3D Printing for Happier Holidays: Christmas Edition

by Tyler Reid

Christmas – It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Winter_SnowmanThis is a time to host parties, share stories with friends and family (even the same ones told 100x before), build epic snowmen, and organize neighborhood snowball wars.

Can 3D printing really make this holiday any happier? I actually questioned this myself…

 

An era of empowerment and personal manufacturing

Our nieces and nephews stayed with us recently.  They live in a farm town a couple hours north of us and this was their Christmas vacation. Age in this group ranged from 15 to 20, our discussions included many of the same challenges I faced at that age: buying a fixer-upper as a first car, applying for jobs, the perils of living with friends, etc.

When the topic of 3D printing came up, I was reminded that they are growing up in a different technological era than I did. We are living in an era of empowerment and personal manufacturing, enabled by digital fabrication tools. This is an era where an untrained person can manifest what their mind creates – where their ideas can literally take shape.

It was important to me that they not only understood this, but experienced it. So after a very brief intro into 3D printing, CAD modeling, laser scanning, laser cutting, CNC machining, STL files.  Ok, on second thought, maybe it wasn’t so brief! After our primer on digital manufacturing, we took on a project.

Stencils and Cappuccino

Everyone was finishing their Sunday morning coffee when I remembered a neat file I saw on Thingiverse: a cappuccino stencil.

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They all liked the idea so we decided to print a few of our own.  I found more files on Thingiverse and we discussed the concept of a digital library for “things” and how important community contributions were to 3D printing and personal fabrication.

We took a few extra minutes and modified one of the downloaded files. We imported the STL file into SOLIDWORKS, de-featured it, and used stencil fonts to personalize two parts for the girls.

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Mass Production vs. Customization via Additive Manufacturing

We had just made custom parts! This idea was mostly foreign to them – outside of “personalized” novelty license plates they couldn’t think of anything they had bought that was custom to their own wants or needs.

Of course there is a reason for that – mass production requires minimal customization. But additive manufacturing is changing the way we think about one-off parts. How far could that customization go? Could our parts be as unique as say, snowflakes?

Ironically enough, a user has submitted a snowflake generator to Thingiverse! It uses sliders, random numbers, and algorithms to create 3D geometry. Each of us took turns playing with the sliders and creating our own custom snowflake STL. It didn’t matter how complex the outcome was – we knew the printers could handle it!

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At this point, time was running short. We had about 10 parts to print and more family was due to arrive in just 2 hours for a pre-Christmas dinner. I headed to the office to start the prints.

Being a snowy Sunday morning, I had my pick of machines. I opted for the PolyJet machines for their fast output– using the Objet 30Prime to print the snowflakes in VeroClear and the Connex2 350 to print the stencils in VeroBlack (possibly the least-festive color but sometimes you just use what is already loaded!).

Estimated build time: 36 minutes.

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The parts cleaned up quickly and I made it back in time for all of us to sugar-up and caffeinate before the crowd arrived. We picked our own poison – white chocolate latte’s for some, egg nog for others – sifted some cinnamon on each, and enjoyed our custom creations together as a family. 3DP XMAS 5

The Community of 3D Printing

We all learned a lesson that day. 3D printing is accessible and empowering – the kids were inspired and began brainstorming what they might build next. I was reminded how important community and collaboration are to the successful adoption of 3D printing. By building on the efforts of others, we can bring this technology into new industries and more innovative applications.

This year, 3D printing did make our holiday happier. I suspect it will do the same next year; and just about every day in between – that’s just the type of technology it is.

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