What Will You Make with Your 3D Printer

3D Printer

Fancy a new vase or some unbreakable crockery for that camping trip, but haven’t got time to go shopping? What about a replacement for the broken spoke on your spectacles or an individually designed heads for your golf clubs? Or, how about a scale model of that new sports car your kids designed or a mini objet d’art created from photos of a Henry Moore sculpture? The possibilities for 3D printing are limited only by your imagination and what someone could come up with in a 3D drawing package or with CAD software.

3D printing, rapid prototyping, as it is often known, is not new. I first heard about 3D printing sometime in late 1980s while still a student. However, these devices, which have featured in TV shows such as CSI, could soon be coming to a workshop near you and may represent the biggest shift in commerce and manufacturing in decades. The Fab@Home wiki has more information on the technology, but 3D printing, essentially, turns a digitized representation of a solid object, which you might download, email, or create, into a real solid object. It using a vat of uncooked starting material (plastic, metal or alloy) and a laser, or other device, controlled by computer holding the digitized information to build up the object layer by layer.

There are numerous commercial 3D printers, known in some circles as fabbers, being used by the military for creating battle components in the field, in design studios for prototyping, and more recently for creating just about anything you care to name. However, once the killer app emerges, these machines will quickly enter the mainstream.

There are several videos of 3D printers in action on Youtube. But, I was brainstorming with my wife today, while walking the dog, to see if we could think of that killer app…clothes, disposable diapers or nappies, plastic paperclips, teacups, and buckets, were my first few suggestions. But, I blush to tell you what her first suggestion was…sex toys. Moreover, it’s our silicon wedding anniversary today, and all I could think was that she was trying to tell me something.

But, then it occurred to me, how 3D printing might rapidly move into the mainstream, and no, I’m not thinking of rubbery objects for the bedroom, but virtual gifts!

With the advent of social networking and web 2.0 communities there are often occasions when you might wish to reward or surprise someone you meet or interact with in such virtual spaces. Being sent a link to an interesting site, image, or music file as a gift is nice. But, what if you could send someone a solid object without actually having to buy it, package it up (discretely in some cases), and ship it out? A 3D printer suddenly becomes a way to spread the lurv in polymer resin. And, if you’re getting really close to that certain someone you met online, then you could always take on my wife’s original idea, and spread more than a little lurv, although I don’t a 3D printer exists yet that can produce 1.5 volt batteries.

What will you make with your 3D printer?

13 thoughts on “What Will You Make with Your 3D Printer”

  1. Of course, Russ, but you couldn’t constitute powdered protein and carbohydrate into a two-headed unicorn, or an Eiffel Tower with a kettle…


  2. yes, definitely, the killer app for non-domestic use will be printing tailormade replacement heart valves, even replacement organs in the far future, but what I’m trying to think of is the killer app that will make a 3D printer as essential in the home as a microwave oven. What replacable objects do we all buy again and again but never have enough of at just the right time?

  3. There’s every chance that the “killer app” will be medical applications, such as replacement valves, joints et cetera.

    Or, for complex machinery components that require a lot of specialized finishing, which could all be essentially grown…

  4. Yes, a nice little Amex card would be very handy…not sure how you’d fabb the magnetic strip or the chip and pin though ;-)

  5. I just corresponded with 3D printing expert Phil Anderson of Ramapo College and he pointed out that elastomers can already be used for 3D printing such as with selective laser
    sintering, so that rubbery objects are certainly possible. He also tells me that high-density ceramic prototypes are being produced using a few different rapid prototyping processes. Ceramics would open up the possibility of producing a baking tin for making cakes of almost any shape you could design.

    And, speaking of food, while he thought my notion of printing a hamburger using a carbohydrate and protein powder mix is not something that we will see in the near future, he did point out that there are some serious efforts going into “printing” food and a few US patents have already been issued in the area.

    Anderson also pointed me to a slightly more whimsical approach to 3D printing at Evil Mad Scientist, where they have taken automated sugarcraft to new levels.


  6. Mrs B may be on the right lines, though. It’s clear that sex has been a motivating force behind the adoption of many technologies, from home movie cameras to the internet. This may be the next, although I’d place my bet on something more, ahem, interactively tactile. Happy anniversary!

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