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3D Modeling Update

3D Model

In the last month I’ve made some progress in my 3D modeling education, so I thought I’d provide an update. (Besides my last post, I got some good feedback on Google+) Oh, and just a reminder, my interest in 3D modeling all has to do with creating objects I can produce with a 3D printer like the MakerBot or the RepRap.

So what am I using (or not using) now? Here’s the list:

Google Sketchup
I’ve made some good progress with Sketchup. A few tutorials (and a lot of playing around) has me creating actual 3D models. You’ll want the STL Importer and STL Exporter to deal with STL files. Sketchup is nice, and I’m sure I’ll end up using it more as time goes on, but it’s not the end of my 3D quest.

Blender
Urgh… I’ve made no progress with Blender. Haven’t even tried. I may just wait until we do a Blender class at Milwaukee Makerspace.

123D
Still no Mac OS X version.

3DTin and Tinkercad
I talked about 3DTin last time. I haven’t used it since, but it still seems like a great way for kids to get into 3D modeling. As for Tinkercad, it seems like a more advanced version of 3DTin. Make: Live covered Tinkercad in Episode 17 if you want to check it out.

Inkscape
Say what!? Inkscape is a 2D drawing application. I’m still using it. I’ll often open vector files (SVG) and export them to DXF files and then extrude those to 3D files. Here’s a great Inkscape to OpenSCAD dxf tutorial that explains it all.

OpenSCAD
I’m still just barely using OpenSCAD, mainly in conjunction with Inkscape as mentioned above. I need to dig in a bit deeper, as time allows.

So what else is there? Well, I found Pleasant3D, which isn’t exactly modeling software, but it’s what ReplicatorG might look like if it were a full-on Mac OS X application. I’ve found it useful on a few occasions.

The other one worth mentioning is MeshLab, which may have some uses when it comes to converting or transforming files. I haven’t created anything with it yet, but it sure looks impressive.

So that’s my 3D modeling software update… Anything new to report from your desktop?

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3D Printing is the Future

3D Printers

As you may know, I’ve been playing around with a MakerBot recently, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if 3D printing was really starting to catch on… but now, I think it’s safe to say it’s catching on, and I’m pretty confident in saying 3D Printing is the Future.

I really don’t give out these predictions very often… Sure, I was an early adopter of things like blogging and podcasting, but this whole 3D printing thing is a “disruptive technology” that stands to change the world.

So with that, I’ll give a brief primer on some of the technology.

3D printing has been around for quite some time, but it’s always been very expensive, and a 3D printer was never a thing you’d have in your home. Of course, in the olden days you’d never imagine you’d have a printer in your home. Printing was something you paid a printer to do. It was complicated, and messy, and expensive. I bought my first ink-jet printer around 1999 and it was probably over $200. In 2007 I got a new one, and it was $110, and it even has a built-in scanner. Nowadays no one thinks that printing on paper with ink in their own home is anything special, so how long will it be before we think the same thing about 3D printing.

It’s fair to say that Adrian Bowyer, creator of the RepRap project, is one smart dude, not just for coming up with a 3D printer that can print itself, but for his ideas of how this technology could change the world. It’s also been said that the RepRap is “the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment…” You know, in a good way.

Now, the 3D printing revolution is happening in a different manner than the “cheap desktop printer” revolution happened. For one thing, you can assemble all the parts for a 3D printer right now, thanks to the RepRap project and it’ll be cheaper (and some say “better”) than the affordable 3D printers you can buy today.

Yes, there are affordable 3D printers you can buy today!

MakerBot
The folks at MakerBot are sort of the granddaddies of the 3D printer arena. Their “Cupcake” came out a few years ago, and their newer model, the “Thing-O-Matic” is their current offering. They’ve got the most well known brand right now, and if you doubt 3D printing will be big, they just took a $10 million investment.

MakerGear
I hear nothing but good things about MakerGear and the quality of their products and support. Well, I do hear one negative… products are always out of stock! Besides that, I think MakerGear has some good offerings. Besides their own model, the “Mosaic” you can get full-kit for a Prusa Mendel RepRap. (You know, if it’s in stock.)

Ultimaker
New to the game is the Ultimaker, which looks impressive! Watching the videos, it looks like it trumps the MakerBot in many areas. If MakerBot is the established brand, I’m glad to see some competition coming in and forcing them to up their game. :)

BotMill
There’s also BotMill, which seems to offer two models, both based on the RepRap Mendel. (I don’t know much more about BotMill.)

The Others
There’s also the Buildatron and the Solidoodle, of which I know little about, and just today I came across the Origo (not available yet) which aims to be the first “reliable easy to use 3D printer for ten year olds.” That “reliable easy to use” part is the nut that everyone is still trying to crack.

Besides those commercial offerings is the real granddaddy of this whole thing, the RepRap. If you think of the MakerBot as Windows, and maybe the Ultimaker as Mac OS X, then RepRap is Linux. It’s DIY. You can build it yourself. You’ll spend a lot of time tweaking it. It’ll be cheaper, but you’ll have to figure out your own support. Sort of… Nearly all of the commercial units are based (somewhat) on the technology from the RepRap project, so if you want a name brand, and support, and a company behind it, buy a commercial unit. If you’re a hacker, or a maker, or cheap, build a RepRap.

I’ve got a lot more posts about 3D printing, and the RepRap specifically, so stay tuned!