Tag Archives: 3Dprint

3D Printing News Round-Up

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but 3D printing seems to be in the news every other week these days!

[For background, here’s my intro to 3D printing, and here are my two posts from the last two months on the process of assembling my very own 3D printer for the classroom.]

Here’s a summary of recent news items on how 3D printing is changing the future:

  • Here’s a video overview from PBS, entitled “Will 3D Printing Change the World?”. It’s an excellent video, about how 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing, including discussions of mass customization, consumers becoming creators, potential economic effects, copyright issues, printing living tissue/organs, and environmental uses of 3D printers. I shared it with my students, and I definitely recommend that you check it out:
  • According to NPR, 3D printing “democratizes who gets to be in the manufacturing business. You don’t need a giant factory and million-dollar machines. You just need $500 and a garage.” (source). Or, due to the fact that many local community colleges have 3D printers with some degree of public access, and the rise of printondemand websites, you don’t even need the $500, only the cost of the material (plus a little mark-up for the websites).
  • 3D guns has been a huge topic of conversation recently, following the video demonstration of the “Liberator” gun last month (link1, link2). Since then, the 3D-printable STL file was made available online, was downloaded more than 100,000 times, and then was ordered removed by the State Department. However, the files still exist on the internet (of course – nothing ever disappears from the internet!) and can be downloaded from music/file sharing sites (article). The guns are quite dangerous, both to the target and to the user. New York City legislators have proposed a restriction and a ban on the guns.
  • In tastier news, 3D-printed pizza may be on its way! NASA is investing in research and development of a pizza-printing-prototype (link1, link2). Not sure how soon you’ll be seeing any 3D-printed meals, though, unless you’re an astronaut headed into space. This article, however, envisions a future where 3D printing helps feed an overpopulated world.
  • In organ printing news, Princeton engineers have printed an ear and combined it with electronics so that it can hear radio signals! (article)
  • 3D-printed houses are the next big thing on the horizon! One may even be built (the facade anyway) by the end of this year, printed out of plastic and wood fiber. This article discusses and shows some weirder-looking architecture that may be coming about due to 3D printing. But, to me, the most amazing advance in 3D building technology is what I saw in this video, where a huge 3D printer prints structures out of concrete. I really encourage you to watch the full 12-minute video, but at least check out the following three highlights: At 4:30 is an animation of 3D printing a house; at 5:50 the animation shows how reinforcement, plumbing, and electrical components can be mechanically inserted into walls; and at 6:45 is a live demonstration of the real machine printing out concrete.
  • Finally, 3D printing has made it into pop culture – check out the music video for “Scream & Shout” by will.i.am & Britney Spears.


Filed under engineering

3D Printing Update

Finally Finished!

Wow, it took me almost two months to build, but I finally completed building my 3D printer from PrintrBot! Two weeks ago, I put the finishing touches on it by calibrating the motors and attempting to level everything out. [The reason I’m not writing until now is because we’ve been focused like a laser for the last two weeks on working toward our PLTW program’s 5-year re-certification, which we achieved on Friday.]

3D Printer, complete

3D Printer, complete

Along the way, I had to troubleshoot various problems (most of my own making):

  • not seeing an asymmetric hole pattern until it was too late
  • one misaligned hole
  • limit switch wire accidentally torn off
  • putting the wrong gear where a pulley-belt system should go
  • motors moving in the wrong direction
  • a pulley-belt system that was slipping over the motor axle and not moving the extruder along the x-axis the way it should
  • incorrectly feeding the plastic material into the extruder

To solve these problems, I used my own engineering knowledge accumulated over the last six years, another teacher’s expertise and tools, and PrintrBot’s online videos and help fora. As mentioned before, I feel that having made these (and many smaller) mistakes and learning how to fix them has really given me a better understanding of the gears, pulleys, bearings, ball screws, nuts/bolts, switches, motors, and wiring that go into making my 3D printer. I also think I have a more concrete understanding of how 3D printing works, and hopefully will be able to fix my printer if it were to break or need improvements.

3D Printer close-up

3D Printer close-up

Even closer on the extruder

My First Print

I took (PrintrBot founder) Brook Drumm’s recommendation for my first print, the “Mr. Jaws” shark figure.

The program that runs the printer, Pronterface, estimated that it would take 45 minutes to complete the shark.

My computer screen, showing Pronterface

My computer screen, showing Pronterface with machine controls, shark figure, & program

On my first try, I had trouble getting the ABS plastic to stick to the printbed, so I increased the bed’s temperature. Here’s some filament that extruded but did not contribute to the shark design:

ABS Plastic, extruded

ABS Plastic, extruded

After a few more minutes of heating up, this time it worked!

Here is the first-layer outline of the shark:

Outline done!

Outline done!

Here you can see that it is starting to fill in the outlines:

Half a layer done

And here it is after completing approximately three layers (one filling in the shape up and down, the next left and right, and so on):

Two layers done

I figured I would have some time to grade papers while waiting for the print to finish, but instead I was mesmerized by the printing.

Starting to get some depth

Starting to get some depth to it

It was also cool to see that the program works using the same G&M codes that I teach my manufacturing engineering students to operate the CNC mill:

The G&M code program that will control the 3D printer and make a shark

The G&M code program that will control the 3D printer and make a shark

It built up slowly, layer by layer.

Almost done!

Almost done!

In thirty minutes, the shark was finished.

The Completed Mr. Jaws

The Completed Mr. Jaws

You can see some errors, like the strands between fin and tail where the filament turned a corner but the corner didn’t stick. And you can see the granularity of some of the layers is not as fine as on a more expensive 3D printer. But, all in all, for something that cost only a few hundred dollars, and that I built myself, I’m very proud of what it did!

Shark Attack!

Shark Attack!

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Filed under engineering, teaching

3D Printer

As I have discussed before, 3D printing is all the rage in engineering and manufacturing circles. The price of 3D printing has come down enormously in recent years: from about eight years ago, when most 3D printers were in the $15,000-20,000 range, to now, when you can find them as cheap as $400! With this, there has also been an explosion of 3D printing services, where you can send a 3D model and have them print it out for you.

Earlier this year, I bought for my classroom a PrintrBot. It is a LaserCut, version 1, so with the teacher discount provided, my cost was less than $400.

I have been slowly building this 3D printer over the last five weeks (most days I don’t get any time to work on it; some days I can spare a half hour; every once in a while I can devote a few solid hours). I wanted to share my progress here.

As of Monday, I had completed the base structure, including the baseplate on which an object will be printed and the means by which it will slide forward or backward along the y-axis:

printrbot base

PrintrBot Base

Monday afternoon I completed the 3D printing apparatus (the extruder) that will melt the ABS plastic and deposit it in the right locations to create a three dimensional object:

PrintrBot Extruder

PrintrBot Extruder

The last two afternoons, I have made quite a bit of progress on the bridge that will move horizontally and vertically (x and z axes), carrying the extruder to where the part will be printed:

printrbot bridge

PrintrBot Bridge, Monday afternoon

printrbot bridge assembled

PrintrBot Bridge, assembled, Tuesday afternoon

printrbot bridge + extruder

PrintrBot Bridge with Extruder, Tuesday afternoon

In building it, I am coming to understand more about 3D printing, about mechanisms like gears and pulleys, about fitting things together like a puzzle, and about nuts and bolts (I even learned of a store called A&A Bolt and Screw near my school when I had to find a 3″ #6-32 bolt). I have had my share of errors along the way – for example, I didn’t notice the base rectangle was asymmetrical (by one small hole) until well into building with it, so I got to use  a scroll saw and a drill to correct my mistake rather than unscrew and untie all the pieces I had already built up. I also accidentally tore off one of the wires on a limit switch, so I asked one of the students learning how to solder in their Digital Electronics class to reconnect it for me! But I’m really enjoying all the work that goes into creating this 3D printer. And I can’t wait until it’s done, when both I and my students can see it in action!

I’d say I am 85% done with building the PrintrBot. After it is built, I will need to install software, calibrate the motors, and possibly troubleshoot any problems. Hopefully I should be done, and able to print out a part, by next week!


Filed under engineering

3D Printing

In CIM, we briefly discuss some of the rapid prototyping technologies that exist, including 3D printing. Two of my colleagues at school have 3D printers, and with them we can see one of the amazing ways a design can be transformed into a reality.

In contrast to the subtractive way that material is removed from a wooden block to make jewelry boxes, 3D printing is an additive process. Material is laid down and fused or solidified, one thin cross-sectional layer at a time.

3D printing is changing the way we make things. Usually things made in small quantities are expensive, with cost coming down if they are mass-produced. 3D printing is a relatively-cheap way to create something unique or low-volume. This is one reason it has often been used by engineers to create a physical prototype of some designed idea, that can be examined and tested (and revised), before moving on to the more expensive venture of producing the actual item created traditionally from the final materials.

But with more and more materials becoming 3D printable–beyond the usual plastics to goldtitanium, stainless steel–3D printing can be used not just for prototypes but for actual manufactured products. From art to jewelry to lamps to cup-holders to vases.

Fractal- T by Platform Studio & Matthias Bär ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Combining the conventional 2D techniques of printing and scanning is a way to make copies (e.g. the photocopier machine). The same can be done with 3D scanning, limited of course by materials and the fineness of the scanner. See Stephen Colbert’s head scanned and printed here.

3D printing also has ramifications in medicine. Bone and joint structure can be 3D printed, allowing more sophisticated implants and artificial limbs. Artificial blood vessels that are will be accepted by the body are near the point of being 3D printed. And organ scaffolds are being 3D printed that may one day allow for cell and organ regeneration.

Anyway, 3D printing is cool, I guess that’s my message here 🙂


Filed under engineering, teaching