Presentation by Mike Kaltschnee
Review by Fred Klingener
The dirty secret about 3D printing is that it has been wildly overhyped. Early adopters are finding that consumer printer models are fussy and slow, and they produce results that often don’t match expectations. But overheating and the subsequent cooling of the market hasn’t changed even a little the conviction that 3D printing is the future.
For one thing, 3D printer manufacturers are shipping commodity models that Santa can assemble even after three or four beers and can produce a platoon of Storm Troopers before breakfast on Christmas morning. This has to count for something.
“0 to 60 miles per hour in one hour.”
Mike Kaltschnee, who is co-founder of Danbury Hackerspace (a non-profit corporation that provides 3D printers and other tools for its members) and a familiar face around Danbury computation, returned to our November meeting to update the membership on 3D printing, its current state, its prospects and how to climb on board. The experienced DACS audience member might have expected to see an array of 3D printers humming away on stage, accompanied by a discussion of relative merits. But if he/she had read the meeting preview, they would have brought fully charged laptops, prepared to get up to speed (Mike promised “0 to 60 miles per hour in one hour.”) with modern 3D model creation.
This interactive, executable tutorial presentation was a first for DACS, enabled by the emergence of powerful web-based, OS-agnostic, run-in-a-browser applications. It was a brave thing to do – to pile the vagaries of auditorium wireless and diversity of laptop hardware and software on top of the usual hazards of live presentation, but it worked far better that could have been guessed. I’ll say more about that later.
The focus of the presentation was a guided tour of Tinkercad, a capable, full-featured 3D CAD program, free, hosted by Autocad and supported by an active user community. It runs from the web in any browser that supports WebGL. A curmudgeon, such as your reviewer, might be turned off by the Playskool-like user interface until he is reminded that that is precisely the point – the notional target user is a school child bent on realizing an idea without needing help from an adult. It’s an immensely powerful idea, and it will be an immensely important result if the notion comes real.
Mike led us through creation and assembly of models of such things as luggage tags, a barn and a chicken to live in it, a selection that exercised basic features of the interface. Some of us were able to keep up, at least one with iOS/Safari on an iPad.
Don’t know what to draw in Tinkercad first? The internet is stuffed with ideas and finished models. For instance, Thingiverse is a community assembly that reports almost a million models available for download, modification and printing, most under Creative Commons license. It’s probably the first place to look for those Storm Trooper models.
While the hobbyist/consumer 3D printer suppliers seem to be engaged in a race to the bottom, the need and interest in producing functional parts from engineering materials remain strong. Fortunately, it’s easy to take the next steps. The hobby printers rely almost exclusively on process that fuses a plastic filament to build up successive layers of the object. The selection of materials is limited, and the dimensional stability, irrelevant in a Storm Trooper, is difficult to achieve. If you want to explore advanced materials or processes, first, start calling it “additive manufacture”, then talk to Mike or visit Danbury Hackerspace to sample the array of resident printers, laser cutters or routers.
For serious product development, explore websites such as Shapeways or I.materialise, services that offer estimating and production in a wide selection of materials, using a wide selection of processes.
If the power of a professional CAD environment is needed, programs such as Onshape offer free services for hobbyists and educators and will be accessible to Tinkercad users.
In the last few months, your reviewer has attended several technical conferences and presentations, and all those presentations ran in the cloud, subject to the whim of the Wi-Fi served by the venue. During Mike’s presentation, even though tests of the local Wi-Fi throughput reported blazing speed, the response of Tinkercad was sometimes balky. DACS should definitely keep trying.