3D Printing and You

By: August Dice ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of howdesign.com. | There are a number of things that you can 3D print, including cell phone cases, figurines, jewelry, toys and spare parts to broken accessories.

Xavier University, in order to jump ahead of the curve, is home to a bunch of third dimensional additive manufacturing machines (3D printers). As students, very few of us engage in the process, despite the easy-access that the university provides.

3D printing was not the breakthrough discovery that some had hoped it would be. Instead of reaching such technological heights as lab-grown meat or Vedolizumab (the forerunning drug in the fight to cure AIDs), 3D printing has fallen to the level of drones and virtual reality: they are all quite fun, but they’re not what we had hoped.

Some of you may remember that a few years back, Xavier purchased a number of 3D printers of varying sizes from MakerBot. The hype around these machines, at the time, was very high and I was no exception, though I was a part of a class that had been tasked with beta-testing the machines before they opened up for students.

However, the excitement has dispersed in a short time, and Xavier is not alone. MakerBot recently announced a companywide layoff of nearly 30 percent of overall staff. What does this mean? MakerBot was meant to be the next big company that was going to bring 3D printing into our homes, but there’s still hope for it yet.

3D printing is currently valued as a $4 billion industry, and it is estimated to become a $20 billion industry by 2020; the problem is that nearly 90 percent of that would be coming from business and manufacturing, not home and education. MakerBot was not wrong about 3D printing being the future. They were just a little too early to the party.

So what does this mean for us students? Did we just indirectly pay for a heap of tech that we can’t even use? The short answer is no. The majority of the 3D printers that Xavier bought are the MakerBot Replicator, which is still considered the best 3D printer for personal use.

So we have a bunch of printers that are easy to use, what next? How about we try and print something? For the more technically savvy among you, the best way to print exactly what you want is to design a three dimensional model in a Computer Aided Drafting program (CAD), such as AutoCAD.

If you lack the skills or the software, there is still a very strong chance that you can 3D print something amazing. Through the use of public file sites like Thingiverse, anyone can access pre-designed CAD files that are all ready for printing; it is just a matter of downloading the file, going to the MakerSpace on the first floor of the library, uploading the file within the MakerBot printing program and hitting print.

We may not be printing genetically enhanced fruit and bioengineered human hearts just yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with what we have. Go ahead and make something, or find it online and claim you made it.