Sunday, July 13, 2014

Want to know how a 3D printer works? Then look no further!

Makerbot 3D printer FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog
Makerbot 3D printer
Recently there's been hype about 3D printers and it's ranged from the good to the bad. They'll either be the technology that saves us all from ourselves, allowing us to go to the local 3D printer for what we need, or they'll be the death of us, what with hooligans producing guns at home.
I'm here to tell you that I have no idea if that's possible or not. All I know is that I'm still pretty bad at computers and art, and a two hour workshop didn't really remedy that.

The King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) has a fabrication lab (FABLAB) where you can use different digital fabrication equipment to produce models. I attended one with a friend last Saturday night to see what all the hullabaloo is about these new fangled things.

After catching a taxi to the university campus and driving around in circles in the dark, my friend and I finally found the lab nestled at the top of a rather steep ramp and with a neon coloured sign painted on the door, seemingly welcoming us to the future. How exciting, I thought, this is the beginning of my understanding of all things techie! I may have been feeling a bit too ambitious.

Once inside we were given a tour of the different zones. We would be using the 3D printing zone for our workshop on the basics of the machine, which was a Makerbot 3D printer. I liked how the class was small (workshops are also gender segregated) or else I would have felt overwhelmed being in the company of computer science/graphic design students and would have tried to unsuccessfully attempt to blend into the background.

FABLAB King Fahad University Petroleum and Minerals Saudi blog

The instructor then showed us the vinyl cutting zone where you can use the Modela, a scanning and milling(?) device, as well as the Roland vinyl cutter to produce graphics.

Modela scanning FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

Roland vinyl cutter FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

You could use the vinyl cutter to make graphics which can be placed onto shirts or on to laptops as stickers. You can see one yellow star sticker on the laptop in the middle. 

Vinyl cutting zone FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

The instructor then showed us the electronics and Arduino zone where you can play with different hardware parts.

Electronics Arduino FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

They also had a space just for brainstorming.

Brainstorming FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

The instructor then showed us the CNC machine (The Shopbot) which digitally fabricates wood, plastic, aluminum and other materials into objects such as chairs,

Digitally fabricated chair FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi blogging

letters and symbols,

CNC The Shopbot FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

as well as tables.

Digitally fabricated table FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi blogging

CNC room FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blogging

You could also use the laser cutter, which was located in the same room.

Laser cut images FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blog

After our tour, the instructor led us through which programs you can use to create digital designs which you print out with the 3D printer. She led us through a brief tutorial of Tinkercad, where we each registered for a free account and experimented with making designs. 

Tinkercad FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blogging

Finally she printed out a little prototype of a cube with a cylindrical hole in it. This is how I understood it: Basically you make your prototype on the computer program first, then send it to the printer where it takes a plastic type filament from a spool attached to the back and heats it up. It then adds layers to create your prototype.

You can see other prototypes that were produced below. Eyeglasses were particularly popular.

3D glasses FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Araiba blogging

You can see that the guy who made the airplane model tried to colour it in. He used a green marker, which was not particularly successful.

Airplane FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blogging

3D mug FABLAB KFUPM Dhahran Saudi Arabia blogging

All in all I learned a lot and am excited that there are creative spaces where students in Saudi can come to to use devices such as 3D printers. The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture plans on having printers as well. What's more the workshops at KFUPM are free, now that I attended I can book a printer to use in the future, and all the materials are free as well! You can sign up here.

I mean how cool would it be if there was a 3D printer that printed out food? I'm thinking of desserts mainly. And the edible teacups from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory specifically. I mean you can heat up sugar and it hardens after it cools so this could work, right? RIGHT?

Oops, it's Ramadan. Forgive me!!

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