Desktop 3D Replicators? Wow,This Is the 21st Century

“STEP INTO THE 3D PHOTOBOOTH AND IMMORTALIZE YOURSELF!”, the MakerBot store on Mulberry Street in Outer Brooklyn/Manhattan says on its website. That sounds like “Beam me up, Scotty” come true, with a dash of  The Immortals. The reality is a little bit different, but still pretty cool. This is not a clone machine, but a copier. A 3D copier.

Retailing for $2200 and up, The Replicator could make lots of models or household objects for you.

Retailing for $2200 and up, The Replicator could make lots of models or household objects for you.

If you want to make a photocopy of something as large as your house or as tiny as a penny, just use a Xerox copier. Take a picture of your house, or just toss the penny on the copier’s glass, and hit Copy. Or Start. That’s the way it’s been done since, well, before I was born. If you want a 3D copy, that presents a problem—or it did until recently. Brooklyn’s Madagascar Institute—a place that teaches mostly shop classes like welding and operating power tools, and also some crafty stuff like sewing—actually offers a class on 3D copying, using, in Star Trekian parlance, a Replicator.

3D printing is harder to master than your average 2D Xerox—at least according to people who’ve never tried to operate a worn office copier—which is why the Institute holds three-hour-long classes taught by Colin Butgereit. Butgereit, who’s been a member of Madagascar Institute for more than a year now, also works for MakerBot Industries, which manufactures the MakerBot Replicator.

“I provide people with the knowledge to generate the files so that the printer can essentially make or build the object,” he says. “It’s a three-hour class, and you can do a fair amount of printing in three hours. The bigger it is, the longer it will take, so we stick with the smaller stuff.”

He usually has four students a class, which works out to one printer per person.

Let’s talk quality. Say I want a copy of my right hand. The printer’s output will be “pretty close to an exact replica,” Butgereit says. “You’re still going to see that it’s for the most part printed; you’re going to see lines, you might get some polygons or different shapes that you would never see on a hand because it’s been computer generated. It also depends on the software—with high-end stuff it could almost look exactly like it.”

Okay, but what about scars? I have a great one on my right index finger dating back to my sophomore year in college, when I was helping a guy work on his ancient, oil-soaked car engine. The wrench broke, I shoved my hand into the dirt-caked starter mount, and after a trip to the ER I ended up with an inch-long scar full of stitches and black grease. Oh, yeah, I stuck my thumb in a table saw. And also, my, um, wrinkles? (I’m, uh, older, so they should be self-explanatory.) “Only if it’s a sort of geographic,” he says. “If it stood out, either from convex or concave form, that’s where you might see it. So far as color it will never show up.” So no black grease, but you’ll see stitches and veins.

For the home hobbyist or designer, this Solidoodle makes up to 6x6x6" objects and sells for around $500.

For the home hobbyist or designer, this Solidoodle makes up to 6x6x6″ objects and sells for around $500.

What about size? The penny, no problem. But the house? He has an answer to that one.

“Fly all the way around your house until you’ve taken enough photos so you could see every part of your house,” he explains. “When you have that, download the Autodesk application [Autodesk manufactures CAD software] on your computer or iPad, and process it and email it to Autodesk. They will essentially send you back another email of the image compiled from the data.” Load it into the Replicator and voila. As for the house’s square footage, “Technically it could be to size,” he says, “but I’m guessing there’s no 3D printer to handle a house. You’ll have to scale it down.”

If you’re interested in the 3D printing class at Madagascar Institute, go to eventbrite.com. The class runs $65.

Executive Editor Phil Scott writes about science, travel and aviation. 

>For a glimpse of the future, where you don’t worry about losing your keys, you just print up a new set before you leave the house, or don’t keep a toolbox, you just print what gadget you need when you need it, and instead of putting it away, you just toss the used one into the materials recycler.

Amazing 3D Printer – YouTube.

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  1. […] involved. BA Executive Editor Phil Scott and Contributor Bruce A. Campbell have reported on Brooklyn’s Makerbot, pioneer of 3D printers. There’s venture capital out there to back some […]

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