Yes, NYU owns 3D printers, and yes, you may use them (if you’re a current member of the NYU community)! Nestled in the Advanced Media Studio on the second floor of the Steinhardt building is a handful of these devices, the oldest of which NYU has owned for 7 years. They include the Makerbot, the quintessential 3D printer featured by most news agencies, and a couple of other more high-end, precise printers with less cute names like the Connex500. 3D printing’s been around for a while now, but how it works still remains somewhat of a fuzzy mess in my mind, especially as someone who still struggles with getting the common 2D printer to work properly. I recently spoke with Andrew Buckland, Technical Lead of the AMS and Savant of 3D Printers, who gave me a rundown of how these mechanical beasts work in layman’s terms.
“It’s kind of like a pastry extruder,” Andrew said of the Makerbot, which is slightly larger than your average printer. “This [part] is essentially a hot glue gun. It heats up an element, it melts the resin, it extrudes it, it moves on an X-Y coordinate. Then it has a bed, and it drops, layer by layer.”
So basically, if you’re trying to print a standard Apple mouse using the Makerbot, you first design a digital model. The driver then takes that model, and slices it, much like one slices an apple, Andrew said. Then it deposits the material, a kind of plastic, layer by layer. You’d have your mouse in about six hours, which is pretty fast, considering that a typical prototype before such technology existed would take six to eight weeks. A more complex machine, like NYU’s fancy ProJet7000, is much more precise, since it uses a laser beam to write on the surface of a liquid material. Additionally, while the Makerbot gives users 150 layers for every slice/inch, the ProJet7000 packs in a whopping 3000 layers/inch, decreasing the amount of visible striations.
Most often, the printers are drudges to students from NYU Poly who print engineering-based projects, or art students at Steinhardt, who print fine arts sculptures, but they can really print just about anything. The AMS team once printed bone fragments — internal structures and all — for the orthopedic lab, which is pretty cool. “If you can think of how to do it and make it 3D, as a student at the university,” Andrew said, “we can print it for you.”
Don’t get too wild with your ideas, however. “We keep a strong eye out,” Andrew said of the printing policy. “We don’t like to censor people, but if you are producing things that are of a certain type of a certain danger, we are going to red-flag it. We may take the job in, but then we’ll turn you over to the NYU security. Then we’ll decide if it is justified or not.”
So if you want to make a 100% functional wrench, a bust of Walter White or a cronut you can’t eat, simply email the AMS for an appointment. Of course, you have to first design a digital model of your desired product, or if you aren’t fluent in programming, find someone who can help you design one. The team will review your model, discuss its details with you, tell you which printer would be the best for the project and give you a price quote. The typical turnaround is about one to two weeks, which is pretty rapid. Welcome to the future.