Andy Myhr brought his kids to Wake Technical Community College on Saturday so they could experience what it’s like to be part of the emerging technology of 3-D printing
Myhr’s 12-year-old daughter Yasmin and 10-year-old son Kelvin watched as 3-D printing enthusiasts showed off their devices and what they had produced with them, including prosthetic hands, musical instruments and decorative objects. It reminded Myhr, 42, of North Raleigh, what it was like when another new technology was starting to get popular 30 years ago.
“When I was their age, computers were getting started,” said Myhr, who recently assembled his own 3-D printer. “I see 3-D printing just at the same stage.”
A 3-D printer can build precisely shaped three-dimensional items by squirting layers of molten plastic, or other materials, into shapes dictated by a computer. The 40 people at Saturday’s open house touted the potential of 3-D printing technology for industrial and consumer use.
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Bob Schmidt of MakeShaper, a Sanford-based company that makes the material used in 3-D printers, called Saturday’s attendees the early adopters of the technology.
Wake Tech hosted the open house to help publicize the more than $825,000 grant it received last year from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program. The grant is helping Wake Tech offer six courses, mostly engineering-related, that include 3-D printing. The school is also setting up laboratories to accommodate 3-D printing technology.
Wake Tech is training students in the skills needed to take advantage of the new technology. Russell Wahrman, Wake Tech’s administrative department head of applied engineering and technology, said two students have already been hired for careers in the industry.
The technology enables businesses and individuals to produce their own parts – as needed – and potentially for less money than through traditional production methods.
“I can make what I need for myself,” said Wahrman, who has used the technology for things such as replacing motorcycle components and creating a lens cap for his camera.
The price for 3-D printers has come down to as low as $250.
But some still consider the technology a novelty, said Bill Culverhouse, a member of Durham-based SplatSpace, a nonprofit group that makes its technology available to the public. Culverhouse said many people just want to do things such as make chess pieces to show off that they’ve used a 3-D printer.
Culverhouse, who has been into 3-D printing since 2009, said the software and the printers need to become easier to use before the public widely uses the technology.
“You need them to be as reliable as a 2-D printer,” he said.
The printers also need to operate faster, said Matthew Graham of Garner, the owner of Gyrospark Industries. Graham printed a prosthetic hand that can be worn by a child who has no fingers. But he said the hand took 30 hours to make.
Still, Graham is glad to be in the 3-D printing business, where he uses the technology to make parts for his business clients.
“I thought I’d be designing artsy things,” he said. “But I’ve been doing a lot of prototypes.”