I’m very excited about my new working environment. When I started, I noticed that we had a separate office set up with a 3D printer. I figured that after a week here that I really wanted to learn how to use the thing. I’ve always been excited and fascinated by 3D printing, but until now I’ve never had access to one, especially a very good one. I learned that the 3D printer in question is a Lulzbot Taz 6. With some help from Google, I found two online 3D modeling websites that were simple enough to use that even a beginner like me was able to start creating models in under an hour. For those interested, I’m using both 3D Slash (https://www.3dslash.net) and Tinkercad (https://www.tinkercad.com/). I save the .STL files generated from the online applications, then use Cura to create the “sliced” version and “GCode” (the code read by the 3D printer). You can download Cura from their main site (https://www.lulzbot.com/cura) or you can get a forked version if you’re using Lulzbot here. One of the things I liked about #d Slash it that it has a simple interface that allows you to “chisel” away a block (reminded me of Minecraft). You can also load a flat 2D image and print that (which is what I started with).
Once the design is saved, it just needs to be loaded onto the printer. We’re using a FOSS application called OctoPrint, and it’s being hosted from a Raspberry Pi connected to our network. OctoPrint is a really cool application that can monitor your printing remotely in real time, tell you the printing status and remaining time, temperature, and lots more information. It also manages a print queue, so when you submit your design it will handle jobs accordingly. You can find out more or download the project from http://octoprint.org.
One of the neat features of Lulzbot (and I don’t know if this is specific to them, or if all 3D printers are like this, remember, I’m new to all of this) is that is comes with an SD card fully loaded with the designs of all of the plastic parts that make up the printer. So, if any part is wearing out or breaks, you simply load the part into the print queue, and print out a replacement. I thought that was very cool; it’s almost self-healing!
If you’re not interested in developing your own designs, there is an absolutely fantastic community at Thingiverse (http://www.thingiverse.com) that will allow you to review, download, and rate a number of incredibly well made designs from the community, for free. Be sure to check them out.