In the spring of 2012, I got the chance to build a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic, the first commercially-available 3D printer for consumers, which was new at the time. The Thing-o-Matic was truly open-source: not just the hardware design, but even the assembly instructions themselves, meaning they could be updated by anyone at any time. Suffice it to say, the instructions were difficult to follow and a lot of ingenuity and elbow grease (and regular grease) were needed to get the machine to work. After many months of agony, I was finally able to successfully print a complete object, and much joyous celebration ensued.
I delivered the finished printer to the Curb Center for Creative Enterprise and Public Leadership at Vanderbilt University, where generations of Curb Scholars after me will be able to freely use the printer for their own creative pursuits. Below is a video of one of the first prints I did on the Thing-o-Matic, an elephant figurine:
Building a 3D printer from scratch was a valuable experience. I not only learned how these devices work and how to use them, but I also began to see the truly transformative potential of the technology. For entrepreneurs or tinkerers going through the design process, iterating on ideas and prototyping, it is an invaluable tool. I hope this printer enables Curb Scholars to bring their ideas to reality for many years to come.
© 2016 Harrison Shapley