A 3D printer isn’t much more than a computer-controlled hot glue gun squirting out and building up beads of hot melt glue into interesting shapes. The process is called “fused deposition modeling” (FDM) and you can see it in action in two places on campus—the Logan Museum of Anthropology and CELEB. The Logan’s printer was perhaps the first on campus but with prices plummeting and the technology becoming more common it won’t be long until they’ll be in dorm rooms and apartments around campus.
Here at the Logan we’re intrigued by the possibility of using 3D printing to create object facsimiles for display or mount creation. It would be safer for the original artifact if we built the exhibit mount on a replica rather than the real thing. Or maybe the actual mount structure could be designed digitally and then printed.
A 3D printer is less like a document printer and more like a musical instrument; at least that’s the best way to describe the learning curve for using one. It takes a lot of practice to get good. Decisions about print materials, layer heights (a typical object is built up from individual layers that are 200 microns, or .2mm, thick), orientation on the printer bed, temperatures of the extruder and bed, and so on mean that there are plenty of ways to mess up a print. And with prints taking several hours to complete (depending on size and complexity) messed up prints waste a LOT of time. Fortunately, the 3D printing community is incredibly welcoming to newcomers, driver and 3D model design software is often open-source (free!), and if you are mechanically inclined there are plans aplenty for how to make your own 3D printer from scratch.
If you want to see a 3D printer in action call us (or CELEB). But you should know it’s about as interesting as watching oil paint dry and it takes about as long. The results however, are pretty amazing.
The first thing to come off the Logan's 3D printer was this turtle. No gnomes yet...