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Published June 2nd 2013
Learn about printing in 3D and using a laser cutter free
In the past if you wanted to make something, it was often necessary to machine it down from a block of material such as plastic or metal. For a single object, the process is expensive, time consuming, slow, and wasteful.
By contrast printing in 3D typically builds things from plastic-like PLA filaments (made from corn starch). The PLA is an environmentally friendly material that is biodegradeable, is available in either rigid or flexible form, and comes in many different colours. It's relatively cheap and quick to make things, and there is no waste.
A 3D printer can use many other types of materials, but PLA is the most common. Adelaide's Fab Lab now has a selection of 3D printers available - which 3D printer you use will depend on the materials you work with.
The software used for design and production at Fab Labs is mostly open source, free (or affordable), and easy to use. There is a large world wide community supporting many of the programs, and little instruction is needed to get started.
A laser cutter uses a powerful laser to engrave or cut materials such as wood, acrylic, plastic, marble, glass, paper or fabric. More sophisticated laser cutter machines can even cut holes in diamonds.
Being computer controlled, the laser cutter designs can be extremely complex, and with very fine tolerance. The laser itself only uses about 40 watts, and is far more energy efficient than machining using traditional techniques.
What is a Fab Lab? Fab Labs are part of an international network of digital fabrication laboratories started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There is a charter dictating how the Fab Labs operate, which volunteers and users must follow.
Fab Lab Adelaide was the brainchild of Karen Marsh, a 3D printer enthusiast who moved to Australia in 2009. With support from ANAT, seed funding from the SA Government through DFEEST, and accommodation provided in Adelaide College of the Arts , Fab Lab Adelaide has been extremely successful in educating the public about laser cutting and printing in 3D.
The lab in Adelaide is so popular that there is now demand for it to provide even greater access and more facilities for digital fabrication.
Fab Lab is freely available to individuals and small businesses - all you need to do is attend an induction session, agree to the Charter, and book a time to use the equipment. Simple!
Unlike many areas of engineering which are usually overwhelmingly dominated by males, the Fab Lab in Adelaide has a broad appeal to people of all backgrounds. While the lab was founded by a woman, with funding sourced by a female manager and accommodation provided by a female director, there is no gender bias among the lab users.
Older people have been just as quick as the young to embrace the new technology, and one of the older volunteers is particularly well equipped to guide new starters on fabrication techniques and which 3D printer to use.
The new uses that are being found for printing in 3D keep growing exponentially. One recent example involved a dog with a bone defect which required surgery. The Fab Lab was able to produce an identical replica of the bone for the veterinary surgeon to practice on before performing the operation on the dog. Both vet and dog were happy with the end results.
It's even possible to scan your face with a smart phone, and produce a scale model with a 3D printer.
As the technology becomes better known, it will become far more widely used in the community. See here for some other examples of how digital fabrication is being used.
Each Button Needs Different Pressure Due to Different Density
South Australia has had a long and proud history of manufacuring, particularly in the white goods and motor industries. These markets are unfortunately slowly disappearing as a significant part of our economy.
Who knows, perhaps digital fabrication may be a key to SA's future success story?
Digital fabrication has now not only been embraced by the Fab Lab in Adelaide, but some councils are now installing a 3D printer in Digital Hubs with funding support from the Australian Government. Check with your local council to see if one is available.
At Adelaide City Council's Innovation Labs you can drop in without booking and watch a 3D printer in operation, and even get free one to one training from a volunteer.
Charles Sturt's Digital Hub encourages people to make appointments to use a 3D printer - call the Library on (08) 8408 1333 for more information.