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2 April 2012

Affordable 3D Printing in Nexus Magazine

The April/May edition of the Nexus magazine has published a rewritten and slightly shorter version of my Affordable 3D Printing article.

Though shorter it still covers five pages and contains:
- overview of 3D printing concepts and history
- 3D printer anatomy
- 3D materials science and thermoplastic polymers
- significant developments and applications
- low cost desktop 3D printers
- potential impact of these affordable 3D printers

Here's an extract from the article:

A basic 3D printer is uncomplicated in both design and operation. Typically it’s a cuboid frame supporting a print bed which moves in a vertical orientation, forming the Z axis. Above this bed, motorised arms propel the printhead in an X and Y axis motion. The printhead guides and heats the print material, which is extruded onto the print platform, rather like ‘hot glue’.

How big is this cuboid shape? Well, that’s really dependent on the items to be printed. Small items only need a small printer - one which takes up no more space than a inkjet paper printer. For larger items the whole assembly is scaled-up, as exemplified by a number of initiatives looking into printing full sized buildings. Even with industrial sized construction and a printhead gantry running on rails, these machines are instantly recognisable as big brothers to the desktop 3D printer.

A 3D printer’s on-board computing requirements are pretty basic too. Being more akin to a motorised calculator there's just a few circuit boards, and a PC connection port to receive a multi-layered 3D digital model. Once a model is received, printing a layer simply involves controlling the flow of material and the printhead's X and Y motion. After each layer it will move the Z axis print platform according to the previously specified print resolution.

The processing power and software required to create 3D digital models can be provided by the powerful computing devices we already own. Harnessing our existing computing resources helps to keep down the start-up costs, and there's already a large choice of commercial and open source 3D modelling applications. Widespread 3D printer adoption would encourage software developers to create additional innovative applications, some of which could be targeted at tablet and smartphone devices.

This international magazine is available from your local W.H. Smiths, and the article itself can be purchased online from this page.

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