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"Your pieces are very beautiful and full of life. I especially liked the yellow cheese sculpture."
--Elaine Goldman, Vice-President, Phoenix Art Museum Contemporary Forum

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How to Use a 3-D Printer: Starting the Process

As the video begins, Kevin is using his computer-aided design program to manipulate the image of a sculpture so he can print it on his 3-D printer. The computer program is Alibre Design, a mechanical CAD program for making things like machine parts. Kevin has been using it to make his drawings, whether it's "sketches" to determine dimensions or 3-D images he puts in site photos so clients can see what a sculpture would look like in that location. Now he also uses the program to create the original images he can output from his the 3-D printer to create a physical version of a sculpture. Kevin explains the printer also comes with a slightly different, less powerful CAD program and that you can use any program that can output an .STL file. The printer also comes with an interface program that translates the .STL file to a format the printer can read. The design on his screen is one he made a while ago, one that he has actually made a physical maquette, or model, of out of steel long before he had the 3-D printer. Now he wants to create a maquette with the 3-D printer to see how it compares to the steel version. Kevin then shows how you can rotate a design in CAD, where you can also display isometric views, saying the ability to see these different views is one of the great things about a CAD program. Next he saves the file and exports it. He then opens it in the in the CubeX printer program. CubeX is the name of his printer, which is a CubeX three color, 3-D printer. It can print three different colors in a single printed item. The printer has three cartridges of different color ABS plastic, which is hard and similar to weed-eater "wire." The printer feeds the plastic up through the machine into its injection head, where the plastic media is melted. Then the heads squirt out the 500-plus degree molten plastic, laying it down in lines and patterns, and making its own supports. Kevin explains that, this design, which is called The Runner, which has sections at unusual angles, the printer will build its "cribbage" supports to hold up the pieces as they are created until the sculpture finally cools. In the CubeX printer program, Kevin adjusts the scale of the sculpture (it doesn''t translate faithfully from the CAD program). Now the sculpture is 142 millimeters tall by 78 millimeters by 91 millimeters, which is about 5-1/2" tall. Next he centers the sculpture image on the image of the tray that sits in the base of the actual printer, and tells the program to use the red media. Kevin has also learned to make the support material in the same color as the sculpture so any remants of the supports don't discolor the finished piece after he grinds off everything away from the sculpture. Kevin's next command is "Build" - that's when the software "slices" the design into about 2 millimeter layers, mapping where the heads need to travel and how the printer needs to build its supports. According to the program, it will take 4 hours and 21 minutes to build the maquette. That's less than some of the other pieces he's built because this one is all out of the same color. Kevin then shows, on the screen, the sculpture "buried" inside the supports, or webbing. Next he saves the design file to a thumb drive and plugs it into the printer. He offers to show the inside of the printer - then says he'll share that in the next video.

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