It’s been about 18 months since I posted about my first forays into 3D printing, an exercise that was fraught with complications, frustrations and lackluster software. It should then come as little surprise to know that we haven’t been able to get it to print much since then with most of the test cubes failing at about 20% in. I know that it’s a solvable problem, one that I was getting close to resolving, however the amount of time and energy I put into tuning it burnt me out on the whole idea and I trucked the printer off to one of the other contributors to let them have a go on it. Surprisingly though this didn’t sour me on the whole 3D printing scene and I’ve been continuously ogling printers ever since.
Then along came PAX Australia, the biggest event of its type to grace the shores of Australia and an opportune moment for me to embrace my inner cosplayer. My character of choice is Adam Jensen, the augmented star of my choice for game of the year 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now I’m not exactly great at crafts or building things but Jensen’s costume seemed to be well within my reach thanks to the availability of a trench coat that gets you about 90% of the way there with the rest of the items being easily procured elsewhere.
There was one piece that I wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere however: the eye augments. Searching around the Internet showed that many people had created their own with majority of them favouring a particular brand of sunglasses that was close and could be modified slightly to give the required look. Even that seemed a little out of my reach so I resigned myself to digging up a 3D model extracted from the game and getting it printed at Shapeways. However after all the fooling around I had done with 3D printing previously I knew that I should get a couple prints done first to make sure the size was right and with my printer still far away from being serviceable (at least last I heard of it) I hit up one of my mates who’d recently come into possession of a Solidoodle 2. Since the prints he’d done surpassed anything I had done I figured it’d be worth trying it out on his before I sent them to Shapeways.
Those following me on Twitter will know that I’ve since done a couple test prints of the augments and the results have been quite astounding. The first round was done at 0.3mm and honestly was fairly serviceable, requiring a bit of finishing to smooth out all the extraction lines. Printing at 0.1mm resolution however was a different ballgame altogether and the final pieces from it were almost good enough to not require any further work, should you not be a slave to an impertinent perfectionist like myself. I’ll probably not be bother to get them done at shapeways now because of this which is something I didn’t expect to happen when I first set out on this quest.
Going through this experience brought all those stories I had been reading about the great success stories I had been reading about 3D printing. It wasn’t just about people creating things at home nor the controversial printed gun, no it was more like the 3D printed jaw that’s been implanted into someone or even the first fully articulated 3D printed gown. In a rather interesting coincidence it also came to my attention that someone had redesigned the tried and true plaster cast used to set broken bones with a 3D printed design, one that has multiple advantages over the current style.
As someone who endured with a full length arm cast as a 10 year old (I.E. right up to the elbow) I can attest to all the issues mentioned here being real and something that I would’ve gladly done away with. The design seems so simple with you think about it but without 3D printing it would be nearly impossible to accomplish, especially in the time frames required to set a bone so that it heals properly. You can then imagine this kind of design being applied elsewhere from replacing casts on other parts of the body to improving things like neck braces, splints and other supportive medical devices. We’re a while away from seeing these kinds of things in practice but considering the rapid adoption rate we’re seeing with 3D printing in other medical practices I can’t imagine it’d be too far off.
Now I’m not about to start professing about how 3D printing will be the death of manufacturing or how it will bring the “problems” of the digital world to the physical but it’s hard to deny the change that’s occurring. Whether it’s printing cosplay accessories or replacement jaw bones 3D printing has enabled all sorts of things that just weren’t possible previously. Even Microsoft has recognised its importance by incorporating 3D printing support directly into Windows 8.1 something that will undoubtedly push the industry even further into the mainstream.
The 3D printing revolution is happening, and it’s freaking awesome.