Digital Fab Lab / 3D Printers
3D printers, also known as 3D rapid-prototypers, are capable of taking digital geometry in the form of a stereolithographic file (.stl) and producing small models. The necessary file can be produced from a variety of different 3D modeling software, such as Rhino, 3D studio max, and Digital Project. Regardless of which software or 3D printer one is using, the file must be "watertight," that is no open edge.
Here at Taubman College, we currently have four 3D printers available to students. Two print with plaster and two with ABS plastic. While the plaster and plastic printers operate in different manners, the process of creating a file is identical. Yet, a basic understanding of the limitations of each of these machines should be known before submitting a file.
The ZCorp 310 and 403 use plaster and a binding agent to create 3D models. Each has an approximate building volume of 8" x 8" x 10". The length of time for a model to be printed ranges from a few hours to 12+ hours. In addition, once done printing it needs to be excavated, cleaned and if desired waxed. In comparison to ABS, plaster printing is a relatively quick procedure. The 403 is an older printer that has been with the college for some time and has slightly lower resolution than the 310, which is a recent addition to the FabLab. While geometry has a great impact on the feasibility of a print, a general rule-of-thumb is 1/8" minimum thickness. A waxer is available for plaster prints, since they otherwise tend to be very fragile.
ABS Plastic Printers
The College currently has two ABS printers, which operate in the same manner, but have different building volumes. The 768SST's building volume is 8"x8"x12", while the 1200es is slightly larger at 10" x 10" x 12". The ABS is stronger than the plaster and has some degree of flexibility. It therefore, is capable of producing much thinner members than the plaster printers (as low as .040"). In addition, both ABS printers offer a larger building volume than their plaster counterparts. The ABS printers however take a substantially longer time to print and typically is more expensive than the plaster printers. Print times can range from 12 hours up to 72 hours. The ABS printers operate differently than the plaster printers, in that they print a support in addition to the model. This keeps the model from becoming unstable during the printing process. After the print is complete, the structural support is removed by placing it in a chemical bath for around 12 hours.