October 2011 Paul McCollum
An awesome step forward for digital art, Japanese company Roland DG has brought what may be the first of a line of affordable “3D printers”. Unfortunately, 3D printer needs to stay in quotation marks because it is more of a Mini Dremel Studio than a resin-jet 3D object building system. While this may not be the current definition of 3D printing, perhaps the opposite, it can accomplish exactly the same thing, maybe even a little cheaper. The iModela substitutes the expensive and finicky resin with plastic blocks and even balsa wood. The video below does a great job showing exactly how the iModela functions.
Think of this as a 3D Cricut machine. It uses a rotary tool to carve shapes fed from a CAD program into Balsa wood or other appropriate media. Roland DG includes 3D modeling software along with the iModela that should be focused on designing shapes for ‘printing’. Once done with the design, load an appropriately sized chunk of wood into the pyramid shaped printer, align it, and you are ready to go. Once started, it will sculpt your shape for you, well half of it at least. You have to take into account that the precision arms can only create depth cuts from one angle so the complexity of your form would be limited. Each sculpture will have to be at least 1/2 flat surface. The adept will be able to bypass some of these limitations by doing multiple runs and assembling them into more complex designs. At roughly $1000, this may not be far enough ahead of a whittling knife for some. It’s a fantastic start that won’t take many iterations to be truly liberating.