PIEDMONT -- Starting a school club that will use technology on the cutting edge of the computer and DIY movements is a great idea.
For Mingwei Samuel, founder of the 3-D printing club at Piedmont High School, that was easy -- the tricky part was getting the technology. That's why Samuel and the other club members went to the Internet to raise $1,600 to buy a 3-D printer for the school.
The printer will help the students with an early entry into a technology that is poised to go mainstream as a way to create one-off, complicated objects for very little money.
"Students need to get their hands on this type of technology for a variety of reasons -- they are more willing to think outside of the box and not be constrained by preconceived ideas about what is possible, and for obvious future employment reasons," said the club's faculty adviser, science teacher John Savage.
3-D printing is a new technology that combines the on-demand nature of a regular paper printer with the ability to create fully three-dimensional objects. In 3-D printing, an object is designed with modeling software, then the printer extrudes layers of a material -- usually plastic -- to form it. With the proper instructions, the printer can create anything from a children's toy to furniture.
Samuel, a sophomore, came up with the idea of starting a 3-D printing club after doing an assignment last year for an English class about the technology. The possibilities of the machine to make unique designs left him intrigued.
"With mass production it took a lot of money and effort to make one prototype," he said. "3-D printing is pretty cool because you can make almost anything with 3D printing."
Samuel decided to start a club at the beginning of the school year. Once he spread the word, he didn't find it hard to get people interested.
"When you say, '3-D printing,' it just sounds cool and sounds interesting," Samuel said.
The club has 15 active members and meets weekly, and Samuel expects more people to join once the club gets a printer. Without a printer, they're limited in what they can do, but they are prepping by planning and designing with software for 3-D printing.
In the meantime, they set up a campaign with Kickstarter, a popular fundraising website, and reached their goal in about three weeks.
"Just this morning we got pretty much the rest of the money, so we're really excited about that," Samuel said Dec. 20.
For those who support them, they've promised a range of printed objects, from a pair of dice up to a chess set. Most of the money so far has come from Piedmont parents but not all.
"There are some random people over the Internet that have donated," Samuel said.
The successful fundraising means that the club can get the printer in time for Piedmont High's winter fair, where clubs can show fellow students just what they're all about.
"I think it'll be really cool to have it running," Samuel said.
3-D printing has been around since the 1980s but it's only recently that it's begun to become mainstream -- and affordable. And as with many new technologies, the Bay Area is a good place to be. The club plans to buy a machine made by San Francisco-based Type A Machines and purchased from HoneyBee3D, which opened in Montclair Village this fall, becoming one of the first retail 3-D printing shops in California. There are a number of workshops around the Bay Area that feature 3-D printing, as well as online companies that will take a three-dimensional design and make it real in anything from plastic to silver.
Besides making trinkets, 3-D printing is considered invaluable for designing prototypes or customized products. It's a growth industry, with Make Magazine already in its second year of an annual testing of the best printers available. Piedmont High will provide space to house the printer, and Samuel hopes that the club can make things for teachers, as well. As for Samuel, he already has his designs waiting. He also plays the trumpet, and he's ready to try a 3-D printed one.
"That's what I want to print," he said.
To support the Piedmont High 3-D printing club, go to phs3d.org.