Sawyer Shepherd's Blog

A Newcomer's Commentary on 3D Printing

After recently purchasing my first 3D printer, I have developed some thoughts on the technology in general.

I’ve had friends in the 3D printing scene preach the virtues of the technology for years now. Still, I was unconvinced. It seemed like quite an expensive investment for the infrequent payoff of being able to print something useful. After all, I could always fall back on my friends who did own 3D printers if I needed something printed.

And that’s exactly what I did when I needed some holders for my precision screwdriver bits. Unfortunately for me, my friend doesn’t work for free—I begrudgingly agreed to trade the print for an old hard drive. As we met, he suggested that I should get my own printer, as he couldn’t always be there to print something for me.

That night I briefly considered what he said and looked around for some printers. When I found a refurbished Ender 3 v2 for $160, I knew I couldn’t pass up the offer. Four days and some assembly time later, I was the proud owner of a 3D printer!

Honestly, my first impressions were not good. The manual included with my printer was vague and uncomprehensive. It gave very little instruction on how to level the bed, which I spent nearly half an hour doing before finding a helpful online tutorial. The broken English did not help either—one such phrase, “Do not any other operation,” displays every time I move the print head.

On the other hand, I found the software and the actual printing experience to be very smooth and user friendly. I use PrusaSlicer (as recommended by my friend), which has great defaults for the Ender 3 v2. My first print was to be the 3DBenchy. After one failed attempt, the first layer stuck and it was off to the races! I sat and watched nearly the whole process. It came out good—not perfect, but a fantastic result for a first print nonetheless.

Since then, I’ve been making prints like a mad man. I didn’t realize how useful a 3D printer is until I actually owned one. Just last night, I noticed I needed a hook to hang my coat—I had it printed within the hour. I’ve even been printing parts for my 3D printer with my 3D printer, which blows my mind! From an outsider’s perspective that may seem silly, but it’s just too meta for me.

As I’ve used my printer more I’ve started to think about the present and future implications of the technology. The most prominent issue around personal 3D printing today is the creation of primarially 3D printed firearms. Opponents of gun control like this because it allows for unregulated creation of firearms; proponents of gun control dislike this because it allows for the unregulated creation of firearms. I’ll not get into my opinion here :^). At any rate, if personal 3D printing is to grow in popularity, the on-demand nature of the technology would help eliminate the environmental impact of shipping and overproduction.

Personally, I believe 3D printing and at-home manufacturing will be one of the “Next Big Things” and I am pleased that I now own my own share of the technology. I’d like to imagine that in fifty years, multi-extruder printers will be as commonplace as microwaves, and we’ll all be able to “cook up” prints as we need them in minutes. That may be a foolish prospect, but it is just as likely an underprediction of the future. I certainly can’t say for sure—no one can. Only time will tell how how far the technology will go.