3D printing is becoming a staple in manufacturing worldwide. Some fear it will replace workers on the assembly lines, lead to widespread counterfeiting of name brand items, or be used to print guns. There’s even a car dealer on Market Square that’s working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to create a 3D printed car. But what is 3D printing and what can the average person do with it?
Modern manufacturing techniques are a lot like sculpting; most things are built by taking away materials rather than by adding them. But 3D printing is known as “additive manufacturing.” A 3D printer builds objects layer by layer right before your eyes. Richard Sexton, an IT Technologist with the University of Tennessee’s Pendergrass Library, invited us to take a look at their 3D printer. The Cube X Trio, is a relatively inexpensive desktop printer which the library purchased in June of 2013. Engineering students from the College of Agriculture have used 3D printing to create prototypes.
Essentially, a 3D printer works like printing any document from your computer. You can download pre-made files from web sites like Thingiverse or you can design an object of your very own. Once the file is loaded into the printer, the magic begins. A spool of plastic material, like heavy fishing line, feeds into the printer where it is melted. A nozzle on the printer head sprays the melted material onto a surface. Each layer is built from the bottom up until the object is complete. The process reminded me of watching a Mold-A-Rama machine as a kid, only without that awesome, new box of crayons smell.
Richard envisions people using 3D printers in their homes to replace broken parts and to design their own creations. Libraries everywhere are looking to purchase 3D printers as a service they can offer the public. The Pendergrass Library has a new website, detailing what their 3D printer can do for students. For more information, contact Richard Sexton at (865) 974.4731.
Video and article by: Buck Kahler