3D Printer for Home & Professional

Just as the computer is now a feature of practically every household, in one or more forms, so the 3D printer is increasingly appearing in the home office or study. Once beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest pockets, a drastic drop in price and rapid advances in technology have made the new generation of professional 3D printers both affordable and desirable.

 

Home 3D printer

One of the reasons for the rise in popularity of the home 3D printer is the opportunity to print from original or shared designs and the flexibility of the printer when it comes to customisation. It is now possible to create one-off unique items as well as to undertake modest print runs in the home.

Most brands measure approximately 515 x 515 x 598 millimetres and are cube-shaped, although there are a few slightly smaller versions on the market. Among the best 3D home printers are the brands produced by 3D Systems and RepRapPro. If looking to buy 3D printers expect to pay between about £500 and £3,000, depending on the specifications required.

Connectivity is generally via USB although some models also have the capacity for MicroSD Cards. Accuracy and building speed can vary from machine to machine, and while many 3D printers can print in only one colour, more and more are able to print in two or three. Layer resolution is often 0.1mm although some printers have smaller or larger resolutions, such as 0.0125mm or 2.5mm respectively.

Filament material is generally ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PLA (polylactic acid) both of which are common types of thermoplastics.

History of home 3D printing

Although 3D printers have been around since the early 1980s, only universities and larger corporations used them initially for research purposes. Slowly their use began to spread through a variety of industries, notably engineering, gadget and tech communities. Then in 2010 the price of 3D printers dropped significantly and hobbyists and enthusiasts began to buy 3D printers and to experiment with creative designs – their own as well as the open design templates made available via projects such as RepRap.

Items that have been created include a working clock, toys and ornamental objects. Just as home dressmaking was once very fashionable, so designers are now experimenting with 3D printing for clothing and shoes, opening up the possibility of a return to making clothes at home simply by supplying a 3D printer with the appropriate pattern and material.

 

Understanding the technology

Home 3D printers are not as sophisticated as those used on an industrial scale. They operate more slowly and have a limited capacity in terms of the materials and the range of colours they can handle. The process home printers use is known as fused filament fabrication (FFM) or alternatively filament deposition manufacturing (FDM). During this process a plastic filament is first melted and then deposited by the printer extruder onto a platform, often called the print bed. As the print bed is gradually lowered, so the object is built up layer by successive layer.

Back to the future

One of the key advantages of 3D printing at home is that the process allows the individual to create what they want or need in their own time and without the need to make expensive purchases or to buy in bulk. If a cup is broken, making a replacement means there is no need to ditch the old teaset and buy a new one. This helps the environment because it saves on waste. It’s not necessarily bad for business either, as selling the plans for an item may turn out to be just as lucrative as selling the item itself, and without the additional manufacturing costs.

 

Currently, domestic uses for a 3D printer are at the beginning of what is sure to be a long and eventful journey. Home repairs can be made easy if a printer is used to replicate brackets or mounts, for example, or those small machine parts that are intricate, and often expensive to buy. Fun items such as toys and customised cases for mobile phones are popular as well as fashionable jewellery. Preset patterns and designs can be customised at home to produce unique objects that suit individual tastes.

 

Industry experts acknowledge that 3D printing inspires creativity and the ability to create prototypes rapidly and at little cost means product designs can be tested and modified within a tighter timescale. Given the rapid rise of home 3D printers in the last four years it is likely that they will become an essential feature in the office within a very short time indeed.