Venturing into the world of 3D printing

Izah Azahari

The COVID-19 pandemic affecting countries has not only sparked new hobbies for many, but has also given the opportunity for others to dive into their acquired skills to help those in need.

One hobby is 3D printing, which gained popularity nationwide a few months ago during the height of the pandemic in the Sultanate where a group of individuals with 3D printing capabilities banded together to aid in providing face shields for frontliners.

The Bulletin interviewed one individual on how 3D printing has progressed in the country.

After sparking an interest in 2009 when he was studying at Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) Sultan Saiful Rijal Campus which was the Sultan Saiful Rijal Technical College at the time, Saiful Adli ventured into purchasing his first 3D printing machine after securing a job in an architect firm following his graduation.

“My first machine was the Flash Forge Creator Pro, and back then, 3D printing was quite expensive,” said Saiful. “3D printing machines have actually been made quite affordable in recent years after the technology has progressed.”

3D printing is technically similar to normal paper printing but instead prints objects in a dimensional manner. It would actually slice the model so the machine would print the models layer by layer in specific patterns
Saiful Adli purchased his first 3D printing machine after securing a job in an architect firm following his graduation. PHOTO: AZIZ IDRIS

Looking back when the sale of 3D printers began, Saiful said prices were normally around the range of BND1,800 to BND2,000, but has now gone down to as cheap as BND270 for those just starting out with the hobby.

Saiful explained that 3D printing has helped him with his other hobby – creating scale model tanks in his free time.

“It has also helped me turn my creations into physical models that can actually function and move and see how they behave in real life physics,” said Saiful. “I actually have been making parts for my remote control (RC) tanks, and also receive commission projects to make scale models of other projects as well.”

Saiful has also done a few small figurine model projects such as cartoon characters and costume props, as well as a few projects that have an international reach as far as Colorado, United States, where his friends from other countries have also ordered commission prints from him directly.

Explaining how 3D printing works, he said the first process in creating a 3D print model from scratch is to first sketch the model itself, and when satisfied with the sketch, you can make it into a 3D model using any programs like AutoCAD Blender, though Saiful prefers the Google Sketch Up program. This can then be transferred into an Astiol file after detailing is done on the model water type for the printer’s program to slice and prepare for printing.

“3D printing is technically similar to normal paper printing but instead prints objects in a dimensional manner,” added Saiful. “The program would actually slice the model so the machine would print the models layer by layer in specific patterns.”

Moreover, the 3D printing enthusiast believes that individuals can also sell the design files aside from the printed products, as his own model designs for scale model tanks have actually been printed overseas, where he and his friend in Malaysia also work together in producing custom-made tank or vehicle models.

What Saiful most likes about 3D printing is the opportunity to experiment on how to build his designs and creations.

“The community here, so far, is actually quite small. But we would like to expand it and have more members join our group, which is the 3D Printing Brunei group,” he shared.

With regard to the COVID-19 pandemic initiative the group has done, Saiful said the initiative was to help produce face shields as an alternative solution to ordering personal protective equipment (PPE) from outside the country for frontliners.

“I had a difficult time to work on it on the spot, but being involved in the initiative actually felt really great because you were doing something for your country,” he said.

Through this initiative, Saiful said that he was able to find others who are into 3D printing and that made him quite happy as he can finally share his hobby with the friends he has made.

“We actually made our own 3D print farms to produce the devices. This one was also to add with the initiatives that were initiated by Jerudong International School (JIS) to produce their own visors. So we were actually also doing that behind the scenes as well,” he added.

In terms of how 3D printing will progress within the next 10 years, Saiful foresees that it will be made more mainstream and expects more would start owning their own 3D printers in line with the rapid global technological advancements.

This will open up avenues for entrepreneurs to set up small businesses and give them the ability to make their own custom items to sell, as well as giving potential clients more choice to have custom-made prototypes for their products.

The avid 3D printing enthusiast said those interested to start the hobby would need a few things prior to purchasing their own 3D printer.

This includes a good understanding of 3D printing programs such as Google Sketch Up, obtaining the program, and doing extensive research on what type of 3D printer to buy.

“There has been a lot of trial and error when it comes to 3D printing. When you 3D print, it doesn’t always go as planned because of various issues. Most of the time if you really have a good set up already, you would actually have a really nice print. Otherwise it would end up as spaghetti, or as we call it – failed prints.”

“Patience is key to 3D printing as it takes a long time depending on how complex the model can be, no matter its size,” added Saiful. “The bigger the model, the longer it would take, but the more details it has.”