Not just a universe of “things” - Thingiverse enables creators to do almost anything with 3D printing

Thingiverse is a website dedicated to sharing digital design files that can be used with a 3D printer, laser cutter, or CNC machine. When I was first introduced to the world of 3D printing with ABS and PLA plastic, I wasn’t quite sure what the technology was capable of and what the current limitations are. Is 3D printing a gimmick that can only print cheap trinkets and offer no educational value, or is it the next leap in technology that will be as accessible to households and classrooms and enable the next breakthrough of discoveries? I had the recent opportunity to use an Ultimaker S3 in-house at STEMfinity to test Thingiverse and get a first-hand look.

Like anything online that is driven by community content, Thingiverse has a wide range of quality in their library because it has designs submitted by everyone from design veterans to beginners. I firmly believe this is a good thing because Thingiverse allows quality content creators to be showcased, and enables beginners to get constructive feedback on their designs from the community to make improvements. Thingiverse has an awesome search function to find almost anything, and allows you to filter designs and bookmark your favorites in a library for future printing.

I was blown away by the creativity of the Thingiverse community. Admittedly, I was assuming that 3D printing was mostly a gimmick at the personal level and that nothing of real value could be created with a household 3D printer (I was dead wrong). After searching the first few pages of “popular” downloads I was able to see practical household items that were free to download for home use including a bakers cube, a self-watering plant holder, a parts tray and drawers, a g-clamp, an adjustable wrench, and a windshield icescraper. Okay and I was also able to find a free printable Terminator skull and Millenium Falcon too because I couldn’t help myself!

I decided to print the icescraper for practical purposes and the Terminator skull for fun. Thingiverse makes the process of downloading the design file and uploading it to your 3D printer very easy and you can start printing within minutes. The best part of the 3D printer is the set-it-and-forget-it nature of the machine that allows you to walk away and come back whenever you want to see how many minutes remain on your creation. The Terminator skull and icescraper were both created within several hours in a single afternoon. Both prints were remarkably smooth and much more detailed and durable than I thought they would be. While both 3D prints certainly passed the “cool” test, I ultimately wanted to see if a 3D print could create something practical. Without a doubt the icescraper passed the test of being usable and functional. I was skeptical that the edge would be too dull and blunt to do anything for ice removal, but the 3D printer was able to produce an edge that was sharp and effective at performing the task it was created for.

Thingiverse is a great resource that can help inspire new creations and show students what is possible using 3D design tools - check it out!