The week of September 7, 2014

8 reasons why you need a 3D printer

By Aaron Sankin

There are few technologies with more potential to power a DIY revolution than 3D printing. The ability for anyone with a piece of hardware costing only a few hundred dollars to produce virtually anything their imagination can conceive of could radically transform how goods are manufactured the world over.

While still in its infancy, 3D printing, which works by printing out layer after thin layer of plastic to make highly specialized designs, can already create a litany of objects that are pretty impressive—the designs for which can often be found for free online.

One of the central repositories for sharing these designs is Thingverse, an online database packed to the brim with free, user-created designs for 3D printers operated by the people behind the 3D printer manufacturer MakerBot.

The Kernel scoured Thingverse to find some of the coolest things any budding 3D printing aficionado could want to print out and display on their mantelpiece.

1. A 3D-printed 3D printer

Design/images by Hampus Sandberg
At first blush, a 3D printer that prints 3D printers is kind of terrifying. When Skynet becomes sentient and attempts to wipe out humanity, one of the most important tools in its arsenal will be a robot that prints other robots that can print robots. But until that apocalyptic nightmare actually comes true, this type of 3D printing recursiveness is exclusively pretty rad.

Last year, Hampus Sandberg posted a design to Thingverse for RodBot, a 3D-printable 3D printer. The design started as an upgrade to an existing off-the-shelf 3D printer that started to physically fall apart as Sandberg used it. However, midway through the design process, he decided to simply create his own 3D printer from scratch.

Now, it isn’t possible to create a 3D printer that’s fully functional right out of the printer. As Sandberg explained in an email to The Kernel: “There are some additional hardware required to get the printer to work, mainly bearings and different kinds of rod (hence the name RodBot). There’s also the electronics and motors which would be impossible to 3D print for obvious reasons [because 3D printers can only spit out plastic]. Some people have tried designing 3D printers which are completely printed but they usually end up using some kind of bought material like metal and such. It doesn’t make much sense to do a 100% printed printer as the designs usually require different properties on the material depending on where it’s used and that’s hard to do with only plastic.”

Not only have a handful of Thingverse users actually downloaded Sandberg’s RodBot design and turned it into a reality, but Sandberg himself has used RobBot to create 3D-printed objects:


2. Salt/pepper shaker pig

Are your pork chops tasting bland? This cute little pig can be filled with salt, pepper, or even a salt and pepper mix (if you’re feeling feisty) and then dumped out all over your chops for maximum deliciousness.

Design/images by Zh4x0r

3. Surfboard

There are few things in this world as simultaneously relaxing and exhilarating as catching some waves. For surfers who want to take total control of their experience, 3D printing their own board is the only way to go.

‟I’ve been making and riding cardboard-core surfboards for about three years now. They work,” explains the creator of this 6’4” surfboard design. ‟Leaks are not the huge problem you would expect. And they happen to look—what’s that old term the surfers used to use—awe…, awes…, awessss…, Bitchin!”

Design/image by Mike Sheldrake

4. Kanye

Look, he’s a genius, the voice of generation, a lover of both watching thrones and munching on fish sticks. What better way to celebrate that than with a 3D-printed replica of Kanye West’s head? If you’re asking why you’d want to print out a replica of Kanye West’s head, the only answer is to quote the man himself: “Cause my life is dope, and I do dope s**t.”

Design/image by kborer

5. The Thinker

Auguste Rodin’s statue ‟The Thinker” is one of the most iconic pieces of art on the planet. It’s the work of a master, and recreating its every line by carving your own out of stone is virtually impossible for all but the most masterful and practiced sculptors. Luckily, you can just download this design, send it to your printer, and have your very own Thinker pop out at the push of a button.

Design/photo by lampmaker

6. Prosthetic hand

It’s no secret that much of the 3D-printing community are themselves professional designers. This prosthetic hand can be used by people designing tools for those with disabilities to get a better sense of what it’s like to move through the world with a prosthetic limb. Sure, it’s more of a niche product than a surfboard or Kanye West’s head (maybe), but this type of forward thinking is precisely what makes the 3D-printing movement so exciting.

Design/images by MacGyvrBot

7. Flower pot necklace

Small and easy to get creative with, jewelry is an area that’s quickly becoming one of the most active segments of the 3D-printing world. This necklace, which also doubles as a wearable flower pot, will spruce up any outfit with a dash of color and also photosynthesis.

Design/image by LeFabShop

8. Treasure chest

So now you have all these awesome 3D-printed things, where do keep them so they’ll be safe from 3D-printed pirates? Inside a lockable 3D-printed treasure chest, of course.

Design/image by Sean Flanagan, image by Frank Joosen

Main photos by Hampus Sandberg/Thingverse | Remix by Jason Reed