3D Printers

I met my first 3D printer yesterday. His name? Ok… it didn’t have a name, I’m not even sure if ‘he’ was gendered masculine. But, finding Phil’s office in an all girls school, with mostly female staff, the personalized 3D printer setting on a table in a little cube of a room, surrounded by computer technology of all sorts, even an operating computer completely exposed tacked to the wall, it felt appropriately to assign it a masculine gender.

I had the privilege of chatting with Phil, the director of technology at Berke’s, while we watched the 3D make a plastic whistle! It was super awesome. At first there was no whistle and then there was a whistle. Manifestation fix – check! It did take approximately 34 mins. Brought to me by “Makerbot Industries” I was informed that the next verisons would carry the name, “Replicator”. If you don’t get the geeked-out Star Trek reference I feel bad for you. The “Replicator” is on the Star Ship Enterprise. It looks like a microwave except it can materialize any food item you can imagine. The name speaks toward the future, and it indicates the latent possibilities of technology, manufacturing, patenting, etc. in the present. Phil had bought his on-line, in kit form. He assembled his 3D printer. Simple design, yet fascinatingly accurate – the whistle, actually whistles. He was in the process of making parts to build other machines. He told me that the vision held by many 3D printing folk is to build a printer that can build itself. At this point I had to mention Kurtzweil’s idea of singularity, and of course Matrix references.

I spend the day popping in and out of Phil’s office chatting. Between visits I was doing some library duty with an assistent who had never heard of 3D printing. At some point you catch yourself trying to describe 3D printing to someone whose never heard of it, and its hard not to sound like your describing something from a science fiction novel. “Yes. it prints things… real things… in 3D. No, not like 3D on a piece of paper. That’s 2D. BUT, yes… like a printer, except in 3 dimensions. Yes, it prints objects, like chairs and whistles.” That’s basically the conversation I had verbatim with the librarian.

The future looks like 3D printing in every domestic home on the planet. Phil told me bigger printers might print whole houses or whole bases on Mars. Bioprinters print skin graphs and organs already. Are we there yet? Yeah. We are or we will be. Soon we’ll be downloading the 3D code from our on-line IKEA database for our new bed or from Lowe’s for our new lawnmower. A guy on KickStarter promoted a 3D printer business idea for an initial $40,000… I think, and ended up with 4 million dollars in investments – reference needed. Just to highlight the rate of expanding interest and investment, design and potential here. I heard a guy printed a plastic gun that fires, now the governments is a’buzz with interest of security and regulation. And then there’s the whole manifestation of open source 3D printing files. Right now this stuff is just out there. Any one with a capable 3D printer can print whatever objects are already scanned, coded, and shared.

As you can tell I’ve got a lot more research to do on this one. It is clear to anyone decently interested in 3D printing that I’m a novice describing my experience with what I see as new human 3D printing friends. Machine companions of the extraordinarily creative type.

I did just see an add hosted on youtube for “MOJO” a “Desktop 3D Printer” for $185 a month – in case your interested.


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