An Introduction

3D printing is a huge forefront of the future that allows people to have a taste of creation, from the beginning all the way to the end. I was even lucky enough to buy my own and really get into it too. Though, the bigger picture is that 3D printers allow people to help pave the way to progress in a more personal way that shows individuality within a growing community. With that being said, I had the awesome opportunity to talk with other 3D printing enthusiasts around the world and really get a sense of how they use 3D printing for their own goals while at the same time really promoting the potential of 3D printing.

Interview 1

3D printing is a big part of the future and a lot of people are getting on board with 3D printing as it becomes more and more commercially available to the average consumer. One of the places that is the most accessible to see people testing 3D printing is actually on instagram. I had the opportunity to have an interview with Tim Strandoff (3d_printing_innovation) on instagram talking about 3D printing in his life.

One of the most interesting things about 3D printing is that not everyone can justify putting the money to buying one. In Tim’s case he got a nice push to finally get one by his little cousins because it turned out that they had gotten one while he was looking into getting one himself. Tim at the time was working at a manufacturing company and there was a lot of talk about 3D printing becoming the new norm to prototyping and becoming an essential part of the workplace. When talking about this dive into the 3D printing world, Tim really emphasizes the importance that for those who want to get into that they need to be patient as learning the software takes time, thankfully for Tim he specializes in engineering and has a lot training with programs that can be used in 3D printing.

This leads to a really important question, what was his first 3D printer? This is something that is very important because as 3D printers become more commercially available, the quality of the machines can start to vary dramatically leaving many with buyer’s regets. For Tim, his first printer was an Anet a8, which is one of those printers that one has to build themselves. He goes on to say that even though it had to be assembled, he enjoys it and likes to make improvements on it since it's very easy to modify. As of now though, he uses an Ender 3 Pro, which he does recommend more as it is easier to put together and easier to manage.

Example of an FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) 3D Printer (Ender 3 Pro)

Tim then shared with me the programs he likes to use when it comes to 3D printing especially since the number of them continue to grow as time goes on and technology becomes ever more important. Tim tells me that his personal program of choice is Solidworks, which is a UK based 3D modelling program that gives users a clean 3D environment to work in allowing full control of the project. Tim points out that for him, it is easier to use and manipulate projects compared to others. Although he likes Solidworks, he is also learning how to use Fusion360, which is a more industry standard 3D modelling program.

Lastly, Tim tells us that with 3D printing it has made him consider the possibility of starting his own business where he would sell 3D printed products as he tends to keep 3D printing a hobby for now as he mentions that although printing is enjoyable, material is still expensive.

How a FDM printer works

The Explanation

This diagram pretty much shows that with fdm printers, they print onto a build plate with the filament being fed into the extruder assembly (it is the nozzle and heatsink assembly) through two gears, one with teeth and the other smooth. With this there is a temperature controller that pretty much heats up the extruder assembly and allows the filament to be melted as it goes out the nozzle. The printer will then begin to create a layer, the printer also has fans around it that allow the layer that was just made to cool down. Once the one layer has been made, the printer will repeat the process, and a new layer will be made on top of the previous one. The layers then combine through heated fusion as t he new layer is hot enough to bond to the previous layer.

Interview 2

As technology advances everyday, people’s vision of the future becomes ever so closer to becoming reality. A part of the reality of our future is going to be the advancement of 3D printing and one of the most accessible places to get in contact with those pushing 3D printing to their limits is actually on instagram. One of the people testing 3D printing to its limits is Derrick Boyd (nocoastengineering on instagram), thankfully I was able to get an interview with Derrick and what his experience has been so far with 3D printing with future thoughts and plans.

One of the most important things to understand about 3D printing is that it is not really for everyone, but it is pushed to be for the idea to basically make things yourself and in the comfort of your own home. Of course many people have a hard time justifying the cost of getting a 3D printer and spending the time to learn the various programs that one needs to understand to use them. In Derrick’s case he was working at John Deere where part of his job was to prototype products for tractors. At this time the company already had some 3D printers in the workplace to create the prototypes and thanks to this, Derrick and his team already had a lot of experience with 3D modelling software. During this time he spoke with many other co-workers who either had one or planned on getting a 3D printer themselves. After talking with them for a while he decided to get one for himself.

The first printer that Derrick got was the Qidi Tech Dual Extrusion model, which is quite an expensive 3D printer with a base price of $500 USD. He told me that with this printer, he still uses it to this day with 3,000 printing hours on its plate and considering it his primary workhorse when the work orders start to pile up. He admitted that the printer does need maintenance once and a while, but that comes with the territory when it comes to constantly printing.

Qidi Tech Dual Extrusion Model

I then asked Derrick how things have changed from then to now, starting with the programs he works with. He told me that when it came to the actual 3D printing software, known as slicing software, he used to just send off his 3D files to another employee who was in charge of handling the printer. So since he has his own 3D printer he had to learn how to use the slicing software himself. Derrick mentioned that even though he got used to the slicing software that came with the printer he began to feel restricted by it and has moved on to use Simplify 3D. In regards to the 3D modelling software he said that he is trained in Creo, Solidworks, and Inventor, but uses Fusion360 for his home use. He said that the transition to Fusion360 did not really require that much of a learning curve since he is quite experienced with a lot of related programs already.

In regards to his printers, Derrick mentioned that even though his Qidi printer is a workhorse it cannot do the job alone. So he had purchased a Monoprice Select Mini V2 and a Creality CR-10, the Monoprice is for more of the small jobs and the Creality is for the bigger jobs to help with the Qidi.

He currently makes interior parts along with replacement parts for cars as his own online business and plans to upgrade to a higher temperature machine to work with more automotive polymers that will be geared toward businesses. In regards to future plans, Derrick mentioned that as long as the material for 3D printing is there and that it keeps expanding, 3D printing will soon become a commodity.

Interview 3

3D printing is an encompassing part of the future that is progressing at phenomenal rates, of course this would mean that some of considerably standard equipment of today will slowly drop in price and allow more average people to to purchase one for personal use outside of the industrial realm. Though, one thing that most people think when it comes to utilizing a 3D printer is that they would have to know how to use CAD software (Computer Aided Design), which deters many people investing towards a printer. Although that is partly true, there is an increasing amount of user friendly software that is aimed towards beginners or for people who do not need that kind of technical data to create what they want. For this, I have interviewed David Mirkin (Lord_of_the_print on instagram), where he talked to me about how he uses 3D printing to help him bring his 3D prints to life.

David gave me some interesting insight as to how he likes to utilize 3D printing for his passion, to make sculptures and miniatures, which can be used for table-top games. Before buying his printer he was working on making 3D sculptures on a program known as Zbrush, which allows users to mold and shape whatever they desire without the need to constantly type in the positions of multitudes of vertices, which is normally done for typical applications like a box or a pen case. After using Zbrush for a long time, David learned about the possibility of bringing his creations to life through 3D printing them and so he decided to buy himself a printer, the Ender 3 Pro, which is a very popular 3D printer that usually goes for around $300 or less and has a lot of support in the 3D printing community.

In regards to David’s experience with the printer, he said that the Ender 3 Pro was good for general 3D printing, but not for printing miniatures with the precision he wanted. After he did some research he found out about a more precise type of printer that is popularly used for exactly what his goal was, to print beautiful sculptures and miniatures with the same level of detail that he made in Zbrush, Resin 3D printers. The way that Resin 3D printers work is that a light sensitive resin solution is poured into a bath that is included with the printer, once the solution has been poured into the bath and has been properly inserted into the printer, there is a plate that hangs above the bath. This plate then must be inserted onto a designated post and then lowered so that it touches the top of the bath. Once this is done and the printing process is given the go signal, a laser is projected throughout the solution to solidify the resin solution. This process allows the print to be pretty much air tight and since it is a laser that is solidifying the solution, it can be much more precise versus typical 3D printing where it relies on melting layer by layer. Thus, this type of printer is very popular for miniature and sculpture enthusiasts like David and so he purchased one for himself where is currently using the resin printer to make some of his most detailed projects spanning from large dragon sculptures to two inch high goblins that are highly detailed.

Example of a 3D Resin Printer

David put a lot of importance on how lucky he is that he did not have to take the time to learn a new program when it came to using software that is compatible for 3D printers and that it is super important to do as much research as one can before investing the prerequisites to truly utilizing 3D printing.

When it comes to the view of the future, David agreed that 3D printing will become a commodity as the technology advances and the popularity grows. Though for him, he thinks that it will take a bit more time for resin printers to become more commercially available as the majority of the resin printers only go as low as the $200 range while standard 3D printers can sell for $150 depending on how big they need to be.

How a Resin Printer Works

Minimal color diagram of how a 3D resin printer works. There are little rectangles that have the words 'laser emitters' on them to represent the laser emitters, then there is the laser that is displayed as a dark yellow line that bounces off the circular mirror plate, which then bounces the laser to the printing plate and creates a print. This is all done as the laser projects inside a vat of uncured resin.

The Explanation

This diagram pretty much shows that with resin printers, they print upside-down. The way it works is that the build plate lowers itself to the point where it is barely touching the vat of liquified resin, and then lasers project onto a mirror plate, which is actually a unit that has a numerous amount of insanely small mirrors on it, each directing the lasers into a specific spot and curing the resin. The build plate then rises each time this occurs. It is an extremely detailed process of printing.

Looking Back

3D printing is a pretty important part of the future and will hopefully become something that everyone can be exposed to, whether it be a product that was 3D printed or 3D printing compatible software. Though, when it comes to new things there is always a problem, the problem of communication, how to really make it clear to people what these 3D printers look like and a basic concept of how they work. This was one of the biggest things that was made obvious to me when I had interviews with other 3D printer enthusiasts and looked at articles about 3D printing. Another point that I realized was that after my exploration I found myself looking more into the vast variety of 3D printing methods and soon seeing that it might not have been enough.

First off, I want to talk about the interviews I had with the other 3D printing enthusiasts and really look back on what I learned from them. One of the biggest things I realized was that the 3D printer market has become very much available to many people in different social standings and with different motives. This kind of answered one of my interview questions which was asking if they thought that 3D printers would become a commodity in the future, which is great. Though one of the bigger takeaways from the interviews was that there were a lot of assumptions being made by those that I interviewed, such as when they would sometimes name off their printers. When I would ask them what printer they have or plan to get they usually told me the name of the printer or sometimes just the type of printer, without going into specifics and the same can be said for some articles that I was linked to when having the interviews. This was especially evident when I asked one of the people how their transition was from working with 3D printing in their workplace to the home environment and they told me that when it came to the workplace they normally just hand it off to the printer operator, they just designed the part on CAD (computer aided design) software. They all just assumed that I knew what they were talking about, which led me to see a big challenge for 3D printing and making it appealing to the average person, how to make sense of it all quickly and concisely.

Making sense of 3D printers quickly and concisely is what led me to my exploration on how to create elements to help solve that, but looking back at it now I think I only scratched the surface of the vastness of 3D printing. Looking back at the exploration I think I could have at least made a list of the actual vast variety of 3D printing other than the commercially popular kind along with creating visual elements to actually help understand what makes them function in a clear way. Though in a more positive light, it means that I am able to understand what it is exactly that I have to figure out in order to communicate the complexity of 3D printing in a clear and concise way along with the exploration giving ideas to how I can exactly do this in my own way.