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Alice Nell
October 13, 2015

Printing guns and iPhones with a 3D Printer? FAQ with Vegter

Do you already know the bearded guy that's always in betahaus and hangs out in the Hardware Lab most of the time? His name is Vegter and he's our man when it comes to 3D Printing! As you can imagine Vegter gets a lot of questions about digital modeling and tech manufacturing, so we asked him to create a 3D Printing FAQ to address your biggest questions. Want to know if you can print the latest iPhone instead of buying one? Let's get to the interview!

Vegter is a product designer from the Netherlands who moved to Berlin four years ago. Upon arrival, he got himself a 3D printer and then never left its side. Vegter prints toys, spare parts, key chains for our meeting room keys, prototypes for startups. Last week he even printed a sculpture of his own head. He has printed pretty much everything in betahaus. He's currently working on his own line of 3D printed jewelry, as a 3D printing teacher at betahaus | Education, and as a freelance product designer (yes, you can hire him).

We met him in the Lab to ask what is actually 3D Printing and how does it work? 

1. What is 3D printing?

3D printing is a manufacturing technology that lets you create three-dimensional objects from digital models. It's also known as additive manufacturing. The prints are usually created by adding 2D layers of material on top of each other. Maybe 2.5D printing would be a more appropriate title, but 3D printing is what sticks.

2. I saw this video on Facebook that pulls an object out of liquid like in The Terminator movie. Can a 3D printer really do that??

Well, there are actually several types and subtypes of additive manufacturing. Let me introduce you to the three most important ones.

First there is Stereolithography (SLA), which is the oldest type of 3D printing and has been around for about 35 years. The printer uses a laser to cure a liquid resin and builds the model one layer at a time. This is the same process as the one used in The Terminator.

Next, there's Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), which is the most well-known 3D printing technique today. The printer melts a plastic filament and lays it down on a bed layer by layer, much like a hot glue gun. The material used most often is PLA, which is a biodegradable plastic usually made out of corn.

The third is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), where lasers sinter powdered metal, binding the powder together to create a solid structure. After each layer is sintered together, the structure drops and the next layer is built on top of it.

3D Printing Workshop in Hardware Lab betahaus Berlin

3. How long does one print take?

This indeed is one of the 3D Printing FAQs! This is hard to answer because it really depends on the size and complexity of the object, the technique used, and the settings of the print. But to give you an idea; 5 to 20 minutes for small objects (like an object that you can fit in the palm of your hand); several hours for medium-sized objects; and up to 40 hours for large objects.

4. How do I get 3D printable digital files?

There are a few ways to do it. First is Thingiverse, an online database and community to upload & download designs. Designers & makers also post photos there of objects they've printed. The things people create and post to this website are extraordinarily creative! Thingiverse' community is growing, and there's already over 100,000 models on offer. Which brings us to the next question...

5. What 3D modelling software is suitable for a beginner?

Nice of you to ask! Lucky for you, I give a course at the betahaus called Design for 3D Printing. Here I'll teach you how to use 123D Design and I'll make sure you go home with an understanding of all the basics so you can get started. Other programs for 3D modelling suitable for beginners are Blender, Sketchup, TinkerCAD, OpenSCAD, Sculptris, and Onshape.

6. Is it possible to 3D-scan and print a sculpture of myself for my wife so she can put me on her desk at work?

Well that's a pretty weird question, but yes I guess you can. There are services that will do this for you, or you could use software like 123D Catch. There are also many 3D desktop scanners that'll let you scan any object of your choice. Just be aware that your options to customise are limited because of its mesh structure.

3D Printing Prorotype betahaus Hardware Lab

7. I want to print something but I don't have a printer! What should I do?

No worries! There are a few services that do the printing for you, such as Shapeways.com, iMaterialise.com, Sculpteo.com, and Berlin-based Trinckle.com. Also,there's 3Dhubs.com; a community of 3D printer owners in your area, who're happy to print a file for you if you pay them a small fee. 3Dhubs also has lots of useful info about 3D printing, by the way.

8. Okay tell me straight - Is it really possible to print 3D guns?

This question somehow always come up in the 3D Printing FAQs. However, a lot has been said about 3D printing guns, and that's exactly my problem with it - it has been blown up, and the discussions are now out of proportion. Here is my take: Yes. In theory you could make a gun with a 3D printer, but you could also just get one without a 3D printer. Bullets would be difficult to print anyway.

9. My brother's father-in-law said soon we'll be able to print the new iPhone. Should I hold off buying one?

Hold your horses! We are a long way from 3D printing anything that complex, and I doubt that it'll ever happen. What's interesting though, is that the first simple 3D circuits can be printed by combining conductive and non-conductive material. But you shouldn't wait - you can buy a new phone. I can recommend the Fair Phone 2!

Anything Else?

Yes! If you're looking for an industrial product designer or if you know someone who is, please let me know! I'm on the lookout for freelance, part-time, and full-time jobs. I Hope I could answer some of your most burning questions! I’d be happy to answer any other questions, just send me an email vegter@betahaus.de or come have a chat in the hardware lab. 

Did Vegter's 3D Printing FAQ get you excited and do you want to give it a try? Check our events to see if there is a workshop coming up soon!

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