From Star Trek replicators to 3D printing

3D Printing

Hawaii is separated from the rest of the world by at least 5 hours and 2,500 miles. Until we have “Star Trek” transporters to beam products and people to Hawaii or replicators to create food, drinks, clothes, products, and spare parts, which would revolutionize the shipping and travel industries, we have to rely on what we can produce ourselves, or ship to Hawaii.

But now we have the desktop computer capabilities to model 3D objects and now we have the “printers” to fabricate those 3D objects in our own offices. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not prohibitively expensive either. And we can do it all right here in Hawaii.

Last month, I saw the 3D printer at the Microsoft Store at Ala Moana Center. The MakerBot Replicator 2 is a desktop 3D “printer” that can manufacture small toys and parts. It uses plastic filaments to build an object layer by layer. It costs $2,200 for the unit and $48-$65 for color spools. I didn’t get to see it in action (apparently, it takes quite a while to print), but I handled some of the sample objects. The plastic is rigid (it doesn’t feel cheap), made of bioplastic filaments, and seems like a good way to make prototypes or custom figures. There’s a companion product, called the MakerBot Digitizer, that can scan a small object and make a 3D model in about 12 minutes – but that’s another $950. (Note: I’m not affiliated with Microsoft in any way, except as an end user.)

With 3D printing, we could make one-of-a-kind figurines, prototypes, discontinued spare parts, dental and small bone replacements, small-scale models, replicas of antique objects, and more.

That same week, I went to the dentist and saw a new desktop crown-making machine. When I asked about it, they explained that first they take a digital image of your tooth to create a 3D model, then the machine fabricates the crown out of porcelain, and finally the crown is fired in a small kiln. It can be done while you wait, in an hour or two, compared with mailing the impression to a manufacturer, having them make the crown and ship it back, and then returning to the dentist’s office to put it in.

Thankfully, I didn’t need to have a crown made, though I would have liked to watch the machine make a crown. My dentist is not entirely pleased with the process – though it’s convenient for the patient, he doesn’t like having to be a lab technician, and it takes him more time to adjust the fit. He hopes that the next generation of desktop crown fabricators will be more accurate and less expensive.

I’ve also heard of 3D fashion designers (Hawaii 3D print artist Russ Ogi was featured in a Honolulu Star Advertiser article, “Isle artist shows off 3-D printing skills in New York” earlier this month) and 3D food printing (like pizza and chocolate), though I haven’t seen any demonstrations.

I don’t know what’s in store for 3D printing and desktop fabricators, but I’m fascinated by the idea that we won’t always have to rely on out-of-state manufacturers and expensive shipping companies. Hopefully, 3D printing will only get better and cheaper.

Do you think that 3D printing is ready for business in Hawaii? Would you eat 3D printed food?

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2 Comments on “From Star Trek replicators to 3D printing”

  1. 3d food printer

    From Star Trek replicators to 3D printing | Better Hawaii

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