How it Works: The exciting world of 3-D printing

Owen LaBarre, center, explains to Josh Cassill, left, and David Cassill, right, how computer software can be translated into 3D printed models Wednesday at the BB2C Makerspace in Marietta. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

From quick prototypes to dental molds, replacement nozzles and even modeled industrial sites and projects, 3D printing crosses multiple industries.

“We used 3D scanning on the Start Westward Monument project to then build a to-scale detailed replica for that project’s marketing efforts to raise funds for restoration,” explained Project Manager Jesse Daubert, of Pickering Associates. “There’s really all kinds of applications, but 3D printing and modeling for us helps the client grasp floor plans better, or get a better feel for what a building or layout will look like.”

At Building Bridges to Careers’ Makerspace on Lancaster Street in Marietta, hobbyists and prospective engineers alike can tinker in 3D printing and learn about applications across multiple fields.

“They can do 3D scans and structure braces, dentures, print a tooth or a temporary cap, there are doctors using it in the medical field in orthodics, chocolatiers are actually printing with chocolate or creating complex molds and even really intricate aerospace parts are being 3D printed,” explained Brent Smith, a volunteer at the Makerspace.

Smith, who retired from a career in the chemical industry, said even the materials used in 3D printing vary, from different grades of plastics to concrete.

The base of a 3D printed object begins with a hatching to support the structure as it grows and keep it secured on a hot plate while the rest of the structure is built. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“They even have made houses out of 3D printing concrete,” he said as he explained the steps of 3D printing.

Tasha Werry, executive director of BB2C, said having 3D printers at the Makerspace allows not only hobbyists to build small toys or model cars, but also introduces community members to the process of prototyping and the software skills which translate to metal milling and product fabrication.

“It’s computer controlled and if you can manipulate the software and understand the program behind it, there are lots of connections you can make,” she explained. “And there’s a progression into metal milling if you understand that programming to go from prototypes to creating a product.”

How it prints

Owen LaBarre, 20, of Marietta, taught an introduction class on 3D printing at the Makerspace Wednesday, and explained how the process of 3D printing works.

A plastic filament is fed through a 3D printer like thread through a sewing machine. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“I try to encourage anyone to start with their own idea, or modify one from a design we pull open source,” he explained. “Then if you can walk through the software, it’s trial and error to build a model, preheat the machine, hit print and watch it grow.

1. Idea

“First you start with an idea,” explained Smith. “That can be a kid coming in wanting to do a realistic replica of a special car their grandfather owns, or even a practical nozzle someone needs.”

“Even say if a nozzle on your vacuum breaks, you can print a new one,” added LaBarre.

2. Software digital sculpting

The hottest point of a 3D printer is the tip where the plastic filament comes out to adhere to the structure as it’s printed. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“Then you go into the program on the computer and start with a shape, or model and (virtually) sculpt that image in a model on your desktop,” explained LaBarre.

Smith explained a similar process has long been used in machining to create specialized parts in metal. But the fabrication process with metal machining is longer, because the programming has to include not only the part itself but each piece used to hold that part as it’s carved out of metal.

“So the upfront cost is more than if you’re printing the intricate parts and the hollow points in plastic,” Smith continued.

3. Digital slicing

After an idea is translated and sculpted digitally, the software code is put into another set of programming which translates the total sum of the model into layers.

Objects that are 3D printed are made up of layers of plastic overlapped to create greater density. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“It’s called slicing, which directly breaks down the image into three dimensions by layering x-axis points and y-axis points of the horizontal plane and adding the z-axis points to create that third dimension,” explained Smith.

4. Print

Then once the software is done slicing, LaBarre explained, the extrusion, or printing of the plastic object begins.

“We put a solution down so that the (heated plastic thread) sticks to the plate, then we preheat it and hit print,” LaBarre said, demonstrating each step. “Then you watch it grow.”

Brothers David Cassill, 17, and Josh Cassill, 14, learned the steps from LaBarre Wednesday and could already picture how they’ll utilize the 3D printers.

“I’ve been interested in this for a long time, along with the 3D modeling software,” said David. “I know biomedical engineers use 3D printing for prosthetics and it could probably really help with interior design. But I want to go into electrical and robotic engineering and we’ve 3D printed some pieces in our robotics team already.”

David attends Wood County Christian School.

“And I like Pokemon stuff so I’d like to make a pot in one of those shapes and then grow a plant out of it,” added Josh.

The pair said they’ll be returning to use the printer at the Makerspace, and until then plan to tinker in the free online programs like TinkerCAD.

For more information or to sign up for a 3D printing class contact Building Bridges to Careers at 740-370-6399 or via email at bb2cinfo@gmail.com.


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