3D Hubs community maker meetup.
The idea of being able to print an object for yourself perhaps seems somewhat alien to most onlookers to the 3D printing industry. Indeed, a majority of people have heard of the technology and observed images of personalised nametags, toothpaste holders and vases. Yet all of that seems a little out of reach for the makers at home without a huge budget, dreaming of printing their own 3D jewellery.
Makerspaces have been popping up all over the globe to combat that problem and give public access to 3D printing technology to enthusiasts without their own desktop machine. Some will even help with putting designs together for those unfamiliar with CAD, making the process even more accessible to more people.
But why are they so important?
A few years ago, I had never seen a 3D printer in action. The first time I did, I was amazed at these layers building up right before my eyes to eventually reveal an item that I could hold – a snowman in this instance and it didn’t melt, bonus. From that moment I was inspired to think of things that might be possible to make on a machine that would give me something tangible in a short space of time. It is that inspiration and burst of imagination that I believe makes makerspaces incredibly important right now.
A word that gets used an awful lot surrounding the 3D printing movement is ‘community’ and that has only been solidified with projects like makerspaces being set up in local communities. Cafes have been transformed into creative environments where makers can share ideas and have their designs realised over a cup of tea. The UK’s first 3D printing café opened in Shoreditch last month giving people the opportunity to print their creations using 3DSystems' CubeX 3D printers and laser cutting devices after the idea had already proved a success in New York and Tokyo.
Makespace in Cambridge is a hub that offers 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC milling and has been in operation since mid 2013. Spaces like this are gradually surfacing the world over providing introductions to the equipment and giving people hands on experience.
On the other side of the world, Sydney will get its first 3D printing makerspace this week when ThreeFarm launches its pop up workshop giving the public interactive experience with 3D printing devices including 3D scanning equipment.
Public libraries are even getting a modern makeover with 3D printing workshops setting up shop alongside traditional learning tools. 3D printing is after all a learning curve for professionals and hobbyists alike so by positioning it in environments like this it gives people another outlet for their creativity and an additional learning resource. I can only imagine it will resemble for today's school children a similar feeling of excitement as when my local library got a full computer suite back when I was at school.
3D printing is becoming a very real medium. Communal spaces that would normally teach cake decorating or watercolour painting are offering tutorials on 3D printing skills. Girl Scouts who would traditionally receive badges for knot making or knitting (I know, I’ve proudly got both) are now earning badges for 3D printing. Likewise, we are constantly hearing of how schools are finding ways to adopt 3D printing into the curriculum as the emphasis on teaching more contemporary computer skills is pushed.
With portals like 3D Hubs connecting makers to over 7,000 3D printers across the globe, it is evident that 3D printing is getting bigger and bigger. 3D Hubs are working on a goal to give 1 billion people access to a 3D printer within 10 miles of their home. This will not only encourage local manufacturing but will also mean that a phenomenal number of people will be in reach of a 3D printer that they can utilise.
We need makerspaces and 3D printing communities to make people aware of the technology around us and the possibilities it holds. 3D printing is transforming the way we manufacture on a large scale but also in the way innovators are coming up with simple solutions to life’s problems. Take 3D printed assistive design for example where one man came up with the idea to 3D print portable wheelchair ramps. It’s a simple idea made possible with 3D printing but with the ability to transform people’s lives. With new makerspaces and creative communities, more and more ideas like this can become a reality.