Like many revolutionary technologies before it, 3D Printing is shaping up to make a huge impact on the world. A 3D printer is a limited type of industrial robot that is capable of carrying out an additive process under computer control. A process that uses successive layers of material laid down in different shapes to build complex parts over time. This new capability has given birth to the desktop manufacturing movement, the stuff of science fiction that is now actually an affordable reality.
I have been sitting patiently on the sidelines watching 3D printing take off, afraid to invest in beta tech. It was very expensive or buggy and hard to build your own with little to no support. The market has now matured with a healthy amount of competition and quality products. I finally broke down last week and decided to purchase one.
Where to start? The number of devices and prices are dizzying. Printers range from do-it-yourself kits to polished high-end systems ready to print at real industrial levels. There are literally whole publications focused on comparing all the different systems you can buy. I decided instead of a polished appliance I wanted the bare minimum. I want to learn by getting close to working with the core parts and processes, not to mention spend less than $400. I selected the Printrbot Simple (Maker Edition) kit as my first purchase. It’s a quality design at a cheap price.
Extrusion printers today come in two main flavors based on the plastic material they can print: ABS (think Lego) which requires high temperatures and a heated platform for controlled cooling. This printer uses PLA (think bio friendly) that runs at lower temps and is a much simpler process that has greater tolerances.