3D printing and computer Science

I don’t have much of an update for this post regarding my project and the progress my team has been making on that so I decided I will talk about one of the hobbies I’ve been into recently. I think that this hobby is particularly interesting because the technology involved has been around for a long time but has just recently started becoming widely available to people outside of professional environments and my computer science background has come in handy on several occasions since I’ve started. The hobby I’m talking about is 3D printing.

When I first heard about 3D printing it was only around 5 years ago so I assumed the technology was pretty new but in reality the first examples of 3D printers were created around the 1980s (https://www.bcn3d.com/the-history-of-3d-printing-when-was-3d-printing-invented/). So if the technology has been around so long why isn’t 3D printing more well known and more prevalent than it is? That’s because there were patents that were created around the conception of 3D printers (https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/15/how-expiring-patents-are-ushering-in-the-next-generation-of-3d-printing/) that prevented market competition making them very expensive and impractical for most use cases other than professional environments. Well this all changed in 2009 when a key patent for 3D printing technology expired (https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/15/how-expiring-patents-are-ushering-in-the-next-generation-of-3d-printing/) allowing anyone to use the technology however they saw fit. This caused the price of 3D printers to start dropping rapidly and in the 12 years since the expiration of the patent the printers have only gotten better and more affordable. Which is exactly why I decided to buy one 6 months ago.

So far in my 3D printing journey the vast majority of my prints have been knick-knacks that have made good gifts for friends and desk decorations. I didn’t really have anything specific in mind when I bought the printer I just liked the idea of it and could imagine some more functional applications for it at some point in the future. However, the real joy I’ve gotten out of printing is constantly upgrading my printing and modifying it and tweaking it in a relentless pursuit of perfection. There is a well known print model that is used in the 3D printing world that is basically the “Hello, World” of 3D printing that people use to make sure that their printers are calibrated before moving on to more complex models and this model is a little boat name Benchy because it is used for BENCHmarking.

My first print ever was a Benchy and I was perfectly happy with the quality of the print and moved on to print a lot of other cool stuff after that print but as I learned more and more about 3D printing I was able to notice all these imperfections pop up on my Benchy print. So I would buy an upgrade for my printer and then print another Benchy to see the improvements and see something else that needed improvement and buy another upgrade and repeat this over and over again like a madman. Most of these upgrades I added were mechanical in nature and the upgraded parts were clearly superior in quality to the ones they replaced but eventually I ran out of mechanical upgrades (for now) to add to my printer so I started looking into the firmware. That’s where my computer science background has come in handy and possibly provided the largest improvements to the quality and especially speed of my prints.

I don’t have much firmware experience but the concepts of using an IDE and writing code with proper syntax has definitely been a huge advantage for me and allowed me to skip 20 minutes of every tutorial video I watch where they explain the set up of an IDE or text editor to the general hobbyists watching. If I didn’t have this prior experience I don’t think I would even feel up to the endeavor of updating the firmware on my printer for fear of breaking the printer and irreversibly bricking it. So it’s been really fulfilling to be able to use those skills I’ve developed through course work really start to pay off in unexpected ways outside of a professional career and help me to enjoy more completely a hobby of mine more than I otherwise would have. And because of my computer science background and unhealthy need for perfection I am now the proud owner of a fleet of Benchies that would make even the greatest of Admirals jealous.

P.S. I would have attached pictures of my prints/printer but the file format is not allowed for security reasons.

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