3D printing was one of those things that I always wondered about, but never actually did any research. Well, thanks to this trip to 3D printing company, Stratasys, I uncovered a whole new world! I learned a lot of technical things from the tour guides, but just saying that I learned a couple things would be an understatement. This totally blew my mind, and I was geeking out. It’s not only a tool, but something that is a start of a new generation, new era of thinking and innovation.
We started our tour with Polyjet 3D printing. Polyjet is liquid-based, which takes the ratios of the liquid plastic, and “jets” them out to build the final product. There’s also another type of 3D printing called FDM (Fuse Deposition Modeling). It was interesting to see a injection molding, where they inject the liquid plastic between two molds for finer, detailed designs. I especially found their “rotary into retillier motion” 3D piece fascinating- it would spin a wheel, and get a linear motion (instead of the usual circular motion!).
In the lobby, we were all drawn to a giant 3D printed creature that looked like it walked out of Harry Potter. There, we were introduced to casting material, like paint, to give the printed parts a more desired look. We also dug deeper into how they work with customers, plus R&D (research and development) and Testing. Basically, it’s designing the product, 3D printing it, and continue tweaking/developing it, till it’s to the point where they bring in consumers to test it on. That sounded really cool, and Evan (our guide) described the best part of his job to be helping and working with people.
It absolutely took our breath away to see the world’s largest multi-material 3D printer in action! It was huge, and usually prints for 130+ hours! Here, we learned that a big factor in how long it takes to create a new part, depends on how tall/thick it is. We also got to peek in the backroom, where they presented an innovative idea. The problem with FDM printers are that they create air gaps in the parts, and so someone came up with the genius idea of using a vacuum mold, and pouring the plastic to fill in the gaps.
3D parts are becoming an amazing help in the world, and branching into practically every industry. Fun fact: ESD printed parts, if put between two antennas, can break the interference of radio signals. Another fun fact we stumbled across, upon almost dropping $800 worth of vero-blue (a type of plastic): vero-clear comes out yellowish, but if you leave it under the sun for a while, it will transform into see-through clear. And, who could forget support material? The “magic” that makes printed parts move. With support material, it gives the part a matte feel, or else it becomes glossy. In the end, we all received 3D printed catapults that are made from a certain plastic, that can resist gamma radiation!
Overall, I had a blast learning about 3D printing! There’s so much we could do with it! As long as you have a design, you can create it with a 3D printer! It has made developing prototypes much more efficient, and is less costly. They have already started with 3D printed arms and legs in the biomedical fields. It was incredibly interesting, inspiring, and innovative! With what they have already accomplished, and the endless possibilities of what could happen. As someone wise said today, “if you can think it, you can make it!”
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