By William V. Burns
When I was about twenty-five years old, I visited the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and one of the most spectacular exhibits was the German WWII U-boat, U-505. It had doors cut into it so tourists such as myself could walk through the innards, fiddle with the knobs and switches, and then exit out near a small gift shop. As I exited the boat, I saw a loooong line of small children next to a machine the size of a refrigerator. I walked up to the front of the line and smelled hot plastic…
The Mold-a-Rama machine accepted two shiny quarters, and then through the Plexiglas bubble cover you saw two halves of a mold close, valves turn, levers press down… a tense but short pause as molten plastic was injected, and then the hiss of cooling air, the levers pulling away, the mold opening and your own, made-just-for-you model of the U-505 sliding down a shiny metal chute into a hopper at the front, for your eager fingers to hold, hot and freshly made.
I was impressed – imagine a plastic injection molding factory entirely housed in one small machine.
Yesterday I watched Steven, one of our employees, upload a design file from a PC into a small machine, about eighteen inches wide, tubes, gears, heating elements and circuit boards – the whole assembly resembling one of Rube Goldberg’s cartoon devices.
I watched and took a few photos, appended to this post, as the machine squirted out threads of molten plastic, built a flat mesh base, and then swept back and forth printing up a shape on that base; in a few minutes I had in my hand a badge with a *cough* familiar cartoon face on it, made of sturdy ABS plastic.
Our DIY 3-D printer is a Cupcake CNC from MakerBot Industries.
The New Industrial Revolution is known as DIY 3-D printing. For about nine hundred up to two thousand United States dollars, you can buy kits to assemble at the additional cost of some time and a few superficial cuts, and you will end up with your very own 3-D printer, capable of making small plastic objects of your own design.
The future is here and we are watching it unfold in our store. These printers (and also cutters, and engravers, and milling machines) will improve every few months, and soon you will be able to make consumer-grade items in your garage. Or come by and watch us make them in our store.