A Beginner’s Guide: 3D Printing

by Cass Art

Has there ever been a better time to experiment with new creative technologies? 3D Hubs makes 3D printing accessible all over the globe, and they spoke at Free Thinking this year, a Cass Art curated series of talks for students at Free Range 2014.

What's more, they are offering students an exclusive £10 off their first 3D print. Simply use the code that we sent out in the Cass Art student newsletter, and enter it during your order process to claim.

You needn't have a prototype to hand - there are plenty of existing designs to choose from on their website.

3D Printing

The invention of successful 3D Printers has been of hot debate recently. Most certainly innovative and a potential force for good, we can now readily manufacture and access replacement body parts, mechanical parts and household staples, but as with all great creations there is the possibility that its genius could fall into the wrong hands. Technophobes needn’t fear as the concept is surprisingly simple and not just reserved for the computing elite.  

With this in mind, a visit to the Science Museum, Kensington should definitely be on the cards. Exploring the coding process, a mass of different outcomes, how artists and designers are interpreting this technology and finally looking to the future of 3D printing. Installation artist Tobias Klein is a top advocate of 3D prints, traditionally trained in architecture. His fascination with the construct of space and use of evolving materials projects work unlike any ever before. 

We spoke to Simone Mascagni from 3D Hubs, a company connecting the public to available printers all over the globe, to understand the process further.

Could you explain in essence, how a 3D printer works? 

Briefly, you design a 3D model with 3D software; send it to the 3D printer with the standard file extension .STL and then the printer builds it layer by layer.

3D printing is characterized as "additive" manufacturing, which means that a solid, three-dimensional object is constructed by adding material in layers. After you design your model with any 3D software (CAD, Google Sketchup…) or after you download your .STL file from sites like Thingiverse, you choose a specific material. This will depend on what you want to 3D print and on what kind of 3D printer you own. You can choose between plastics, rubber, polyurethane-like materials, wood, metals and more. 

The majority of these materials can be found as filaments: when the printer is told to print something, it pulls the filament through a tube and into an extruder, which heats it up and deposits it through a small hole and onto the build plate. Then the 3D printer will build the object layer to layer and the time will depend on what you are 3D printing and how big it is.

Where do I go if I want to give 3D printing a try? How would a beginner even know what to print?

I guess that nobody would get a 3D printer just to give it a try. If I would be a beginner I would go in sites such as www.thingiverse.com, look at something that I might like, download the file and then go to www.3dhubs.com and have it printed by someone who lives around me. Thingiverse is a website dedicated to the sharing of user-created digital design files and 3D Hubs is an online platform that connects 3D printer owners with people who want to 3D print, making 3D printing accessible to anyone everywhere! 

3D printing has been under serious scrutiny since its release to the public – from guns to replacement limbs – where do you stand on the ethical implications of open source code?

Any technology has its ups and downs. It’s like the Internet; it’s used by people with good and bad intentions. The 3D printed gun proves the abilities of a 3D printer, but there are probably more effective ways to get a gun. When talking about 3D printing and the amazing things it can do, I would rather think about the projects as the ROBOHAND, much more interesting than a gun. A project like this can show how open source together with 3D printing will make a huge positive impact in the years to come.

What do you see in future of 3D printing? 

What I think about future in 3D printing could be perfectly described in the 3D Hubs' Manifesto. Everyday commodities will be made on a 3D printer that could be owned by you or by someone in your neighbourhood. Using locally recycled material, this printer would produce Nokia phone cases, Nike shoes and even your favourite Ikea accessories. Each design would be tailored to your needs and personality and produced the moment you want it. The need for shipping would disappear. Products could be made on-demand and closer to their point of purchase, with individuals and companies alike driving their design and innovation. Making and distributing stuff would not only be cheaper and better for the environment, but great for local economies as well. 3D printing has the potential to eliminate waste, transport pollution and long shipping times - relics of centralized production. 3D printers will empower a new breed of makers and entrepreneurs, especially as pricing drops and quality improves. Toys for your kids, designer clothes and trendy home furniture could be made to order at other Hubs (those who listed their 3D printer on www.3dhubs.com) located just a few steps away.

With 3D printing, the factories of the future could become community-run micro-operations.  All we would need is a supportive infrastructure that allows us to tap into this production network when and where we need it. And 3D Hubs is on a mission to make this infrastructure a reality. It provides a collaborative production platform for makers and 3D printer owners. Using our platform, anyone with a 3D printer can bring customized, locally produced goods to those around them. Together, we strive to build communities that want to share the fun of making 3D printed products, while igniting a new industrial revolution in the process. This revolution has just started; do you want to join it? 

Head to the Science Museum to check it out, exhibition ends mid 2014.

Or get in touch with the guys over at 3D Hubs, their London MeetUp event is scheduled for 18th December. 

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