3D Printing
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3D Printing

I first got interested in computers and CAD in the early 1980's and started using cad in office practice beginning in 1986. Then I read about 3d printing in a computer aided design magazine the late 1980's.

I saw my first 3d printer in 1995 at the Eastern Expo in Springfield Mass. the machine was a photo reactive stereo lithography printer with a co2 laser built by 3D Systems and it cost $250,000.

That was about 20 years ago and I have had prints made at different times along the way on a variety of different machines using a number of different technologies.

The question I am now interested in answering is, “Are 3d printers at a point where they are economical and trouble free enough to become a household tool.”

One way to evaluate the question would be to use a production machine but even better way would be to make one. So I bought a kit in December of 2014 put it together, got it working and started doing prints.

 I have been trying to work on a set of designs that will help provide some perspective on the question. The prints are all at about the same size and weight so they have consistent printing time of approximately 2.5 hrs.. The Typical vase is 8cm. X 5cm. having a volume of 21cm.3. I felt that any longer print time would be hard to complete introducing errors and a shorter print time would mean a smaller less interesting object. Maintaining similar size and weight creates a demanding design problem but gives consistent parameters for evaluating the success of the machine as a house hold tool.

I have been designing and producing product for about 6 months and have some basic impressions. The machines are not easy to put together, trouble shoot and run in a production setting. Also some of the extrusion equipment is more trouble free than others. Putting a printer together from scratch is very helpful later in trouble shooting mechanical software and hardware problems. If you simply bought an off the shelf product you would have no perspective on how to approach the problems that I have encountered in production.

Two examples of the kind of problem you would encounter are one that you have to use different soft instructions to the control board for different hardware and two it is relatively common to have a jam in the print head. Both of these problems are going to exist in repairing a off the shelf machine when the print head jams.

Now what are you going to print. There is a reasonable amount of soft model stuff for free on the net but there isn't enough material to solve any problem on a day to day basis.

Designing 3d parts is a special skill which is not easily acquired. The material properties of a printer are ok for visual design but lack the strength to do many chores that you might encounter for instance if you wanted to replace a broken handle on a water facet on the side of your house.

My judgment is that the 3d printer isn't there yet as a "house hold tool" and that you should expect to have a significant learning curve in trying to use one. New materials such as carbon fiber infused PLA or ABS are on the horizon. But for most of the kind to things people need on a daily basis you still have to look to your local hardware store. On the other hand, they're a lot of fun to play with if you like that kind of thing.