During our holiday visit to Boulder, Colorado, my wife’s uncle surprised us with a fascinating tour of the Engineering Department at CU. The classrooms there are filled with laser cutters, 3-D printers and electrical engineering equipment. Uncle Steve wanted to demonstrate the 3-D printer to my kids, and he needed a small object to create in a short amount of time. So, prior to our visit, Steve used a software called SolidWorks to design a 3-D Teeny Tiny Trucks toy prototype! The design was based on the little blue truck from the book named “Ernie” by our illustrator Keith Frawley. The digital model even captures the curved shape of Ernie’s trailer.
We arrived at CU, loaded the 3-D design into the printer, and then the magic began. Over the course of about two hours, an inkjet-like printing arm swung back and forth creating ultra-thin layers of a thermoplastic polymer. These 3-D printers are totally amazing. They can create incredibly detailed and complicated objects. For instance, we saw a linked bicycle chain and an adjustable wrench with moving parts. The possibilities are endless! When our two little Ernies were done, we carefully scraped the prototypes off the plate, scrubbed off some excess resin in a high-powered water chamber, and voila! One teeny tiny truck made to order!
It was the coolest thing to see a character from our picture book come to life as a solid object. This test version was fairly basic, but Steve is already planning more detailed designs of all three trucks from the book. Neat, huh? Well, get this: Imagine if you had a 3-D printer at home (or at a school or library) and you could download the specs and print off your very own Teeny Tiny Trucks toy… The future is now, people. Just you wait and see!