BY CARMEN PONCIANO
Humanity has experienced huge technological breakthroughs over the last decade, from innovative smartphones to incredible microprocessors. It is no wonder that we are in what some call a third industrial revolution. One device in particular is making international headlines – the 3D printer. It has the potential to change the manufacturing and medical industry as well as many others.
Though the technology for 3D printing has existed since the mid-’80s, it has now developed into something everyone can access. In fact, the words personal and desktop are becoming more common in the world of 3D printing.
One of the companies that opened the gate was MakerBot Industries, located in Brooklyn, N.Y. According to the documentary Printing the Next Legend, Bre Pettis, who is the co-founder of MakerBot Industries, said, “We are taking mainframe technology, stuff that was the size of your refrigerator, things we can’t afford, and we are putting them on desktops.”
3D printing at home is a form of home manufacturing where you take a digital file and make it into a solid object. By using the digital file, also known as a computer-aided design (CAD), and by using a 3D modelling program, one can create a 3D object by having the printer extrude the plastic and build it layer by layer. Personal printers range in price from $1,500 to $6,500, depending on how large it is, and you don’t have to be a genius to use one.
There is also the possibility of building your own personal 3D printer thanks to websites like Repetier that have what they call an open source community in which they post information ranging from how to build one, to ways that you can improve them. Scott Groleau of Kitchener and his son Kyle did just that.
By using different types of metal scrap, a mini computer which acts as the brain of the printer, 240 volts and an application called Slic3r (G-code generator for 3D printing), which you can control from your own phone, they have successfully built their own printer and have fully printed an object.
“It’s not your ordinary 3D printer, it has four printing heads and can print four different materials and colours at the same time. It’s liquid cooled and is controlled by WiFi,” Groleau said.
But it has not been an easy project. Father and son have had to make room on their upper floor to build the printer since it is large, about three feet wide and six feet high. Not to mention the technological process behind this specific design.
“We had printed with another (printing) head but we had to do a lot of different changes. It worked but the inaccuracies would show and it would be transferring along and then just stop, load more data and continue,” Groleau said.
So far they have been able to successfully print a box-like object with a 3D triangle inside along with other small shapes which sit on Groleau’s desk. He hopes to be able to print using different types of materials like carbon fiber and wood fiber. In addition, he would like to expand on his printer design by adding a touch screen for easy navigation.