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3D Maker for Molecules

September 19, 2013

3D_printerSo this is the new MakerBot at Kenyon’s Science Complex. The blue-and-white thing looks blurred because it is vibrating so fast, printing out the pink polyedron. The pink stuff enters as a fiber of plastic down the right-hand tube, which comes from a coil of pink plastic behind. We plan to use this machine to make models of molecules and cells, along the lines of Brett Barney at Thingiverse.

The machine reminds me of my first IBM PC printer back in the 80s, full of whirring parts sliding on metal rods. But it’s definitely the way of the future. Someday soon, everything will be made this way, from candy to jet planes.

  1. September 19, 2013 10:31 pm

    And human organs!

  2. Rick York permalink
    September 20, 2013 7:23 pm

    Joan, pay particular attention to Professor Barney’s statement about using the printer’s support systems. With even minimally complex structures the “raft” and “supports” can mess the process up. Also, the type of plastic you use can make a difference.

    I volunteer at the Oregon Museum for Science and Industry (OMSI). We’ve had several 3D printers in our Maker Lab. We have been using ABS and PLA plastic. Unfortunately, the ABS has some potentially toxic fumes, if not well ventilated. And, of course, it’s the ABS which is easiest to use for more complicated structures. PLA is biodegradable and non-toxic, but it is quite difficult to remove the supporting structures.

    All that said (and it may be too much), 3D printers are incredible things. I hope you have a lot of fun and fascinating experiences with yours.

    • September 20, 2013 9:37 pm

      The technology is certainly just beginning. It reminds me of the early printers from IBM and Apple–large and clunky, and putting out reams of waste paper. Remember the scrim down the edge of the old printer rolls? But then, we ended up reading all the text on screen. Who prints out anymore?

      Perhaps the 3D printing out will lead eventually to more VR immersion. After all, you have to program a VR object first, before you print it out.

      • Rick York permalink
        September 20, 2013 9:41 pm

        I bought the first laser printer for my company in the early 1980’s. It weighed about 30 pounds and cost $6,500 in 1980’s money.

        Are your folks using SketchUp or one of the more expensive drawing programs? SketchUp is pretty versatile for a free program

        • September 20, 2013 10:07 pm

          Of course we’re trying to go all freeware so far. 🙂 I’ll check out SketchUp.
          I understand that Mathematica exports to printers, and can do molecules.

  3. September 21, 2013 11:54 am

    Someday soon, everything will be made this way,…. to jet planes.

    I hope not, unless what you mean by printing is expanded to lots of other techniques, like spinning. Almost be definition, printing means placing a homogenous point of material in space. But for many materials, the properties depend on continuous structures and non-homogenous materials. For example, how would you print wood, or even more extreme, plywood with its differing grain orientations? Aircraft are increasingly made of spun fibers, especially carbon fiber. Manufacturing techniques must differ for these types of materials than printing. I see printing as useful to replace certain types of manufacturing techniques, but not all. To me, what is interesting is that computer generated additive approaches can produce some structures that are impossible with subtractive ones, at a speed that reduces costs significantly. I note the recent test of a rocket engine part by Nasa that was made by printing that significantly reduced the time to manufacture, Printing could remove the inventory costs of precision parts, and also allow manufacture to be carried out in a wider range of locales where parts supplies are very difficult to get, or expensive, and output runs are very low..

    • September 21, 2013 12:54 pm

      These are very interesting questions. I would define 3D “printing” broadly to be any process of shaping an object based on a digital template, instead of an analog form such as a mold.

      Digital implies a virtual model. In principle, the virtual model can extend down to any pattern of molecules, whether plywood or spun carbon. Even organs could be printed out of cells; or cells printed out of cytoplasm components.

      In addition, as you point out, printing will come up with all kinds of new materials not yet imagined, which can be made no other way; just as virtual design comes up with shapes never seen elsewhere.

      Again, by analogy with the evolution of 2D paper printing (eventually to screen “documents” that never get printed out), 3D printing could help drive our development of VR worlds, which made a leap forward with the Avatar craze but has since receded.

      • September 21, 2013 2:26 pm

        And as I open my mouth, I see Science has articles on tuned properties of structures that could be made by 3D printing. One article specifically mentions this as a better approach than carbon fiber embedded in resin for aircraft parts!

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