It was 1985, Gary and Wyatt made a women with their computer in the movie Weird Science, and I got my first printer, it was a Dot matrix, it was an Epson and was a hand-me-down from a friends Dad who worked for Xerox. That printer served me well for a few years and I vividly remember printing out assignments for my A-Levels at 3am in the morning... much to the dissaproval of my parents, printing anything out on a Dot Matrix printer could wake the dead!
Fast-forward nearly 30 years and our first 3D printer arrives at the office, it was like birthday and Christmas rolled into one! We are now the proud owners of a Makerbot Replicator 2, and my colleague Chris and I got straight to work, or should I say play! Here's me below, and yes, I kind of read the instructions in the same way most selfrespecting bloke does, a causal glance... In fact, I went straight to You-Tube to find a couple of short videos to get started, then used intuition from there.
It was relatively easy to set up, once you've unpacked it, connected up the spool of printing filament and inserted the printing plate. The LCD display gives you instructions to level up the printing plate, and then you’re ready to start printing! I think the whole unboxing and set up took less than 30 minutes, but then we were like kids on Christmas morning, so hours may have flown by.
The Makerbot 3D printer comes with some ready to print examples on an SD card, so we popped that in, and looked to see what we could make as our first print, for some reason we chose a bracelet!
By this time we had started to attract a lot of attention the office, pretty soon we had a crowd of quizzical people pointing at it and asking "what's that?". Some of the older generation in the office likened it to the moment they first saw a fax machine, others just seemed to be in an hypnotic stance, mesmorised by the printing process.
Printing a bracelet took about 20 minutes. It in fact turned out to be a great example of what a 3D printer can do. The bracelet was stretchy and quite robust and was met with awe by our office colleagues.
So, what's all the fuss about? Well you're not going to get rich with a counterfeit Lego production line, neither will Gary and Wyatt be able to print out their dream women. What you can do is many other cool things! As a business you can create 3D prototypes of things to aid and speed up your product design process. From a personal perspective, you can do so much. Broken a plastic bracket of something at home?, no problem, draw it up in a 3D CAD package and print it out. Need a piece of Lego that doesn't exist?, no problem, design it and print it out! There's so many uses from a DIY perspective and it is an essential tool if you're in the "Maker Space".
OK, so they are a little expensive, this one was about £1500, but you can build your own open source RepRap 3D printer for under £500, in fact, I understand the Makerbot 3D printer we have here is based on the RepRap design. So the RepRap is a bit less reliable and requires a certain level of tinkering, but the price point is lower and there are even groups around the world that get together to build them, like the Thames Valley RepRap group near where I live in the UK.
Here's some other things we printed out. We used a 3D model we had of a Raspberry Pi to create a Pi case in our new DesignSpark Mechanical CAD package. We also printed out a Shot Glass... which I am yet to test :0)