Garage 3D printers working with ceramics, bioplastics

Paul Raven @ 17-02-2010

3D-printed clay vesselWatching the backyard fabrication and 3D printing scene is fascinating, not least because it’s developing so quickly – a mere pipedream just five years ago, but currently expanding its capabilities in leaps and bounds. One thing that will increase the versatility of these systems is a wider selection of materials with which to work… and while you can already print in sugar (with other foodstuffs remaining strictly hypothetical at this point), we’ve got people brewing up their own stove-top bioplastic blends [via BoingBoing] and tweaking their fabbers to work with clay [via Chairman Bruce; image clipped from linked article].

The former is promising because it gives hobby-level users the opportunity to work in cheap biodegradable plastics by using off-the-shelf ingredients that can be scored at the corner store (e.g. glycerin, vinegar); that recipe has a way to go before being usable, but you can bet your boots that other fab-fanatics will be working to refine it and sharing their results online… many eyes make bugs shallow, after all (though Microsoft’s Shawn Hernan would disagree). And being able to print in clay really opens up the arts & crafts market to the fabbers; consumer-level 3D design tools should lead to a minor renaissance in ceramics design.

I wonder if this will provide some counterbalance to the seemingly inevitable loss of jobs in the US due to the rise of robotic, computer-controlled and/or outsourced manufacturing? Short runs of custom designs (and those very simple products for which the current profit margins of Chinese made-for-export factories will not hold forever) would seem ideally suited to small local businesses based around a few fabbers, an oven or kiln and a finishing bench… and if someone can work out a way to scale down plastics recycling so it can be used to generate the necessary materials using locally-sourced waste, you’ve got a whole new economic sub-circuit operating at a local level.

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