Tools or toys, figures or fossils, these days it’s all about creating in three dimensions and for those in the know, there’s no better way to make it than right at home.
“It all started around 2007/2008, when patents began to expire in the industrial sector,” explained Andrew Trudgeon, of London’s TechAlley. “That’s when the push really started, making it possible for everybody under the sun to develop a 3D printer.”
Now, anyone can get their hands on it, and though 80 percent of Trudgeon’s clients come from the business world, others, including Western and Fanshawe students, as well as model enthusiasts continue to jump on the 3D technology train.
Sure beats school projects made out of Styrofoam.
“The rest are just people who find something cool on the Internet that they want to print for their own use,” said Trudgeon, who has seen his fair share of interesting requests.
But none so odd as a different kind of toy, requested by one of Canada’s most sought-after sexologist and relationship experts after writing an article about making certain objects in the comfort of one’s own home.
“We printed a few of them. To be honest, it kind of just looked like a very bumpy rocket ship,” Trudgeon said with a laugh. “We had to move the printer to the backroom, so people wouldn’t start guessing what it was.”
To complete the project, TechAlley staff first had to create a file in order to begin the printing process, which was captured using a time-lapse video.
“It was actually kind of interesting to do that,” said Trudgeon. “It was a cool project because it’s something that’s been around for a long time, and now there’s new technology and websites where you can download these files and print them at home.”
In order to print in three dimensions, a virtual design is made in a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file using a 3D modeling program — for the creating of a totally new object — or with the help of a 3D scanner to copy an existing object, essentially making a copy.
Recently, companies have even enabled their hardware to perform the scan, like Microsoft’s Kinect.
The subject is sliced into hundreds or thousands of layers digitally, which is basically how the final piece is fabricated, laying down and blending each layer, creating a three dimensional object.
According to Trudgeon, some customers come in to TechAlley looking to create things like Minecraft and Disney characters — stuff they want to make for their kids.
But some are a lot more creative.
“A lot of teenagers are doing 3D CAD stuff now and they can do it really well, so they develop a character and print it,” he said. “But really, when it comes to 3D printing, there’s units out there where you don’t need any skills to get it going, just plug it in, connect it to a desktop printer and use the software to interface with it — it’s really easy, really maintenance free. That would kind of be like the base model you use to dip your toe into. It’s just fun.”