3D printing is hot

3D Printing Flies High now. Articles on three-dimensional printers are popping up everywhere these days. And nowadays there are many 3D printer products. Some are small enough to fit in a briefcase and others are large enough to print houses.

Everything you ever wanted to know about 3D printing article tells that 3D printing is having its “Macintosh moment,” declares Wired editor -in-chief Chris Anderson in cover story on the subject. 3D printers are now where the PC was 30 years ago. They are just becoming affordable and accessible to non-geeks, will be maybe able to democratize manufacturing the same way that PCs democratized publishing.

Gartner’s 2012 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Identifies “Tipping Point” Technologies That Will Unlock Long-Awaited Technology Scenarios lists 3D Print It at Home as important topic. In this scenario, 3D printing allows consumers to print physical objects, such as toys or housewares, at home, just as they print digital photos today. Combined with 3D scanning, it may be possible to scan certain objects with a smartphone and print a near-duplicate. Analysts predict that 3D printing will take more than five years to mature beyond the niche market. Eventually, 3D printing will enable individuals to print just about anything from the comfort of their own homes.Slideshow: 3D Printers Make Prototypes Pop article tells that advances in performance, and the durability and range of materials used in additive manufacturing and stereolithography offerings, are enabling companies to produce highly durable prototypes and parts, while also cost-effectively churning out manufactured products in limited production runs.

3D printing can have implications to manufacturers of some expensive products. The Pirate Bay declares 3D printed “physibles” as the next frontier of piracy. Pirate Bay Launches 3D-Printed ‘Physibles’ Downloads. The idea is to have freely available designs for different products that you can print at home with your 3D printer. Here a video demonstrating 3D home printing in operation.

Shapeways is a marketplace and community that encourages the making and sharing of 3D-printed designs. 3D Printing Shapes Factory of the Future article tells that recently New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the Shapeways‘ Factory (filled with industrial-sized 3D printers) ribbon using a pair of 3D-printed scissors.

The Next Battle for Internet Freedom Could Be Over 3D Printing article tells up to date, 3D printing has primarily been used for rapid commercial prototyping largely because of its associated high costs. Now, companies such as MakerBot are selling 3D printers for under $2,000. Slideshow: 3D Printers Make Prototypes Pop article gives view a wide range of 3D printers, from half-million-dollar rapid prototyping systems to $1,000 home units. Cheapest 3D printers (with quite limited performance) now start from 500-1000 US dollars. It is rather expensive or inexpensive is how you view that.

RepRap Project is a cheap 3D printer that started huge 3D printing buzz. RepRap Project is an initiative to develop an open design 3D printer that can print most of its own components. RepRap (short for replicating rapid prototyper) uses a variant of fused deposition modeling, an additive manufacturing technique (The project calls it Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) to avoid trademark issues around the “fused deposition modeling” term). It is almost like a small hot glue gun that melts special plastic is moved around to make the printout. I saw RepRap (Mendel) and Cupcake CNC 3D printers in operation at at Assembly Summer 2010.

There has been some time been trials to make 3D-Printed Circuit Boards. 3D Printers Will Build Circuit Boards ‘In Two Years’ article tells that printing actual electronics circuit boards is very close. Most of the assembly tools are already completely automated anyway.

3D printing can be used to prototype things like entire cars or planes. The makers of James Bond’s latest outing, Skyfall, cut a couple corners in production and used modern 3D printing techniques to fake the decimation of a classic 1960s Aston Martin DB5 (made1:3 scale replicas of the car for use in explosive scenes). The world’s first 3D printed racing car can pace at 140 km/h article tells that a group of 16 engineers named “Group T” has unveiled a racing car “Areion” that is competing in Formula Student 2012 challenge. It is described as the world’s first 3D printed race car. The Areion is not fully 3D printed but most of it is.

Student Engineers Design, Build, Fly ‘Printed’ Airplane article tells that when University of Virginia engineering students posted a YouTube video last spring of a plastic turbofan engine they had designed and built using 3-D printing technology, they didn’t expect it to lead to anything except some page views. But it lead to something bigger. 3-D Printing Enables UVA Student-Built Unmanned Plane article tells that in an effort that took four months and $2000, instead of the quarter million dollars and two years they estimate it would have using conventional design methods, a group of University of Virginia engineering students has built and flown an airplane of parts created on a 3-D printer. The plane is 6.5 feet in wingspan, and cruises at 45 mph.

3D printers can also print guns and synthetic chemical compounds (aka drugs). The potential policy implications are obvious. US Army Deploys 3D Printing Labs to Battlefield to print different things army needs. ‘Wiki Weapon Project’ Aims To Create A Gun Anyone Can 3D-Print At Home. If high-quality weapons can be printed by anyone with a 3D printer, and 3D printers are widely available, then law enforcement agencies will be forced to monitor what you’re printing in order to maintain current gun control laws.

Software Advances Do Their Part to Spur 3D Print Revolution article tells that much of the recent hype around 3D printing has been focused on the bevy of new, lower-cost printer models. Yet, significant improvements to content creation software on both the low and high end of the spectrum are also helping to advance the cause, making the technology more accessible and appealing to a broader audience. Slideshow: Content Creation Tools Push 3D Printing Mainstream article tells that there is still a sizeable bottleneck standing in the way of mainstream adoption of 3D printing: the easy to use software used to create the 3D content. Enter a new genre of low-cost (many even free like Tikercad) and easy-to-use 3D content creation tools. By putting the tools in reach, anyone with a compelling idea will be able to easily translate that concept into a physical working prototype without the baggage of full-blown CAD and without having to make the huge capital investments required for traditional manufacturing.

Finally when you have reached the end of the article there is time for some fun. Check out this 3D printing on Dilbert strip so see a creative use of 3D printing.


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    How about use Distance Sensor on your 3D printer
    it detects the distance from the nozzle to bed and then adjust Z axis height in real time.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Sub-$100 Easythreed X1 3D Printer, Is It More Than A Novelty?

    There was a time when a cheap 3D printer meant an extremely dubious “Prusa i3” clone as a kit of parts, with the cheapest possible components which, when assembled, would deliver a distinctly underwhelming experience. Most hackerspaces have one of these cheap printers gathering dust somewhere, usually with a rats-nest of wires hanging out of one side of it. But those awful kits have been displaced by sub-$200 printers that are now rather good, so what’s the current lowest end of the market? The answer lies in printers such as the sub-$100 Easythreed X1, which All3DP have given a review. We’ve been curious about this printer for a while, but $100 is a bit much to spend on a toy, so it’s interesting to see their take on it.

    What’s the Cheapest 3D Printer Actually Like to Use?

    Amid the battleground that is budget 3D printing, it’s easy to forget that even the likes of the Creality Ender 3 (a perennially cheap and recommended 3D printer) isn’t the cheapest. Far from it.

    It’s So Small

    First things first, the Easythreed X1 is small. That’s not surprising for a 3D printer that costs less than $100.

    Its build volume is a pipsqueakish 100 x 100 x 100 mm, and the printer itself is not much bigger at 210 x 210 x 250 mm (not counting the slim control box, which is umbilically attached and sits off to the side). For comparison’s sake, your typical Ender 3 style printer has a size in the region of 400 x 400 x 500 mm.

    The X1’s smallness is thrust on you when it gets delivered – the box it ships in is tiny. Barely larger than a spool of filament.

    To Easythreed’s credit, the presentation of the X1 is better than we’ve seen from printers many times its price. The X1 comes with a legible if a little small (yes, even the instructions are tiny) manual that walks you through the simple build process.

    It is virtually ready-to-run, with all of the main assemblies already built for you. All building requires of you is to slot together the cantilever style X- and Z- axes, screw them in place, and attach the spool holder. Fiddle-free and quick.
    Delicate, Dinky Printing

    With the internet’s cheapest 3D printer assembled before us and ready to run, it’s here that we can start to see why it’s so cheap. It feels incredibly fragile.

    Stepper motor cables are of a tiny gauge, and during one stage of the assembly, we trapped one, digging into the insulation and noticeably weakening it. Such cases may be why EasyThreed includes two spare stepper motors, with cables, in the box.

    Sitting flush on the desk, the whole thing wobbles, too. This is remedied somewhat by four tabs of sticky-back foam; provided.

    Everything here is a scale of magnitude smaller than found on pricier budget 3D printers. It’s clear why the X1 is advertised as a 3D printer for kids – it feels very much like a preassembled Arduino kit, small parts cobbled together for demonstration, rather than a productive 3D printing tool.

    Not So Hot Bed

    In almost every regard, the X1 is a beginner’s 3D printer. The experience is pared back, basic, and approachable. There’s no heated bed, though the mainboard inside can accommodate one. The hot end is capped to 230 ℃, so you’re limited to PLA. The path through the extruder and hot end isn’t tight, so flexible filaments are unlikely to work.

    For the act of simply toying around with 3D printing and rattling off a few trinkets or small, functional PLA prints, the X1 is adequate. The process of slicing and getting a surprisingly decent print off its flexible magnetic bed is effortless, just don’t expect dazzling results. Dimensional accuracy and the X1 are not good bedfellows, and only the simplest of prints, when printed slowly, have a pleasant finish to them.

    Extrusion seems strong and stable – any issues we’ve seen with prints we’ve completed on the X1 appears to stem from motion.

    The slicer, EasyWare, comes on a microSD card or can be downloaded online. It’s quirky. We’ll start with the good.

    EasyWare slices well, chewing models into machine-readable G-code in no time (using the Cura slicing engine).

    Crack open the advanced printing settings, and you have a lot greater control of the particulars of your print, just as you do in any of today’s popular free slicers.

    Besides this core functionality of slicing, EasyWare is a mess.

    Using the EasyThreed X1 is a mixed bag. There are constant reminders that it’s a ~$100 3D printer; every contortion of your fingers when twisting the four tiny bed-leveling thumbscrews, and with every explosive tangle of sample filament due to the printer’s inability to hold anything but the smallest of spools.

    The conspicuous lack of a display on the X1 is probably the most obvious sign that this is the cheapest 3D printer. Besides the cheerful plastic almost everywhere you look, of course.

    This lack of a display could’ve been a problem were it not for the printer being so utterly fool-proof. The X1’s control box features four buttons corresponding to four actions or functions.

    Hit Play

    Finally, there’s a “play” button, which does just that; it loads up the most recently sliced model on the microSD and “plays” (prints) it. Further presses will pause and unpause the print, and a long press will cancel the job outright.

    Such “headless” printing may seem a little daunting, but in practice, it works well enough on the X1. You are missing information on the state of the printer, including important things like the hot end temperature and time remaining. Still, over a few days of printing, we never found ourselves second-guessing what the printer was doing.

    Between the one-click slicing in EasyWare and the “play” button on the machine, you can prepare and print a model in just two button presses – something most printers can’t do.

    The Easythreed X1 is a little like an ogre, which is to say, a little bit like an onion. It has layers. Between the buggy slicer, lack of features, and fragility, there is a functional 3D printing experience and the occasional layer of refinement that has taken us by surprise. It’s easy to set up and easy to use. The prints may not be the prettiest, but it does print. The embodiment of cheap and cheerful.

    Unfortunately for the cheapest 3D printer, not a lot more money can get you a lot more printer. For all its charm (if you even are charmed by quaint, plasticky electronics), the X1 pales in comparison to many manufacturers’ base model 3D printers. The Voxelab Aquila (our current under-$200 pick) costs $159, less than $60 more than the X1’s ~$100, offers approximately eight times the build volume, silent printing, and a heated bed for wider material compatibility. Plus a display, of course.

    It’s a stark difference and easy to find multiple examples of. While the X1 has been a fun little departure from the typical 3D printing we do – it is undoubtedly far better than the mess we unfairly thought it would be. Ultimately we see no reason to check one out for anything other than curiosity.

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Inside 3D Printing Shoes

    If you’ve ever thought about 3D printing shoes, you’ll enjoy watching the video below about a Portland-based company that creates shoes on demand using an HP MJF 5200 3D printer. Granted, this isn’t a printer you likely have in your basement. The one-ton printer costs up to a half-million dollars but watching it do its thing is pretty interesting.

    The printer doesn’t create the entire shoe, but just a spongy foam-like TPU footbed and heel. They run the printer overnight and get about a dozen pairs out at once. There’s quite a bit of clean-up to get the piece ready. Of course, there’s also the assembly of the rest of the shoe to take into account

    One of the advantages of this approach is apparently the lack of waste. We didn’t know, but apparently conventional shoes wind up in landfills. These shoes are made to recycle and the company offers a discount to those sending in old pairs.

    Portland company Hilos creates sustainable, 3D printed shoes – watch how they’re made

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Extruded Resin FDM Printing (With Lasers!)

    At this point, 3D printers are nearly everywhere. Schools, hackerspaces, home workshops, you name it. Most of these machines are of the extruded-filament variety, better known as FDM or Fused Deposition Modelling. Over the last few years, cheap LCD printers have brought resin printing to many shops as well. LCD printers, like their DLP and SLA counterparts, use ultraviolet light to cure liquid resin. These machines are often praised for the super-high detail they can achieve, but are realllly slow. And messy — liquid resin gets everywhere and sticks to everything.

    We’re not exactly what [Jón Schone] of Proper Printing was thinking when he set out to convert a classic printer to use resin instead of filament, but it had to be something along the lines of “Can you make FDM printing just as messy as LCD printing?”


  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    PrusaSlicer Now Imports STEP Files, Here’s Why That’s A Big Deal

    PrusaSlicer has a new feature: the ability to import a CAD model for 3D printing. Starting in version 2.5.0-beta1, PrusaSlicer can import STEP format 3D models. An imported STEP file is converted to a triangle mesh on import (making it much like a typical .stl or .3mf file) which means that slicing all happens as one would normally expect. This is pretty exciting news, because one is not normally able to drop a CAD format 3D model directly into a slicer. With this change, one can now drag .stp or .step files directly into PrusaSlicer for printing.


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