Anticipation is at least half the fun, and printing in 3D is rapidly gaining strength.
By Gail Flower
Have you ever wanted to just play out some creative idea to see the end result before the true product came about? I did that when building a dream house once. With carpenters in the family, I knew a bit about the house-building process, but I wanted to see and touch a doll-house-size model before the foundations were even laid.
I visited a similar house in a builders’ tour, then added features to the blueprints. I added in an attached glass-and-wood greenhouse, walkways, and patios around a back porch and pool, a fireplace in the living room using the same chimney as a fireplace in the upstairs master bedroom, a large master bath—well, you get the picture. It was whatever I wanted—just once within reason.
The blueprints didn’t even resemble the actual house. Blueprints are flat. After all of that excitement of designing on paper and crunching numbers, we had to watch it emerge piece by piece over most of a year for a definitive 3D view. It was a painstakingly long year.
In our industry, 3D printers play on that same need to produce physical models using computer-aided designs and to give the user a quick, affordable, full-color (depending on the printer) model of an object in prototype. For instance, in the hand-tool area, Stanley Black & Decker uses 3D printing technology to help make its tool prototypes.
“ZPrinters [the particular 3D printers used] help us make concept models that let our designers verify that the product they’ve created on the computer will look, feel, and handle in a way that consumers will love,” says John Reed, master prototype specialist for SB&D. “SB&D can print a model overnight and have a nice looking, multicolored concept prototype the next morning.”
The 3D printers use a 3D computer file and convert design information into cross-sectional slices. Each slice is then printed one on top of the other in an additive process to create the 3D printed object, usually out of resin powder, though some use other consumables. This is a faster, less costly alternative to subtractive machining.
Though it sounds space-agey, this technology has been around at least since 2003 with many differences between printers found in the way the material is melted or softened and fused. Some use laser sintering and fused-material deposition; others print using inkjets and cure with a variety of systems. Others deposit liquid materials that are then cured. Any way you look at it, it’s cheaper than modeling done using molding or die casting—and faster in most instances.
Anticipation is at least half the fun, and printing in 3D is rapidly gaining strength. Speaking of anticipation and fun, have you requested a battery in response to the Visionary Innovator contest published in this issue? I’m sure there are some multidimensional ideas out there that are ready to take shape.
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