Tuesday, September 27, 2022

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Tech Talk

Do it yourself with 3D printers


Everyone has that one gadget in the house that runs perfectly for years and then unexpectedly falls apart. It might be the disc tray on your Blu-ray player or the ceiling fan that pops a screw. For me it was a waffle iron that snapped its hinge in the middle of breakfast. The industrious among us might head to the hardware store and replace the broken part, but more often than not it seems those adventures are exercises in futility. Thankfully, there is an advancement in manufacturing that promises to end these nightmares: the 3D printer.

As if taken straight from Star Trek, 3D printers take digital three-dimensional models of real-world objects and physically produce them using epoxy resins and malleable plastics. First actualized in the mid 1980s, 3D printers have only recently become fiscally and technologically feasible to be used as a means of parts production.

As with many new technologies, 3D printers run the gamut of public opinion. In 2013, the first 3D printed handgun was successfully built and fired, sparking a firestorm of controversy over the production and sale of unlicensed, metal detector-proof firearms. On the education and research front, institutions such as Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine have started integrating 3D printers into training and research replicating animal skeletons, thereby cutting down on the need for cadavers. On the consumer side, a 3D printer was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January that could print complex baked goods such as cupcakes.

Controversies or not, 3D printing is gaining in popularity, so much so that Home Depot is set to become the first brick and mortar retailer to sell 3D printers this month. As exciting as this technology is, for the average consumer the cost and manufacturing skillset required are far too prohibitive. The printing model Home Depot has on its shelves costs $1,500, the necessary “ink” cost hundreds, and the software to run the device almost requires an engineering degree to understand. So before you make any plans to print a new DVD player, you better start saving and hit the books. CV

Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.

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