gun approach. The material is typically a plastic (ABS or PLA) filament that comes on a reel and looks a lot like weedeater string. The filament is fed into the heated print head where it is melted and very precisely extruded to form the object.
The first object I printed was a novelty piece called a Voronoi Tower. It is around 4 inches tall and 1.5 inches in diameter. Voronoi is a math concept that creates the perforated look. You can see from the two pictures that it slowly built up from nothing. The process took several hours.
From there I decided to print an old favorite, the “Little Man” from the Pink Panther cartoons. I found him on thingiverse.com which is a repository for 3D objects that people have designed and are ready to be downloaded and printed. You might recall this little fellow if you ever watched the cartoon on TV. The first print was only partially successful as I failed to observe a simple rule that you cannot start printing something in thin air. The little man’s arms which hang out in space did not come out too well. Fortunately, this problem has been solved and all you need to do is tick the box for it to generate and print support structure which you can see in the second picture. This structure is easily carved off with an Exacto knife. You can click on the pictures to make them larger.