The 3Doodler might not be able to make fine-tuned machine parts, but it could come in handy for repairs in the field, and it might be the first step into a new frontier for 3D printing.
I guess on the emerging technology beat, you can’t ever sleep. Returning from a week’s vacation, I find that a small company called WobbleWorks has found a way to put a 3D printer into a pen, allowing users to literally draw physical objects in the air.
It sounds like science fiction, but the inventors have demonstrated sketching in 3D with their creation, even making a scale model of the Eiffel Tower.
Now, we all know that government is embracing 3D printing in a big way, with the military using it in Afghanistan and even the president giving the technology a shout-out during the recent State of the Union Address. The WobbleWorks pen, called the 3Doodler, works on the same principal as traditional 3D printers, only it relies on the user to build the finished product instead of layering material based on a computer-aided design drawing.
Users simply load the pen up with plastic strands to use as “ink,” and the machine melts them down into liquid as needed. The liquid cools almost instantly the second it leaves the pen, so that 3D structures can be built up by simply drawling them that way. It almost appears to defy gravity, but it’s simply the tough structure and lightweight properties of the ABS plastic building on top of itself, just like what happens inside a traditional 3D printer.
The project is in its early stages at this point, so nobody has thought too much about specific government uses, though the guys at WobbleWorks do mention that the pen would be a good tool for quick repairs even without the creative angle, which could make it useful in the field.
For modeling, the 3Doodler won’t be as accurate as a standard 3D printer since there is no template, though the company is making a bunch of stencils. And there is no reason why hobbyists or even government agencies couldn’t do the same. It would be a lot faster than using a normal 3D printer, since a drawing could go from the idea to reality right away, whereas a 3D printer can take hours or days to create an object, not even counting the planning phases.
Of course the usefulness of anything created with the pen would depend on the skill of the artist/engineer, though anyone could probably sketch out a wrench, screwdriver or other basic tool. Making something more precise, like a gear, would likely require a pretty high level of skill.
This is probably one of those things where lots of people will think of creative and useful things to do with the technology once it starts getting into the hands of users. At $75 per pen, there’s no cost barrier. It could become the “killer app” that lets 3D printing technology go mainstream. And we can be pretty sure that the 3Doodler will be manufactured. A Kickstarter program founded by the company was asking for $30,000 to make the first manufacturing run of the new 3D printer pen.
As of this writing, with 27 days left to go, the company has raised almost $2 million. So it’s a safe bet we’ll all be able to start defying gravity pretty soon.