What is a 3D printer? Well, it let’s you print anything you want (up to a certain size) in ABS plastic, basically the same material that Legos are made out of. It’s an open source design that is based on the Arduino platform and few other custom electronics, motors, and stuff.
Here’s Bre Pettis, one of the Makerbot co-founders (who I met at SXSW a few years ago), explaining the process along with some video of the Thing-O-Matic in action:
The printer shown in the video (complete with green LED lighting) is exactly what I ordered (in kit form) plus a spool of some green ABS plastic filament (it comes with a starter supply of ‘natural’ plastic) and the Gen 4 Interface Kit so I can print without a computer attached (from SD cards). It’s a kit so I’ll have to assemble it all and I’ve read it can take anywhere from 12-20 hours to assemble it depending on the assembler. I’m hoping to be somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
So what will I print with it? That’s tough to answer at this point. My mind is racing with all kinds of ideas of things to use it for. Makerbot has a website, Thingiverse, where people post their designs to share with other 3D printer owners. It’s a database of all kinds of cool stuff people are dreaming up and printing. Another cool thing about having a 3D printer is that you can literally print things that can improve your 3D printer directly like this spool holder for the plastic filament.
I also wanted to share this video from Ignite Phoenix, called Why I love my 3D Printer which should give you some more insight into why I think this is the future and fun:
Some things that have caught my eye so far that I want to print include lego pieces (any size, color & quantity I want!), project boxes for my Arduinos, Space Invaders, mounts for my GoPro camera, a Flying Spaghetti Monster, a toy helicopter for a friend’s son, some new frames for my glasses, my own Millennium Falcon, even some designer jewelry for my girlfriend.
This gearset is particularly interesting as it really shows the potential of the printer in creating items that snap together, and use no glue or fasteners of any kind. Here’s a video of the finished product:
As you can see, there are tons of things to be printed and I haven’t even mentioned the ability to create & scan your own stuff! Using a Microsoft Kinect (meant for an Xbox 360), you can use it as a 3D scanner:
If you’ve got a Kinect and a Mac, check out the software options yourself – it’s plug and play. Microsoft has also released an official Kinect SDK for Windows you can also check out. I had my Kinect pointed at my desk from behind me and it felt a little like Tron and that I’d be scanned into “the Grid”. I’m still learning how to scan stuff but so far my scans have turned out pretty good…we’ll have to wait and see how well they print out though. I’ll also be printing a tripod adapter for my Kinect as well.
Of course, you can also create stuff in various 3D software packages (there are some great opensource ones) and then load them into the printing software which will then do all the calculations to print it in plastic. More on this aspect in future posts.
I haven’t received my printer yet, it’s currently in transit. I found out (ironically due to the Canadian Postal strike) that there is actually a Canadian distributor (based in Saskatchewan) for Makerbots which saves us Canadians $100s in shipping, duties and brokerage fees. It’s also a much cheaper way to get plastic supplies for the printer although I am still looking for a Vancouver based supplier. Greg @ Makerbot.ca has been very helpful so far and I’ve had a number of email exchanges and even a phone call about using the Thing-O-Matic. Great service so far and I don’t even have it yet!
Stay tuned as I plan on documenting the assembly of the printer along with my first few 3D prints…this really does feel like the future.
PS. If this kind of thing interests you in the least, you should check out the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire, happening this weekend (June 25-26) in Vancouver. I don’t know if there will be any Makerbots at the faire but there will be a few Reprap machines on display which are similar 3D printing systems. See you there!
UPDATE (June 21): My makerbot has arrived! Now the assembly process begins.
Here’s a few photos of the unboxing:
I’ll be posting more photos of the build process, which will likely take about a week, on Flickr.