Adventures in 3D Printing with Android

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone in the tech world who doesn't think 3D Printers are cool. The ability to create a design and have a machine assemble that design out of little more than a coil of plastic is fascinating stuff, and knowing that this technology isn't remotely new leads to this exciting part of the conversation where anyone can own and use a 3D Printer. Since "anyone" includes us, we figured it was time to see what can be done with this technology and where our Android devices fit into the equation.

It turns out the answer to those questions is a little more complicated than just pushing a button, but that doesn't mean there aren't incredibly cool things to be done here.

The folks at Ultimaker were kind enough to lend us an Ultimaker 2 to explore the world of 3D Printing, and figure out what exactly can be done when you take the tiny computer in your pocket and put it to work making your imagination reality. We've been using this model for a couple of days already, and to say there's a learning curve for this tech is something of an understatement. You're not so much limited by your imagination as you are the dozens of things that can go wrong during a print, but the imagination part does eventually come into play. Ultimaker 2 comes pre-assembled in the box, with incredibly simple instructions and an SD card full of designs that can be printed in under an hour. But even with the hardware handed to you on a silver platter there's still a lot of work to do. While successfully completing a print in these early days of use is deeply rewarding, it feels that way because you've probably failed a handful of times in the process. Things get much better once you've crossed that leaning curve, but getting there can be deeply frustrating.

Ultimaker Purple

We've got so much more to explore with this machine. There are apps out there for taking 3D images of things we see out in the world, as well as apps that can take over the 3D Printer and let you use a tablet as mission control. It's a surprisingly big world, and a lot of what is out there today can be used on almost every 3D Printer. What we're going to try and figure out is how easy these apps are to use. We also need to know how useful the things we print actually are. Can you just print your own dock for a phone or tablet, or will a printed case offer you the same things you get by purchasing one from a manufacturer? How hard is it to make your own mount for a device that isn't particularly popular?

There are a lot of questions to be answered, and these are just the ones we've come up with so far. If you've got questions of your own, or if you're already a 3D Printer user and have stories about your experiences (or have a 3D Lloyd you'd like to show off), sound off in the comments!

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter