Just as desktop printers turned many of us into publishers of homemade cards and newsletters, 3D printers have the capacity to turn many of us into inventors and product designers.
Dan Moore, a student in the Architectural and Engineering Technology (ARET) program, believes the machines to be a game-changer for his industry because now, he can create physical, three dimensional models in a fraction of the time needed to assemble them out of foam and balsa wood. Also gone are the cuts and scratches to his fingers from using a hobby knife and from the materials themselves.
“I used to think of 3D printers as something fun and gimmicky,” he says, “where you’d create useless things that have no point, but are just cool. But being interested in architectural design, a 3D printer allows me to make a model for a client and say, ‘This is what your house is going to look like.’ ”
ARET recently purchased two printers, one more sophisticated than the other, and already Moore has printed off two houses. His first was a class project of a home designed for a Sun Peaks neighbourhood and the other an experiment based on the challenges experienced with the first print. With the first house, he created one solid piece of plastic, which he learned isn’t an efficient use of time or materials. For the second smaller home, he printed the roof and a second floor as separate pieces, which could then be fit together as well as removed.
As it turns out, removable pieces will likely appeal more to clients because they get an even better feel for what the actual product will look like.
“3D printing has pushed me to be more creative because now I can actually see my projects finished instead of just on a screen,” says Moore. “I can say, ‘I designed this’. It’s something that I can actually show to people instead of just having a piece of paper. The reward is actually physically holding what you’ve created.”
How are prints made? Basically, a nozzle emits a thin heated thread of whatever material you’re using to make prints and adds layers upon layers. Specialized 3D software is used to communicate with the printer. Software ranges in price from free to a few hundred dollars, while printers range from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Communities of enthusiasts have sprung up and in some cases, are driving innovation over the companies manufacturing printers and software. People can access all the code they need to print toys, wearables like jewelry, household gadgets, and more. Among the more popular websites is thingiverse.com
While most printers do plastic printouts, there are models that use ceramic, wood composite, metal, and edible food products like lard, chocolate, or blended foods able pass through tiny nozzles. Printers are being looked to more and more by a variety of users whether it is medicine for joint replacement to prosthetics for those in war-torn countries, industrial design, and the military. They’ve become a viable option for those needing specific parts that otherwise would have had to be specially-designed or ordered. Prints can be made to help explain complex concepts and even help visualize something on the molecular level.
ARET chairperson Mindy Marshall says 3D printouts add a dynamic to architecture design that has been lacking.
“Learning becomes something tangible and students remember what they’re learning much quicker and easier than a handout or comments from an instructor,” she says, adding a building’s components can be printed to further enhance a lesson.
“Trusses with dormers or skylights can be created to show roof framing, or models to show how a building interacts with surrounding buildings. 3D models can be made to show how structural beams interact together.”