While the explosion in the popularity of consumer 3D printers has been enabled by cheaper and cheaper devices, they’re still beyond the reach of the average university student. But students at Virginia Tech need not worry about such monetary concerns when looking to turn their ideas into a physical reality thanks to the DreamVendor 3D printer vending machine located in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. (And no, the machine doesn't vend 3D printers.)
The creation of Virginia Tech’s DREAMS Lab, the DreamVendor is an interactive 3D printing station powered by four Makerbot Thing-O-Matic 3D printers that is described as “a vending machine with an infinite inventory.” After students load their designs in the Makerbot .s3g toolpath file format onto the machine via an SD card, they select their desired model using the machine’s control panel and the selected design will then be printed and dispensed into the bin for retrieval.
Thanks to support from Virgina Tech’s Student Engineers’ Council and Department of Mechanical Engineering, the DreamVendor is free for students to use and has understandably proven extremely popular since beginning operation earlier this year.
But given the ever-increasing interest in 3D printers, we wouldn’t be surprised to see, if not Virginia Tech, then some other enterprising go-getters rolling out pay-to-use 3D printer vending machines in the not too distant future. Such an approach offers more flexibility than the "kiosk" model being examined by Fujifilm that would offer only a number of predetermined models
The video below shows how the DreamVendor operates.