Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"So what do you use a 3D printer for?"

Through all my rants and bantering to people in my life about 3D printing, no matter what, they always ask me..."So what do you use a 3D printer for?".

When I was first getting into the hobby, the question was followed shortly by a long pause. Now with a year of 3D printing under my belt, I tend to leave them in amazement with my 3D printing adventures.

So as most of you don't know, I am a recent college graduate (University of Maryland). So during my graduation party, beer and food was aplenty, but what was missing was something to open the said beer with. So most normal people would go out and buy one or use a more drastic measure of opening beer bottles (smashing caps off, using their teeth comes to mind). Me? I had recently built and assembled a 3D printer (MakerBot CupCake #1727), so what I did was run down to my computer, load up a bottle opener from thingiverse. Loaded it up and my MakerBot started to print away, some minutes later, ripped it off the platform, inserted a penny and beer bottles were poppin'. Party SAVED! Thanks to 3D printing.
Party Savior! Still alive and poppin' bottles.
After accumulating a small army of 3D printers in my basement, it really has changed the way I see and consume things. My daily interactions with objects has me thinking, "I could def make that!". My usual instincts would have been "I wonder how much something like that would cost?" It offers a new perspective in which objects/things you would normally buy are only a download or design away. It is really amazing stuff.

So for me, my current uses of 3D printing varies. As you can see from the store section, I use it to print more 3D printers so more people can get 3D printing. I also use it to fix things around the house, make items I would normally have to travel to IKEA or a hardware store to buy like handles, hooks/hangers, bottle openers and the list goes on and on. This is bleeding edge stuff, and with everyday that passes, the potential for such technology really amazes me. Frostruder from MakerBot Industries gives hint to a day where we can print food (Star Trek Replimat anyone?), RepRap with their experimentation in multi-material extrusions shows us a not so distant future where we can print our own circuitboards and others attaching different tools to their own 3D printers (lasers, spindles, etc.).
My failed attempt at designing a replacement gear for a paper shredder.
RepRap sets prepping for shipment
 Imagine this stuff in middle schools or high schools for instance (most colleges/universities seem to already have access). What a great tool for showing kids applications of what they are learning and have them walk away with tangible results! Looking towards the future, the question sometime soon will be "What can't you use a 3D printer?"

So, on a parting note, let me ask you, "What do you use a 3D printer for?"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Creating/Manipulating/Working with 3D models, the easy way (IMO)

There are a lot of great applications out there for individuals looking to work with 3D models. From thousands of dollars worth to the open source and free. I have personally chose to go with Google Sketchup for the time being.

My reasoning for doing so, mainly, its free. Second, it's pretty user intuitive. The learning curve for Sketchup was the least steep at least when compared to the other applications I was looking at (OpenSCAD, Inventor, Pro-E, Solidworks, etc. to name a few). It was the only program where I could jump into right away and create objects rather instantly. With the combination of the 2 previously mentioned reasons, it allows me to show people how to use it relatively easy as well. I could go on and on with reasons, but those are my main reasons.

RepRap Mendel created in Sketchup
So if you're up for using Sketchup, the stock setup won't get you doing anything insane. So you need some little things called plug-ins. Some of the plug-ins I have loaded into my Sketchup are the following:
  • skp_to_dxf.rb: this allows you to export your .skp file into a .stl or .dxf file.
  • drawhelix13.rb: this allows you to draw a helix, pretty useful for making threaded holes or even screws.
  • JimsSTLimporter.rb: this allows you to import .stl files to work with in the Sketchup enviroment.
  • wafer.rb: this allows you to create object which you can then generate g-code for your CNC machine. Will def come in handy when I get my CNC router up and running (keep telling myself it'll be soon)
Gear Assembly
These are the basic plug-ins you'll need to work with 3D files you download or create yourself.

If you are unsure how to load plug-ins for Sketchup, here is a quick how to:

Download the said files,

for Windows extract if you have to and copy and paste them into:

C:\Program Files\Google\Google SketchUp 8\Plugins

for Mac OS X:

User/Library/Application Support/Google Sketchup/

When you reach the Sketchup folder, you will have to create you own folder, name it "Plugins". No drag/drop/copy your downloaded files into you newly created file.

If you have any issues with the plug-in, it might because you are using the later version of Sketchup, which might not be compatible with the plug-in. I personally keep the most recent and the previous version around to be safe.

Although doing some more complex/ornate object in sketchup might take other applications, its great for most things. OpenSCAD is probably the next 3D modeling application I'll choose to tackle.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Enter the world of Making. First Stop, 3D Printers!

This is the year, the year where people start understanding all the thing I've been ranting about for the past year. The year the 3D printer goes MAINSTREAM! OK, maybe that's asking for a little much, but I expect big things for the 3D printing hobby this year.

The year 2010 might have been the year for MakerBot's, but the real vision in 3D printing (IMO) is with the RepRap project. I'm just shocked at how there aren't more people in the know about it. Self-replicating robots that make things?! What's there not to like about that?

So to lend a hand, I am offering sets of parts to make your own 3D printer! It's a shame to see the prices around the internet for sets. Cheapest set I could find on eBay was for approx. $99, so I'll start $1 on top (not to brag, but my print quality is pretty good). If you are trying to get a set for your hackerspace/node/makerspace/etc. or educational institution, please contact me (special pricing for you!). Also, I am still trying to source hardware parts (nuts,bolts, etc.) so as soon as that works itself out, that'll be available as well.

Every 3D printer sold helps to sustain my ability to crank out more sets. Ultimate goal is to create a RepRap farm to really drive costs down. The longterm target is to be able to get sets of RepRap down to $50 - $75, lower barrier of entry = more people with printers = more people making things = ???? (fill in with something everyone finds desirable).

Go take a look, current offerings are of the Prusa Mendel only. If you would like an alternative, feel free to contact me (Huxley, Sells Mendel, etc.). Having 4 personal 3D printers on hand does have its perks after all!

Imperial Prusa Mendel

My current area of interest in personal manufacturing lies withing 3D printers at the moment, but I have also invested in creating a CNC router and a laser cutter within this year. In the meantime, feel free to check out the best DIY resource I can find for CNC routers at And for the laser cutter, please check out (maybe even help fund them while you're there!).

Hardware kit from

3D printers RIGHT NOW! --> CNC Router --> Laser-cutter...that's the plan for now. Oh and of course I'll try and provide whatever kits I can in the process. Just check in often in the store.