Entering the World of 3D Printing

Entering the World of 3D Printing

A few years ago, DMC entered the world of 3D printing by building a Thing-O-Matic. This printer was... special in that it contained a lot of questionable design decisions, but it allowed us to do something amazing. We could create 3 dimensional objects out of ABS plastic!

However, being able to print something and design it are two different things. The limited build volume of the T-o-M was also so limiting that the printer sat largely unused. That is until I started hacking away at it to educate myself on this whole "3D printing" thing. I quickly learned a few things.

First and foremost, tinkering with 2D CAD to create a heat exchanger drawing back in 1994 is not nearly enough CAD skills to design something in 3D. Fortunately, Autodesk has Fusion 360 with price ranges from free to reasonably inexpensive depending on your use case. Hours of effort later, I had managed to extrude our logo into a 3 dimensional shape which I was able to use in designs. The tools associated with the printer can be challenging to learn, but persistence pays off.

The next thing I learned was that even in the years since the T-o-M was released, the consumer/hobbyist space for 3D printers is still very much an art rather than a science. Even a new printer up in the $2,000 range gets you the same collection of components you could buy to assemble your own printer and a pre-made design does not necessarily equate to a well thought out design.

Thirdly, even with a perfectly tuned machine, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, and it may take numerous attempts before you get what you want  from the printer (see photo).

It was with some trepidation that I wound up buying a Robo 3D during a KickStarter campain last year. I waited many impatient months for the Robo 3D to arrive. Upon arrival, I found that just like the old T-o-M, I had received a set of components that had sort of been assembled into something that sort of printed, and I had to modify it dramatically to get the quality I wanted out of it. Today, the only original parts of the printer are the motors, the base, and some of the wires. The newest generation of this model looks promising, though, and will be much more likely to work well out of the box.

For the office, though, we needed something more refined, and we decided to replace the T-o-M with something more modern. So, we settled on an Ultimaker 2. The difference between my printer and the UM2 is almost indescribable. There is a level of polish on the UM2 that is almost appliance-like. Unfortunately, there are still the roots of open-source hardware and software on this printer. The attempts to isolate the user from some of the settings is moderately frustrating but the print quality can be amazing.

Given that 90% of all consumer grade 3D printing is printing parts to improve the printer that is printing the part or ever increasing detailed prints of Yoda, I now have to figure out what to do with this new toy useful tool we have in the office.

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