Cake icing, synthetic ears and noses and building blocks for an automatic hovercraft model: one machine can create it all, and it’s not just for engineers anymore.
The technology of 3-D printing is increasingly adding new dimensions to the scientific and creative fields in Gainesville. But as it catches on, some local groups want to make sure all community members realize the technology is within their grasp, too.
Janalyn Peppel, owner of manufacturing firm Powder Coating of Gainesville, said 3-D printing began to take off within the manufacturing industry at least a decade ago. But only recently has it become something that’s available to the more general public.
She named a few groups that stand to benefit: “consumers, smaller manufacturing, educators, medical professors, artists, designers, architects, engineers, parents. It covers so many different applications that I wanted to be a part of exposing people to…the technology so that they have the tools to learn more.”
To that end, Peppel and other local organizers are joining together to host the “Intro to 3-D Printing” event on June 12.
Sponsored by the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce manufacturing council, the Cade Museum and Santa Fe College, the event will consist of three seminars at three locations throughout the day. The seminars are designed to help laymen become acquainted with what 3-D printing is and how it can be applied to everyday life.
“Everybody is really excited about it, but they don’t understand what it is,” she said.
Mark Davidson, the founder of Gainesville-based Florida Tech Toybox Inc., used a simple analogy to explain the baffling technology. He likened it to an inkjet printer that moves back and forth across a sheet of paper spraying ink down in layers.
“Imagine that that ink is very thick,” he said. “Instead of squirting ink, it squirts plastic.”
As the 3-D printer lays down plastic in layers, the object begins to take shape. The process, he said, is called extrusion, which is similar to how spaghetti is made. Melted plastic is forced through small holes and added to the layers of the project.
Telling the printer what to make is accomplished through two computer programs. A producer begins by drawing the item’s design with CAD software and exporting it as an FTL file, which, Davidson said, is a worldwide standard file for a solid object design. Then, the open-source program Slic3r is used to “slice” the object design into layers. It then produces the commands the printer needs to create the object.
Gainesville residents can bring completed project files to the Tech Toolbox to print, or for an hourly fee, a staff engineer can design the CAD file based on an idea. It costs about $20 to $50 to print a project.
Davidson said some projects he’s seen come through the Toolbox range from automatic hovercraft parts, medical devices, electronic device prototypes and sculptures. He said he plans to add a gel printer that could “print” things like cake icing and medical implants.
But it all starts by helping community members realize the 3-D printing resources that are available to them.
“I just see it as a valuable tool for innovation,” Peppel said. “And obviously Gainesville is big on innovation right now.”
By Kelcee Griffis