A blog post by Kaoutar Sakaqui and Martijn van Otterlo (aka the FabLabFabulous-team)
Being wildly interested in digital innovation and all its opportunities, KIN has recently bought its own mini-3D-printed-3D-printer! Distributed manufacturing, the sharing economy, online communities for open source codes: all exciting unexplored opportunities of the digital. This little thing promised to embody the identity of the research group in one way or the other. But first, we, the FabLab-Fabulous Team (yes it’s a thing now at the group) had to make the 3D printer work without any instructions: so we Google.
After having figured out how to power the machine, how to heat it up, and how to feed the plastic into the tube, we were ready to print our first 3D object: a Lego Duplo brick. We could easily download a template from one of the many 3D printing online communities. Then, we imported it into our sketching software (Slic3r) to translate it to a file so that the printer could “read” it. However, excited as we were, we quickly saw that we were still nowhere: the plastic did not want to stick onto the heatbed.
Our attention was now devoted to finding the optimal material so that the 3D print would stick firmly. A Google search told us that it should have a non-greasy, and mat texture. So we tried a piece of newspaper, and regular print-paper. It was still to no avail.
It was with external expert knowledge that we found that our main problem lied at the translation from the virtual to the physical. The software had to be installed in a way that it knew precisely how to translate each movement of the printer, the speed and heat at which plastic is drained, so that it can materialize the 3D object in the intended way. Therefore, the exact specifics of the settings were crucial to get the job done, and not so much the software itself.
So what does this story tell us? Other than that it was a fun and exciting side project, we learned a valuable lesson. During the project we experienced time and again that in order to make your virtual representation physical, a good sketching software was not enough. The output was very much dependent on a multitude of physical factors. This meant that we had to roll our sleeves up and get our hands dirty.
To conclude, if we want to do research on all things digital and virtual, it is of utmost importance to touch base with the physical realm from time to time.