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The future is now: Artengine to showcase new 3D printer at this Saturday’s print-a-thon

By François Levesque on March 1, 2013

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from an excited Britta Evans-Fenton, Lab Coordinator at Artengine, to let me know they were about to receive a new 3D printer. They invited us to check it out, so I jumped on the chance and headed to Arts Court where Artengine’s M70 lab is located. While my owl was being printed (see pictures above), we chatted about the brand spanking new Ultimaker 3D printer, Mod Lab and what to expect at this Saturday’s print-a-thon event.

Artengine is an artist-run centre that focuses on art and technology, and that’s how they started getting into media like laser cutting and 3D printing. “Artists were using these tools more and more” says Evans-Fenton, so they decided to acquire them. In recent years, Artengine began noticing more of a “maker” trend, where creators would come in to the lab to gain access to these tools. The recent purchase of 2 Ultimaker 3D printers greatly improves on the technology they once had. “Our Makerbot (their first 3D printer) dates from 3 years ago, which in 3D printing years is a long time. The Makerbot seems like it’s 30 years old when you compare what both models can do.”

The price of the open source Ultimaker is about $2,000. You have to build it yourself…which perfectly fits with the ethos of the artists, makers and hackers who gravitate towards Artengine. The open source printer was put together just last week at Mod Lab – Artengine’s weekly hacker get together. Say what? A weekly hacker get together? Ottawa never ceases to amaze me. Aside from the hacker crowd, Evans-Fenton tells mes there’s a diverse crowd that will be using the new Ultimakers from artists to designers and jewellers to life time public servants that dig creating things in their free time.

Aside from reading an article a last year in The Economist on the future of 3D printing, I felt very much like a neophyte. Not too sure how the process worked, a colleague of mine suggested bringing a mug that they might be able reproduce. Not so. Typically, someone will design something using 3D software like 3D Sketch Up, AutoCAD and Blender, or will scan an object using a 3D scanner. Artengine doesn’t own an official 3D scanner but they can hack their way to create one via a Kinect. Once this is done, you put the design through a slicer that slices the image of the object in many layers, and this is what ends up being sent to the printer. Britta had started a print for me – an owl made out of corn plastic – I was able to take home. The printing process, for the 5 cm high object took about 45 minutes. The new printer will be able to create objects of varying complexity – but is by no means an industrial sized printer – something Artengine hopes to be able in the future…but for now they only dream of it.

The reason for Saturday’s 3D print-a-thon is to showcase the new printer, and what it can do, but it’s also an opportunity for the 3D maker community to showcase their work. It will be a great opportunity to learn about 3D printing in Ottawa and the makers behind it. The city’s foremost 3D printers will be at the even to showcase their own machines and designs. Don’t miss out!