The 3D printer lab began with a small printer donated by a PPPL graduate student who printed at home as a hobby. From the beginning, it was clear that the ease and versatility of 3D printing could have many uses in a science laboratory like PPPL. We have recently upgraded to a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer which uses PLA plastic to create the three dimensional objects. The user provides the printer with a computer model of the desired object and the 3D printer deposits layer on top of layer of quickly hardening plastic until a physical model is formed. Many topologically ingenious shapes can be printed, for example, interlinked chains and embedded polyhedra. At PPPL, we study using 3D printed objects as components in our experimental setups. By measuring how they handle stresses, high voltages, low pressures and other hazardous environments typical of scientific experiments, we can determine when it may be appropriate to print something instead of having it machined out of metal or purchased. We’ve already started using 3D printed components in our experiments and found that they perform extremely well in suitable conditions.
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