In theory, if I were to take a hot glue gun and adapt a CNC-machined nozzle with a heat-sink on it to replace the existing glue-gun nozzle, then I could do what a 3D printer pen does in wax instead of plastic…but would I call the result a 3D print? No. It would be a one-of-a-kind wax sculpture. If I built-up some Krazy® Glue on a baking sheet layer-by-layer and crafted a little object, could I call that a 3D print? No. It would be glue art. This is not to take-away from the cool-factor of 3D printer pens—they are indeed nifty, and could be very useful for modifying actual 3D-printed parts. But with that thought, I would like to nominate a new name for 3D printer pens: Plastic-extruding Pens, or, “PeP”…pretty catchy, right?
Note: this is Part 2 of a 2-Part Series.
Building a 3D Printing Pen
As we all know, design and engineering are especially important factors when it comes to creating handheld devices. For the select devices which sport plastic chasses that must be built to diffuse considerable heat (such as hair dryers, heat guns, soldering irons, etc), these two core facets of creation are even more important, as the constant barrage of the heat on a device can do funny things to the case around it as well as to the internal components. We have all seen the effects of heat on crummy electronics many times over in our lives, which can only lead us to wonder how well these 3D pens might fair against repeated-use and the test-of-time.
Unfortunately, many companies today who claim to design-for-durability also prioritize design-for-manufacturability at the most economic level—generally sacrificing quality (and durability) as a result. In the case of designing heat-producing handhelds, design-for-durability is such an extraordinary factor that it will be interesting to see if these 3D printer pen companies prioritize the durability factor the way that it should be prioritized in order to ensure the longevity of their products.
Considering the importance of long-term product planning, it is always critical to consider the quality of manufacturing tolerances—certainly one area which can be detrimental to the overall quality of a utilitarian product which sees repeated use. Unfortunately, with ultra-mass production, we frequently see oversights in quality which are often easily traceable to manufacturing tolerances (an easy place to cut corners in large-scale production). As far as “exothermic” handhelds are concerned, manufacturing tolerances and materials science are huge. Any device that is generating heat is super-susceptible to heat-induced creep and warping, as well as fracture from constant heating and cooling. While there are many great examples of these factors in modern-recent product design, one of my favorites to reference is exemplified by the early generations of Apple® iPods (which were manufactured to industry-leading spec for mass production). Despite the extreme attention to design and detail in those early disk-driven models, one of their most common areas for failure was a result of the heat released by the internal components, which warped the housing on the internal hard drive, rendering the units unusable. No one saw it coming, and by the time that it began to happen, warranties had long-since expired.
Design-for-durability is critical to the longevity of a company’s success—particularly in a day-and-age where poor-quality products are abundant and easily served justice in the online community. I am extraordinarily intrigued to watch the future of these 3D printer pen companies unfold, as I have seen very few handheld products in categories similar to 3D printer pens which were designed with proper consideration for thermodynamic principles. BUT, to defend WobbleWorks and Swiss 3D Print, both companies have gone to great lengths to emphasize their respective focuses on quality and their considerations for various other core design and engineering principles, notably, ergonomics. Both of the companies have demonstrated highly-commendable passion for the basics that will make-for a solid design—we will just have to wait and see how their products ultimately defend the values of their creators.