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3D Printing for Dummies 101 at #TechShop

July 31st, 2015 No Comments

Last week I took a 3D printing class at TechShop in San Francisco.

TechShop, according to their own website is: “a vibrant, creative community that provides access to tools, software and space. You can make virtually anything at TechShop. Come and build your dreams!”

What made me sign up for a class at TechShop?

First of all, I wanted to see TechShop for myself, after hearing CEO & Co-founder Mark Hatch keynote at the Social Shakeup’15 in Atlanta (and having the luck to sit next to Mark during the speakers’ dinner).

Second, I had a hard time to get my head around the concept of 3D printing. Why was it called “printing” when tangible objects were being created? Was it just a poor use of the word “print”? I had to see it.

The course cost $90 for non-members and took place in the evening. There were four other people and our wonderful teacher, Max (far left of picture).

Max started off by showing us the 3D printer (see picture) and then spent most of the class walking us through the software to set up the best 3D print.

Here my, 101 for Dummies, Summary of 3D Printing

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is called “printing” as the object is created by “printing” layer over layer of a material onto a surface, shaping the final object.

If you think of a laser printer, it creates a layer of black ink. Now imagine, instead of ink, the printer uses plastic and prints layer over layer. Above you see the 3D printing nozzle over the object. You can also see the thin white base that can later be broken off.

The Skill Set

At the core of 3D printing is the creation of a 3D model (you could also get one on the Internet). To do this, different software packages and add-ons are available. That’s the truly creative part.

Next, you have to set up the print, which is a lot more complex than printing on a piece of paper and requires experience. Max showed us how to set up the print on an Autodesk CAD product. I am pretty sure that the secret to a good 3D print is experience, as each 3D model print has to be set up just right or it won’t come out right.

Example: if you were printing something that had holes or gaps, it would probably be necessary to fill in those areas during printing with filler elements that can later, so your object does not print as a big lump. This is the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of screens and settings. Practice needed!

What Else is Needed?

Max used a kind of plastic string to create our object. We learned how to “thread the needle”, adjust the printing surface, prep it etc.  Clearly, 3D printing requires patience and a love for detail. And then there are other things to know, for example that having a window open could ruin your print if there was a draft (depending on the material and machine you are using).

Interestingly, there are other materials that can be used for 3D Printing, including metal and food (e.g. chocolate).

WHY Would I Choose to 3D Print?

As the 3D printing took quite a long time (about 50 minutes), I was curious what the advantage would be over, say, using a mold. This is where it gets interesting.

3D Printing is mostly used to create models. As it is not an easy task to create a complex object via the software (and also seems not exactly easy to set up the 3D printer correctly), a model is likely to be printed over and over again until it’s perfect and looks as intended.

Doing this with a plastic material is relatively inexpensive, if time-consuming, other materials can make it more pricey. But, for sure, 3D Printers are not intended for mass production (yet).

Once the ideal final model has been created, TechShop (and manufacturers) have a machine that can create molds for mass production. Aha!

In addition, 3D printing enables the creation of unique items that you might not be able to create otherwise or with a lot more skill required. Not everybody can carve a model out of a block of wood or create it out of clay or other materials. Comparatively, it seems to me that 3D printing is fairly easy to learn and once you got the hang of it, the sky is the limit.

Also, 3D printing can help to customize items, e.g. a cell phone protection cover could be personalized.

What Did We Print?

In this class, we (or rather Max) printed a bottle opener. As everybody left quickly when the class was over, I was lucky to get to take it home.

Here is a video of the 3D Printer in action: 

As I left TechShop, I was elated and then had the extra pleasure to run into Mark Hatch before I headed out. I had told him I’d be there and he actually was coming to say “hello”. The most humble genius I know.

 Here our final object:

And here about an hour later at my house:

Let me know if you have any questions. For me, TechShop is what the sharing economy and maker movement are all about. Who owns a 3D printer or equipment for metal welding? TechShop.


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