Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting our friends over at Hive 76 for a demonstration and class on 3D printing.
3D printing is as cool and futuristic as it sounds. In the same way that an inkjet printer runs a cartridge full of printing material (ink) over a surface (paper) repeatedly until an image is produced, a 3D printer “prints” layers and layers of thermoplastics until a physical object is produced. I myself had been a casual observer of the development 3D printing as chronicled over at BoingBoing, and I thought I knew a fair amount about it, but seeing a drawing on paper become a tangible thing in under an hour came pretty close to blowing my mind.
Hive 76’s Makerbot in action
Hive 76 has two 3D printers. The first is a Makerbot, which was the first widely available option. Prior to Makerbot, 3D printing was the realm of large R&D facilities or extremely dedicated (and wealthy) hobbyists. People at Hive 76 have printed some rather notable things (in the realm of 3D printing) on their Makerbot, including the Ban Hammer and what is probably the first ever printed engagement ring.
The coolest thing being printed at Hive76, however, is their second 3D printer. One of the driving forces behind 3D printing (and Hive76, for that matter) is putting creation and creativity in the hands of everyone. Copyright and digital rights management are dirty words, while open source, Linux, and creative commons are all the rage. The Mendel is a 3D printer designed to be self replicating. All of the non-metal, non-electronic parts are printable themselves, so any replacements or upgrades can be printed right at the Hive.
3D Unicorn, Printed with Google’s modeling software
That day, less ambitious projects were being created using SketchUp, Google’s free 3D modeling software. A shuriken, chess piece, a toilet for a barbie doll, and a unicorn head all went from concept to sketch to SketchUp to dropbox before leaving the world of ideas and 1’s and 0’s to join the rest of us in the physical world.
Someone else was printing a mount for attaching his web cam to his laptop. The webcam was shipped with a total piece of crap mount, so instead of hunting all over Amazon and eBay for something that might work, he just designed and made his own.
If this sounds like fun to you, definitely check out the Hive. They have open houses every Wednesday, and in addition to 3D printers they have almost every tool you can imagine, a NeoGeo system, and of course, a high powered laser — not to mention a pretty friendly, helpful and informative bunch of people.