Monday, August 11, 2014

Lab lets public use 3-D printing and laser tools

Laser engraving and cutting may release toxic
fumes that can affect people's health, studies show.
On any given day, an unusual cross-section of artists and entrepreneurs might be found tooling away on the cutting and industrial printing machines at a Central Square lab in Cambridge: a maker of percussion instruments, a fashion designer, even the owner of an electronic cigarette retailer.

The lab is called Danger!Awesome, and it is helping to introduce 3-D printing and laser-cutting technologies to people who don’t have the knowledge or access to factory- grade equipment to turn their big ideas into products.

The lab also performs professional-grade jobs for corporate clients, including the nearby Google Inc. offices. But to get 3-D printing to become an everyday technology adopted by the masses, cofounder Ali Mohammad said Danger!Awesome’s main calling is to teach hobbyists and entrepreneurs the technology isn’t all that difficult to master.

“Even if you don’t think you can make something, we will hold your hand through the entire process,” Mohammad said.

Like other labs, Danger!Awesome has both 3-D printers and laser cutters.

The former create solid objects by slowing extruding layers of plastic or other materials, based on a pattern designed in a computer program.

The latter starts with a block of material and meticulously burns away everything except the desired shape.

“You get this satisfaction from creating things,” Mohammad said. “There is something deeply, primally satisfying about building something you can touch.”

The company is among a number of startups in the Boston area anticipating that people will pay for training and access to bleeding-edge fabrication technologies.

In Somerville, Astisan’s Asylum trains members to use a Stratasys uPrint. The Printing Bay in Waltham offers classes and access to a MakerGear M2.

And on Newbury Street in the Back Bay, the 3-D printer manufacturer MakerBot has opened a store where the public can watch demonstrations of 3-D printing, scan and print their own designs, and buy a machine for their own use.

In Burlington, Einstein’s Workshop offers science and engineering classes aimed at children — including courses in 3-D printing and laser cutting for kids as young as second-graders.

“When you give kids access to these machines, it’s amazing what projects they think of themselves,” said workshop founder Henry Houh, who took a laser-cutting class at Danger!Awesome.

Visual artist Lannie Hathaway got so hooked on the new technology that she now works at Danger!Awesome, where she continues to use the machines for her own engraving and illustration projects.

“Using the tools that are used for engineering to make my own work come to life was very exciting,” Hathaway said.

The 3-D groundswell is being embraced by academia, as well.

Northeastern University, for instance, opened a comprehensive 3-D printing, 3-D scanning, and laser-cutting lab as part of its library system last year, and is developing coursework around it.

And the Massachusetts Institute of Technology supports a global network of 3-D printing laboratories through the Fab Foundation,a nonprofit started by the school’s Center for Bits and Atoms.

Mohammad was a doctoral student at MIT in computational linguistics when he stumbled on the technology, sneaking into the labs with laser cutters late at night to try out the equipment.

He became friends with Nadeem Mazen, and they decided to start a business. Their lab does about 50 orders a week, more around the holidays.

This article has been edited for length. 
Source: Boston Globe

Laser cutting and printing may release fumes that have been linked to a wide range of health concerns. Electrocorp has designed portable and highly efficient air cleaners for laser engraving and cutting as well as printing that boast a large activated carbon filter to trap chemicals and fumes before they spread. Contact Electrocorp for more information and a free consultation.

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