Imagine endless possibility—having an idea and then turning it into something tangible in minutes. Now imagine that you don’t have to imagine anymore.
Additive manufacturing—popularly known as 3D printing—is the future. 3D printers can take digital 3D models and easily turn them into tangible objects. This is the future that I had the chance to step into for an hour last week.
Few UTM students are aware of the fact that “Cubert” the 3D printer currently resides in the lower levels of the Innovation Complex. UTM’s 3D printer was bought from ORD Solutions, a Canadian company.
As of right now, both UTM students and staff can use the printer without any cost, but you will need to contact the I-CUBE program coordinator first to set up a time for a training workshop and pass a safety test before being allowed to use it unsupervised.
For anyone who has ever seen a 3D printer in action before, you probably have an idea about how fascinating the 3D printing process is. The printer works by taking a filament called PLA (a type of plastic), and heating the material. It is then pushed through a nozzle, creating a thin layer, which is then built upon to ultimately create your final piece. It’s similar to how a glue gun works.
I chose to print a die that was sized to scale. During my training workshop, Wilson Chen, I-CUBE’s program coordinator, already had a 3D design of the die ready, which he fed into the computer that was connected to the printer. We then watched the magic unfold.
It took about 35 minutes to print my object, which is not that long compared to some of the other prototypes that I saw. The printer starts printing bottom up and works in millimetres, so precision is key. The thinner the layer size, the longer it takes.
According to Chen, 3D printing is slowly changing the world.
“We’re starting to see 3D printers not only being able to print in plastic but also metal, wood, and carbon. [I’ve] heard of some that can even handle food,” he explains.
The printing phenomena allows users to get creative with their designs. Aspiring entrepreneurs, researchers, or even simply those with an idea, can expand their way of thinking and explore the new possibilities this futuristic technology brings.
As with any new and innovative technology, there are limits to 3D printing. The printers can be quite expensive, but hopefully as the consumer market grows, the prices will decrease.
3D printing will undoubtedly change the manufacturing industry and contribute to other aspects such as advances in medicine (3D-printed prosthetic limbs are already being produced).
As for me, I’m sure I’ll be using Cubert again in the future—next time, perhaps for my own original idea.