Two years ago I entered the world of 3D-printing, what started as an experiment evolved into something that consumes multiple hours of my time, almost every week. Is 3D-printing really the future and will it change our lives? In this post I will try to explain how 3D-printing integrated itself in my life and how I think it will take over all of our lives in the near future.
First of all, 3D-printing isn’t new! It already existed in the late nineteen hundreds but the real breakthrough was back in 2000 at MIT. They developed it as a form of rapid prototyping, later on they passed their licenses on to six different companies, who were to develop it further. In 2005 the 3D market really exploded with the arrival of RepRap, a company that sells affordable 3D-printers for home usage. The best thing about these printers is that they can self-replicate, meaning that if you know someone with a 3D-printer you would only have to buy the hardware, the rest could be printed! From this moment on 3D-printing became part of many people’s lives and more and more companies started focusing on developing 3D-printers.
My first steps
As mentioned before my 3D-printing story started about two years ago. I bought myself a RepRap Ormerod Pro, this was a kit so I had to put it together myself. After about two days my printer was ready for testing. This is when the frustration started, I tried over and over again but the printer just wouldn’t print. My disappointment was huge, but I knew before I bought my printer that 3D-printing was for tinkerers and that you would have to try lots of things to get it working. Back then 3D-printing was something for “computer geeks” only. If you weren’t prepared to put your time into it and just wanted a printer that worked out of the box, you shouldn’t have bought a printer. Nowadays this kind of printers also exists, e.g. Ultimaker. After a few weeks I finally got my printer working, it wasn’t perfect (yet) but it worked. My biggest frustration was warping, the plastic cooled to quickly which made the corners of my prints lift up. Especially with larger prints it was difficult to print a nice flat bottom for the model. This was fixed later on by putting a new (higher temperature) thermostat in my printer and remeasuring and straightening the angles of my axes.
After I got my printer fully operational it was time to print some awesome stuff. So I went online, searched some models and stumbled on a site called thingiverse. This is an awesome site where you can find almost every model you can imagine. The models are free to download for everyone, so another plus for thingiverse. I think this site has great potential for the future as 3D-printing will get more integrated in our lives. For example if you lose or break the battery cover of your remote control, you could just search the site using your model number, download the right file and print a new cover. It’s really as easy as that!
Off course a future in which everybody owns a 3D-printer is far from near, so what to do in the in the meantime? For this particular problem exists another great site called 3D Hubs. 3D-hubs is a site where owners of a 3D-printer can register their printer and make some money with it. You can search the site for a hub nearby, upload the file you’d like to be printed and you’ll be able to print your file at an attractive price! To get your print you can choose between delivery or pick up. Sounds like a good deal doesn’t it? Well it is a good deal, everyone wins! Owners can make a little money with their printers, and people who don’t own a printer can print files at a bargain price. Students even get an extra discount which makes 3D-Hubs even more attractive! You can find my hub and calculate prices just by clicking the red button below.
So is 3D-printing really the future? In my opinion it is. First of all it will be better for the environment. Instead of shipping replacement parts from large companies across the world and storing them in large warehouses, companies will be able to just place some printers send their replacement parts over the internet and print them at location. Also 3D-prints can easily be recycled, when a print is no longer needed or broken you can just shred it and use the material for a new print. Secondly 3D-printing will make our lives way easier. If you search sites like thingiverse you’ll stumble on some great things that solve live problems. It also works like a community, if you need a file for something and someone already made it then you can just download it and print it. But if there isn’t a model that solves your problem yet, you can design a model yourself and upload it so others can benefit from your work as you benefit from theirs. The use of 3D-printing is becoming more and more popular with the arrival of new printers that work immediately out of the box, like for example the Ultimaker extended 2+ that was presented today at CES2016. This way 3D-printing finds it way to people who aren’t computer geniuses and more and more people take up printing. So 3D-printing is the future? Yes I think so, but I also think so that it won’t be for tomorrow. It might still take multiple years before 3D-printing gets perfected, cheaper and easier. Till that day, 3D-printing will probably remain something related to computer nerds and maybe even magic for some people. If you would like to see some of my prints from the past two years I would like to refer you to my instagram account as I often post my prints there!