New 3D Printer Outputs Intricate Designs


Shi Shi

Sitting stoically in the basement of Mudd, Oberlin’s new three-dimensional printer is available for student use. Posing with the machine is Glen Gerbush, a CLEAR Quantitative Skills Staff Member who leads workshops in printer use.

Kristopher Fraser

The College received an object last month, the success of which has recently been the topic of worldwide discussion. The 3-D printer, a machine that has the capability to layout, form and print three-dimensional objects made from plastic, arrived on campus in early October and is now available for use by the student body.

Although a seemingly novel concept, three-dimensional printing has been in practice since the early 1980s, when the technology was patented by a Mr. Charles Hull.

Starting at around $2000, these printers use a procedure known as “additive process.” The progression of 3-D printing begins with an idea, which the user then sequencers into a digital software program as a sort of virtual blueprint. The program then communicates with the printer itself, which creates the object by adding the material layer by layer, until the entirety of the blueprint is constructed.

Glen Gerbush, an Oberlin College employee who will lead a Winter Term project on 3-D printing, further explained the printer. Gerbush said that the three-dimensional printer works similarly to “a hot glue gun attached to a 2-D printer. A two-dimensional image is drawn, and then the entire axis that the print head is on is raised up, and another two-dimensional image is drawn. The stacking of these 2-D images creates the 3-D object.”

The concept of 3-D printing has prompted enthusiasm from across a broad spectrum of demographics. While some companies use the technology to mass-produce computer components or plastic figurines, others utilize the printer in order to expedite scientific breakthroughs. According to scientists in Edinburgh, a 3-D printing technique has gone so far as to develop clusters of stem cells, which could speed up progress towards creating artificial organs.

There are, however, a number of civic controversies that come with the development and distribution of such an adept technology. One of the most prevalent disputes is that these printers are already capable of manufacturing a fully functioning firearm.

While some see this technology as posing a large threat to society, Taylor Reiners, chair of the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians, explained his take on the issue.

“People have always been able to create their own firearms. Anyone with a machine can setup in their garage and create their own firearms … This just makes it more easy and accessible. It will make gun control very difficult to regulate; it’s going to make access to firearms much more widespread,” said Reiners.

The National Rifle Association has remained fairly silent on this issue while still advocating for their resilient platform on minimal gun regulation. Cody Wilson, founder of an organization that makes gun designs for 3-D printers available for the public, has attempted to garner NRA support in advocating for the availability of 3-D printed gun files on the internet, but they have continuously declined to comment whatsoever on the issue.

Reiners assured that access to 3-D printed guns should not cause a large increase in gun violence incidents.

“In a lot of states you don’t really need a license to own or purchase a gun. Right now in most states the real issue is whether or not you have a permit to carry it concealed, so if you have a 3-D printed weapon and you have it concealed and are walking around with it, you can still be arrested for carrying it. People don’t really have a need to create weapons; even if 3-D printing didn’t exist, access to the black market for guns is wide,” said Reiners.