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Anyone walking into the B&H SuperStore yesterday may have thought they were on the set of a science-fiction movie. On Thursday, B&H launched a new 3D-printing display showcasing MakerBot products, including a working 3D printer that builds a three-dimensional object right there before your eyes.
For those not yet familiar with this mind-blowing, futuristic technology (can you tell I'm a fan?), a 3D printer works by melting plastic in thin sheets, depositing layer upon layer, until a three-dimensional object is formed. These layers are as thin as a piece of paper, or even thinner, so the resulting print can be as intricately detailed as you design it to be. A variety of CAD (computer-aided design) programs―some free and open-source―can be used to design anything from tools to toys to dishwasher-safe crockery. You send that file to the printer and poof―a mere several hours later―you're holding your design in your hands.
"You send that file to the printer and poof―a mere several hours later―you're holding your design in your hands."
If you don't want to hang around that long and watch the MakerBot print an item from start to finish, we've got a display running a time-lapse video of a printer making... I won't spoil the surprise by telling you what.
MakerBot printers use either ABS plastic, the same material your LEGO® bricks are made of, or PLA, a biodegradable plastic derived from corn. These plastic filaments are wound on spools in more than 20 colors, all of which are on display at our kiosk at B&H. Also on display are several shelves of printed objects―toys, architectural models, and even working gears.
Nearby is a counter with four touchscreens demonstrating the apps and tools that will be available to you after you take your MakerBot home. You can browse Thingiverse, a social network that allows users like you to upload and sell their 3D designs. Create an account and download some models right there in the store. They'll be saved to your account, ready to be sent via USB or Wi-Fi to your printer. You can also learn about the different MakerBot models on the touchscreen featuring MakerBot's homepage, and check out the different colors and quantities of materials available.
The MakerBot's capability is limited by only two things: your creativity, and the maximum build volume of the particular printer you're using. The MakerBot Mini is a compact machine you can easily place on a spare square foot of desk space, and it can print something about 5 inches high, and 4 inches wide and deep. The Replicator 2X is twice that size, can produce models almost 10 inches long, and can print in two colors at a time, up to several hundred color combinations.
3D printing is the next, or maybe already current, big thing. Inventors and designers are beginning to use the technology for medical applications such as human tissue, heart valves and, hopefully soon, custom-made kidney replacements. Maybe we'll jump on another trend―food printing! Perhaps you can stroll by the 3D printing kiosk and be offered a darling little B&H logo, one that is made of chocolate? It's already out there and I, for one, am hoping it will soon be in the B&H SuperStore, as well.
But until that enviable day comes, take a field trip or make quick stop at B&H to see the future in action, right now.