You’re sitting at your desktop ready to go. You’ve got whatever design software you’ve chosen all fired up on your computer and your gleaming new 3D printer is tingling beside you. Now the question becomes, what do you print with all this?
Well, the simple answer would be anything you can imagine.
But that’s not entirely true. Especially not while using the current state of technology in the desktop branch of the 3D printing industry. That isn’t to say it’s primitive or even poorly engineered, (well, for the most part, in any case), just that currently it’s slightly limited.
This is particularly true if you decide to build your own printer from sites such as Reprap. Even though these printers still have a lot of options for what you can print with them, they usually have small print areas and you can clearly make out the layers in the printed plastic or any material you choose to use after printing is completed.
Although, if you know what you’re doing, your objects will come out looking great, like this plastic statue (the white one to the right) scanned from the original (on the left) and printed on a Reprap printer.
But currently, what sorts of objects can people print using these machines?
Well, for starters there’s the Chocolate Creator from ChocEdge. Yes, you read that right: chocolate! You can 3D print chocolate. A team of scientists (that became the company ChocEdge) from the University of Exeter have developed a process they dubbed ‘Chocolate Additive Layer Manufacturing”, or ChocALM for short.
Choc Creator by ChocEdge
This process uses molten chocolate as many other 3D printers use plastic; pumping it through carefully temperature regulated nozzles and layer-by-layer the chocolate hardens. They have used this process to create their Chocolate Creator printer, which has just gone on the market.
Or, if chocolate isn’t your thing, you can print robots! My Robot Nation, which has just been acquired by 3D systems, is a mail-order customizable plastic robot creator. You can go on their website and create a unique little robot with different options for heads, arms, decorations, body types, etc… using a web GL application inspired by video game user interfaces. (The founders of My Robot Nation came out of the video game industry.) There are literally 9 billion different combinations of robot features you can add on, which is great for individualized gifts.
The robots are then 3D printed and made out of gypsum powder, which is quite similar to plaster of Paris. Then My Robot Nation puts your robot through the mail for delivery. Now, because My Robot Nation has been acquired by 3D Systems, makers of the new Cube 3D printer, it seems quite likely that very soon you will be able to print these robots or something like them straight onto your own desktop 3D printer.
Speaking of the Cube, when customers order this new printer (which prints plastic), twenty-five pre-made designs come with it free. These include designs such as a platform shoe (complete with a space to hold your iPhone), cups, buttons, a bracelet which holds an itouch, even a chain-link glove ala Michael Jackson.
Cube Highheel with iPhone case
On top of all these nifty designs, 3D systems has built Cubify, a space where cube “artists” can share and monetize their custom-made designs in an online market place. This is not a new idea. There are several online market places for 3D printed objects. These include Shapeways, where, among a myriad of other objects, a user can either download designs for or order through the mail custom-made iPhone cases. Some even have 3D print words (that you can design yourself) onto them! MakerBot’s Thingiverse provides a similar interface for sharing 3D designs among owners of MakerBot printers.
Indeed, with MakerBot’s Replicator, you can make a wide variety of 3D objects. Due to its double extruder capabilities, you can even print in two colors! (Like the blue and green globe at the top of the article.)
You can even order a small motor and rubber wheels from MakerBot, and download design files that can be used to build your very own, customizable remote control car. (The Botmobile) And if you’re really ambitious you can print a Reprap printer out of your MakerBot printer.
All of these online marketplaces for 3D designs point to the future of consumer items. Really, they won’t be “consumer items” anymore. Consumers will be participants in the creation of the objects they make and buy. (see the above video, 2:20 on) Even now, when people need a new doorknob or other such household item, they can scan and print it, while making their own unique modifications or adding the modifications from a fellow creator in the marketplace. The era of mass production is truly over. The era of democratized design in community has begun.
Video courtesy of Explainingthefuture.com
Images courtesy of Reprap, ChocEdge, My Robot Nation, Cubify, MakerBot