3D Printing is here. Now.

This is amazing, it’s one thing to read about it but to see it in the flesh makes sense of it in a way that is quite arresting. immediately a world of possibilities opens up, the ‘what ifs’ swarming around. It is rarely the case to see something that is clearly going to become so significant and so soon. This will change the way the world works  when the ‘what- ifs’ happen,  even ‘teleportation’ is on offer.

The Expo – 3D printing UCD 1st October 2014

Irelands first 3d Printing Expo was held in UCD in October  2014  showcasing the latest ideas and technology.  They plan to be a service provider as well as a centre of research excellence,  attendees even got a €5 voucher towards a 3D printed object.

The Festival of 3D Printing combined a display and demo area with a series of lectures, as well as a brief workshop on a new software UI designed for ease of use (though at first glance it did seem a bit limited).  The talks made clear just how much is about to change. It also turns out that a lot of 3D designing can be done using the same type of software used by animators in 3D rendering,  it can them be exported in the correct file type, uploaded directly to the manufacturers  and then the finished objects are posted back.  It’s expensive but not prohibitive.

The Program (selection)

Introductory course on 3D file generation


The workshop introduced a new ‘easy building block’ User Interface ‘Tinkercad’ This is designed to simplify the 3D rendering process.  It is essentially a drag and drop system of readymade virtual units of construction within a virtual three dimensional matrix.  After the basic construction is created it can then be finessed.

Touching the Constructs of your Dreams Lecture by Dr. Andrew Folan, NCAD (Printmaker & Sculptor).

Sculpture and Printmaker Dr Folen gave an overview of his work and experiment with 3D printing.  Artists bring ability to play with the technology

Folen’s printmaking developed into 3D sculptural pieces with a series made of Stacked prints; a 3D object made of printed images. This led him into 3D modelling. His interest peaked by the Kline Bottle, this is a construct which has only  one surface – it ‘cannot be real, only conceived’.

This informed his piece  ‘Autopoiesis animation Original seed 2013’   Made of laser-sintered polyamide  ‘built up like stalagmites’.

Another work  ‘ Prometheous’ is ‘like a series of snap shots, a  series of iterations of the same flower’ .

laser sinter, digital information made manifest. Virtual animation turned material

The 3D image was created using the animation  3D modelling software ‘Blender‘,   with rigging and skinning.  Finally it can be sent – that is uploaded  – to a service providers website which also handles the file conversion (this is an  .stl export from blender) the object is then printed out and eventually ‘a  courier arrives with the stuff’. (See below for a few links).

‘The printout in 3D is like reverse stop animation.  The virtual becomes real, material, like digital DNA.  It obeys the rules of virtual space. Each object has its own unique ‘fingerprint’ depending on its position in the build chamber; look at calcium layers of stalagmites- this is low tech, like printing layers of objects’ .

‘This is something you have made but never touched;  Making a non-material virtual object  which then becomes real.  Reminds us of Audience Theory – “me thinking an object into reality” –  making inner consciousness material.  Like making art’.

3D Printing: Yesterday, Today, and Especially TomorrowLecture by Prof. Debra Laefer, UCD

Arguably 3D printing was invented by women knitting yarn, and the first 3D Printer was the knitting machine.  Originally invented in the 1980 ‘Fused Deposition Modelling’ (FDM) was the start of modern 3D printing.  The patent expired after 20 yrs leading to a boom in 3D printing (see Stratasys).  It is very good for bespoke objects. These include dental applications, MRI printouts for practice,  personalised implants, printed skin, fashion (although filaments are still  brittle),  3D food – possibly incorporating medicine into food, or a  3D pancake or laser sintered sugar.  It has been used for once off complex objects, for example in aeronautics,  to test various designs for weight reduction of interior plane furnishings.  This  is not  cheap, fast or intended for mass production.  However, using 3D printing for testing is cost effective when the potential cost savings are taken into account.  Less weight equals lower fuel use so lower overall costs to the industry.

Tomorrow -the vision:  3D printing will be integrated with other technologies.  with Haptics remote touch (Ed; giving users a sense of touch within a virtual environment, important for a sense of control and for reaction) .  A  recent ‘technology to wear’ show was packed while the ‘traditional’ textile show next door was empty.  Developments proposed include a coat with  integrated GPS – directions to wear.  also, the conductive filament, Graphite, could be 3D printed.

The risk of carbon tax  impacts may include no more cheap outsourcing, with a need to restart local production.  To start with, 3D printing would be for the affluent.  However it may become  like internet cafes, but with 3D printers.  The  3D printers are getting cheaper, the industry is aiming for under €150. Uses include for testing,  modelling,  speedy production, using Google earth to make a 3D map or model; there is lots of enthusiasm for this new technology, it is highly intuitive.

So, what to do with the new 3D printer??? – ‘We’ll use it to print another one… ‘

Display & Demonstrations

Metal 3D Printing Machine Demo

The MLAB Metal Printer can make objects with elaborate structures. Metals used include gold, silver, bronze, stainless steel and chromium.  it uses non reactive metal dust and lasers.  The build chamber is quite small and it is expensive, so currently it suits small intricate objects.

In answer to several questions, ‘no –we can’t print guns in 3D because  plastic explodes. To print a metal one you would need to buy a machine costing about €2.5 mill – and still no ammo;  it would be cheaper to just buy a gun’.

3D Printing using Paper

One machine printed using paper and glue to make strong objects. Usually  they use plastic, this one was intended to be more environmentally friendly.


The process involved layer after layer of paper being glued together, pressed and then at the end the shape is cut out.

paper 3d printer 1  paper 3d 2

Paper 3d crop   paper 3d 4

paper print 5  paper 3d 6 cut

Paper 3d crop     paper 3d final

For Schools

Several suppliers are providing basic equipment for school use. a small handheld 3D ‘pen’ is also available.

3d pritning for schools brochure

The 3D Printing machine in action

Most machines use plastic filament bought on a roll and fed into the printer where it is used as the material to create the 3D structure.

See a 3D printer in action here

Some links

Plastic filament supplier

D&R Reelings Ltd

3D Printer Suppliers


Laber Labz

Personal Design Processing Service 2D already here



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