Even a few years ago, the idea of printing in three dimensions sounded very much like a science fiction concept. Over the past few decades however, the use of 3D printers for rapid prototyping services have become widespread. From medical devices, to robot parts, to decorative items- 3D printing sure (rapid prototyping) is taking the world in its stride. Even though there has been considerable advancement in the field, 3D printer use is not always very simple. 3D printers that are built for home use are placed within a microwave oven sized box. The printer requires both specialized technical software and a detailed knowledge of how to make it work. All that is going to change with the introduction of 3Doodler’s new 3D printer-pen. The company 3Doodler has simply transformed the usual 3D printer into a doodling pen, which allows people to draw as they wish. No need of any software or computer for the most beautiful 3D creations in thin air.
Co-founders Peter Dilworth and Maxwell Bogue of 3Doodler, along with Daniel Cowen, have been trying to come up with the next generation of children’s toys in 2012. The founders more than often used 3D printers to churn out rapid prototypes of their toy designs. One of these feats includes 3D printing a toy dinosaur leg in fourteen hours. However, they found out that the finished product had a section missing, which left a gap in the leg model. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and the duo wished that they could just fill the missing gap using the 3D printer nozzle. Maxwell Bogue, CEO of the company narrated the entire incident, saying that they later set out to design a device that could do the job.
Dilworth and Bogue pretty much took a 3D printer apart, adding a computer chip with the nozzle which enabled them to control the machine. This initial model functioned as a proof of concept, after which they began to streamline their design; which is now a more user friendly, pen form of a 3D printer. According to Bogue, the very first prototype of their device came straight out of a standard 3D printer, i.e. its nozzle. They printed the casings, shells and everything that has been held together. After being done, they in fact pulled the hot printer nozzle out of the actual 3D printer and placed it in their pen. In more than eight months, the design was refined and finally resulted in the very first version of their product, narrated Bogue.
The functioning of the 3Doodler is a lot similar to a sophisticated version of a hot glue gun. A heating unit melts the plastic which is extracted out of the nozzle. While standard glue guns use a push pump that ejects the plastic out of its tip, this melted plastic can clog the nozzle. The challenge in this case was to find a system that would help the plastic to flow in a steady and smooth way. Hence, the 3Doodler inventors created the pen using a motor, which propelled the plastic made filament.
The heating device inside the 3Doodler pen goes up to temperatures of 460 degrees and 355 degrees Farenheit, which are around 240 and 180 degrees Celsius. These high temperatures can effectively melt the usually common plastic filaments that are used as printer ink for 3D printers. Some of these inks are the infamous ABS and PLA. At that temperature though, the plastic would take a really long time to cool down, which made it impossible to doodle in the air. To solve this particular problem, Dilworth and Bogue added to the 3Doodler a cooling fan. It brings the temperature down to about 280 degrees and 300 degrees Fahrenheit (140 and 150 degree Celsius) when the ink leaves the pen nozzle. Hence the plastic can harden within seconds and the drawn structure can hold itself up when in open space.
Initially a wildly successful Kickstarter project, the inventors successfully raised a large amount of money i.e. $2.3 million dollars from twenty six thousand backers, for the project. The current version of the pen is called 3Doodler Create- the third version of it. This has been used to create various amazing stuff such as clothing, wallets and art. In spite of the early success, the earlier versions of 3Doodler did not quite satisfy Bogue. Even though well suited as a child’s toy, the pen became too hot, according to Bogue. The 3Doodler Create, in that sense, exceeds the 127 degree Farenheit temperature limit which is allowed for kid’s products- a standard set by the EU Toys Safety Directive.
The company decided to team up with some materials scientists. Together, they created a food safe, biodegradable new plastic that can easily melt between the temperatures of 113 degrees and 122 degrees Farenheit; which is around 45 to 50 degree Celsius. This implies that the new model is safe for children to even draw directly on the surface of their skin- without any kind of accidents or unwanted burns according to the company.
Designed for children of ages eight or older, the new model is known as 3Doodler Start. It has a rechargeable battery and sixteen different filament colours that make the pen an ideal device for not just entertainment, but also as an educational device in the classroom according to the inventors. The company hopes that the new device will greatly boost STEM education and encourage more rapid prototyping, added Bogue. The full line of 3Doodlers can be bought from the company website. Starting at a price of $49.99, the 3Doodler Start is now available for pre-order, starting to ship in July.
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