Three-dimensional printing doesn't involve printing or ink.
The devices are less about printing than they are about a new way of making objects. Drawings created on computers are sent to a so-called 3-D printer, which then forms the objects from spools of plastic filament one thin layer at a time, using the same type of plastic used to make Lego blocks.
More than 20 hobbyists, including some who hope to turn their hobby into a business, hosted a 3-D printing demonstration last month at EpiCentral Coworking creating various shapes - frogs, a woman's body, for example - and other items so those interested in the technology could learn more about it, said Chris Vestal, who organized the meeting. Several hobbyists were building their own 3-D printers at the meeting, while most of the others showed off their printers, what they could make and talked about how they use their devices.
Vestal has already formed a company, MotoMinded, to put 3-D printing to use. Later this month, he hopes to start selling plastic containers for dirt bike fuel injectors made with a 3-D printer.
"I bought my own printer in January because I had an idea for this product that I will sell for $38," he said. "So far, I have made 25 of them that I have sent to professional dirt bike racers for testing, but I plan on selling them starting Sept. 16."
Vestal, who also heads the local three-dimensional animation firm Concept Vision, said he makes the water-tight fuel-injector container in an hour on his printer. He said he's starting with a small inventory, and can make more later if sales take off.
Big manufacturers started three-dimensional printing two decades ago, Vestal said, but the machines were much larger and slower than they are now.
"I worked for General Motors as a designer for headlights and taillights, and when we wanted to make prototypes, we went to the printing team and it took an entire day to make the part with a printer that took up an entire room," Vestal said.
Today's 3-D printers are up to two feet tall and about a foot square, costing $600-$700 if built from a kit bought from a Loveland company, or $1,300 for an already assembled 3-D printer.
About 80 people belong to the local group, which began meeting in March, and about 25 attend regularly, Vestal said.
Most are hobbyists like Steve Clark, an applications engineer for semiconductor manufacturer Atmel Corp., who was building his own 3-D printer from a kit. He said he plans to use the printer to make trinkets, replacement parts for mechanical devices he owns that break or prototypes for friends who are trying to turn their ideas into marketable products.
Randy Melton, another Atmel engineer, brought his son, Connor Melton, to the demonstration and made a variety of items, including a test shape used to calibrate his 3-D printer. He said he bought the printer earlier this year "because it was a new technology that everybody was talking about." He has made parts for his Shop-Vac, including a nozzle he uses to clean out a fish pond in his yard, and has even made some parts for his 3-D printer to improve its operation.
"This is additive manufacturing that builds up layer-by-layer, which is much less wasteful that a router that starts with a block and cuts away at it," Randy Melton said. "Big companies use this technology to build prototypes and hobbyists have these printers, but in five to 10 years, most consumers will have one."
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