3D Printing and Your Research

By Kaitlin Logie, 17th November 2016.

Have you ever wondered whether or not you could visualise research prototypes as a physical 3D object? Well with the help of a 3D printer this is very possible!


(image by Simon Fraser University)

How does 3D printing work?

3D printing technology uses software to design objects and then creates these objects using layering techniques that harness processes such as fused deposition modelling and fused filament fabrication to name a couple. The objects created could be prototypes/models or even fully functional items! 3D printing can use various different materials such as plastic, waxes, ceramic and metal. You don’t have to be a genius to use one either! Consumer/business-level 3D printers are available and easily accessible.


(image by Samuel Huron)

How can this benefit my research?

3D printers are now widely used in today’s society. They provide a reliable and efficient way of testing ideas and concepts! Using 3D printers for prototyping in research and development is also an effective visualisation tool. This allows researchers using 3D printers to test their ideas to improve their designs at low cost. 3D printers in research enables faster breakthroughs! Near impossible geometries can be made with ease in production-grade plastics. 3D printing enhances research!

  • You are able to verify a hypothesis before investing in an expensive research workflow to find an untested solution.
  • It drastically improves lab efficiency  as assembly and testing is easy with custom made tools and prototypes.
  • Total freedom to create objects with complex/near impossible geometry.
  • Creates little waste making it incredibly environmentally friendly!
  • Shrink your development to just a matter of days.
  • Quickly and cheaply test ideas to discover what works efficiently.


(image by Brian Delk)

Some printers are open source, this means that you can tweak them to fit your research needs on materials, pastes, liquids or whatever you need.

Do I need previous computer science knowledge to be able to use a 3D printer?

Depending on how fast you learn, 3D printing can be a very easy process! 3D printing essentially creates a 3D object from a 3D model. In order to create the 3D model in the first place you need to become familiar with modelling software such as Blender or SketchUp. There are many online resources and manuals in place to help people pick up the basics of these modelling tools very quickly. There exists modelling software developed specifically for beginners! Such as 123D Creature by Autodesk. This software will always output files that can be 3D printed and is aimed at people with no modelling background. 3D modelling is an ever-growing exciting research area that constantly is being developed upon and improved!


(image by deux-chi)

How do I access a 3D Printer?

The University of Auckland department of Computer Science has a D600 colour 3D printer from CreatBot. This is available for use by all staff and research students. Contact Robyn Young for more details: rm.young@auckland.ac.nz.

If you want to know more without jumping into the deep end come along to our Hacky Hour for help to get going in the right direction!

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