3D printers create unique items
Feb. 18, 2013
by Mark Ollig

Looking for a new car? In the not-too-distant future, you will be able to order it to your exact specifications, and have the parts created using a 3D (three dimensional) printer.

I watched a video of a test model car called an Urbee, as it smartly traveled down the road.

Urbee’s car body was made using a 3D printer. The video is at http://tinyurl.com/abxddzq.

In 1982, I was using an IBM 5150 personal computer at the local telephone company. Attached to it was an Epson MX-80 dot-matrix printer.

I had no idea, 30 years later; we would be connecting a 3D printer to a computer for printing physical items.

3D printers have developed considerably, and models come in various sizes.

Almost anyone can buy a reasonably priced 3D printer and create practical working parts, and useful, everyday items.

Instead of shooting out ink from a laser printer (or using an ink-ribbon being struck with the dot-matrix printing head) onto paper, a 3D printer uses a type of plastic filament string which is dispensed from the 3D printer head that moves up and down, and left and right, as it builds and creates an item layer by layer before your eyes.

Many things can be made using a 3D printer: jewelry, toys, tool parts, art sculptures, game pieces, plastic gears, shirt buttons, hobby pieces . . . the list is endless.

3D printer-created parts have already been used in prosthetic limbs, dental fixtures, hearing aids, bone implants, and orthodontic devices.

Looking into the future, many believe human organs needed for transplants will be fashioned and created using special tissue-like filaments, using 3D printer technology.

Top-of-the-line 3D printers are expensive – some can cost well over $100,000.

More reasonably priced, smaller 3D printers can be found for under $2,500.

As the cost of the more advanced 3D printers comes down, I look for school technology programs teaching students not only how to design objects, but how to create them using 3D printers in the classrooms.

As 3D printer technology becomes more widely used, it will eventually become as commonplace in schools as computers, Internet, and iPad tablets are.

I looked at several 3D printers, and found one which caught my attention.

It is said to be a “good starter 3D printer” that anyone can learn to use, is priced reasonably, and is supported by a local Minnesota company called Afinia, a division of Microboards Technology, based in Chanhassen.

It is called the Afinia H479 3D Printer, and is advertised as a true “Out of the Box 3D Printing Experience.”

This 3D printer costs $1,599.

The H479 3D Printer can use 17 different-colored ABS plastic filament strings (some being fluorescent), sold on spools, to create an object by means of layering the string material on the printer’s build platform from the print head.

The printer itself is 9.6-inches wide by 10.2-inches deep by 13.8-inches high.

Its build platform size dimensions are 5.5-inches wide by 5.5-inches deep by 5.3-inches high.

The 3D printer weighs almost 11 pounds, and comes in a burgundy color.

Afinia’s custom 3D software is included, and is compatible with other drafting and modeling software.

The 3D object software file format used is called, STereoLithograpy or Standard Tessellation Language (STL).

The Afinia H479 3D printer supports the Microsoft Windows operating systems and Apple’s Mac OS 10.6 and higher.

This 3D printer is able to build an individual plastic part a little over 5 inches in size.

The Afinia H479 3D printer is connected to a computer via a USB cable in order to download the STL pattern file for the 3D printer to create.

It also has built-in flash memory, so after the pattern file is downloaded, the USB cable can be disconnected and the computer removed, while the 3D printer continues creating the object.

A YouTube video, uploaded by Afinia, gives a brief presentation of the H479 3D Printer at http://tinyurl.com/adje75n.

Afinia’s website is http://www.afinia.com.

I envision “home versions” of 3D printers someday being commonly used by us for creating or replacing an item, general maintenance, and repairs.

On the factory manufacturing floors of the future, I look to see colossal-sized 3D printers creating a variety of parts and devices.

3D printers of different sizes and capabilities will be located in retail stores, and independent workshops, too.

There will be potential for individuals starting a business to use 3D printers for creating custom made parts, replacement parts, and specialty items to sell.

I have seen websites advertised as 3D printer “marketplaces,” where people are buying and selling 3D printing pattern files and 3D-printed items.

Of course, 3D printers are nowhere near the level of futuristic complexity as used by the “replicator” from the “Star Trek” television series, but who knows – in five years, we might be using 3D printers for creating our own custom-designed golf clubs.

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