3-D printing debuts at Creative Printing
Imagine you are jamming out to your favorite song on your iPod,
when suddenly you drop the media player on an unforgiving sidewalk.
Maybe the outer case shatters, or the ear buds are damaged when you inadvertently step on them, while trying to untangle the wires after the device falls to the ground.
Your first thought might be to plan a trip to the closest Apple Store for a replacement cover or maybe even a big box department store.
This never-ending scenario of consumers purchasing replacement parts could soon be a model of the past, if three-dimensional printing catches on. And, according to Mark Curry of Creative Printing in Boone, the future might be closer than you think.
The locally founded creative service business that provides a variety of printing and design services, including hard copies of signs and banners, as well as web work, has recently unveiled an in-house 3-D printer.
Curry and graphics technician Chris Brewer could literally spend a whole afternoon describing how exactly the printer takes the design specifications in a file and enters it through a computer program that tells the printer how to design the product.
In layman’s terms, the printer works sort of like a hot glue gun.
Spools of either recyclable or compostable plastic are heated up and fed through the discharge point in thin flat lines. The printer literally builds the desired product up from the ground by using a process of layering. “It’s like an inkjet printer squirting out plastic,” Curry said.
Since the printer is relatively new and his customer base is unsure of its capabilities, Curry said he really doesn’t know what type of products the printer will be used for, but he’s eager to find out.
“We are just trying to find the printer’s limit and push it,” Curry said. “Three-dimensional printing is really picking up. They are saying it could be the next big thing, like copiers or the Internet. There has even been talk of having one of these things on a space shuttle to make new parts instead of bringing (up) new parts.”
He’s already tested prototypes for an iPod charging dock and other trinkets lying around the print shop. The printer can also be used to make individual smaller parts as part of a larger project.
The future of 3-D printing is limitless and could be a little unnerving. There has been some national debate about the use of 3-D printing in manufacturing illegal parts for firearms, like with magazines.
Curry said there has also been some discussion about the use of stem cells in 3-D printing with the creation of human organs.
For now, however, the printer will be used for more practical and realistic items, Curry said.
The new toy in the print shop has also caught on with the staff.
“I really like it,” Brewer said, adding that the printer would be perfect for college students who might not have access to design technology.
The emergence of 3-D printing could have a reverberating effect on the retail industry, Curry said.
Instead of buying individual replacement pieces, such as a button for a shirt or maybe even a pick for your guitar, Curry said the cues he has picked up in the marketplace suggest consumers could instead purchase a file of said pieces and take it to a 3-D printer to make.
“Retailers could say, ‘Hey, you can buy the complete product from us at whole price, or you could buy the file to make the product for half price and have it printed out,’” Curry said. “It’s all changing.”
Creative Printing is located at 1738 N.C. 105 Bypass in Boone. For more information, call (828) 265-2800.