Much to my wife's dismay, I finally decided to indulge myself and jump head first into something I've been watching from the sidelines for a few years - 3D printing. Yep, I just bought my first 3D printer, the Flashforge Creator Pro.
3D printing is an umbrella term for turning digital 3D models into real life objects. There are a number of different methods for 3D printing but the big revolution that is desktop 3D printing uses a technique called fused filament fabrication (FFF). Essentially, software splits the 3D model into many many thin layers and the printer extrudes hot molten material out of a nozzle and traces each layer out onto the build plate. When one layer is done, the printer moves the build plate down a fraction of a millimetre and then lays down the next layer. Eventually this leads to a solid object that you can pick up, feel and use. It really is quite amazing.
Depending on your printer, you can print objects in a variety of different materials. They all have different pros and cons (hardness, flexibility, cost, ease of printing, toxicity, etc) but I'm mostly printing in a material called PLA which is essentially made form corn starch. Mostly I use it because I've tried printing in a few materials (namely ABS and ColorFabb XT) and it's the only one I can get to print "reliably".
I use the word reliably cautiously. Whilst I'm having an absolute blast making things, getting a model to print can be a little frustrating. Lots of things can go wrong during a print - particularly at the beginning where getting the first layer to adhere to the build plate can be very problematic. I'm still tweaking my workflow and my settings but I'm getting closer to being able to print an object when I want to. I'm currently having reasonable success printing on blue painter's tape smeared with glue stick.
So what kind of things have I printed so far? Not much of interest to be honest. I've mostly been getting used to the machine. I've printed a few small models, some upgrades to the printer itself (such as universal filament holders) and a few pieces of BRIO-compatible train track for my girls as a proof of concept. Here are a few pictures:
One of the best things about owning a 3D printer when you're a tinkerer like myself is that it opens up a load of opportunities in other projects. For instance, I like playing with electronics, Arduinos and Raspberry Pis. Having the ability to print my own designs is just great. So, what am I going to print next? Well, I've spent the last few days reading about 3D scanners and I think I'm going to try to build my own as a fun project. I'm also throwing ideas around my head about printing 3D models of disease processes from DICOM files. Not sure what use that would be but I think it would be fun to experiment in this area.
I'll try and keep you updated about my latest prints.