By Tanya Silverman
Hal in process of printing a Totoro and karate kicker.
Hal used to work in the backend, but after two years of training and fine-tuning, he’s been promoted to perform up front. He takes some special time and attention from his co-workers, but he gets the job done. He’s a creative and innovative team member.
So much so that he prints cookie cutters out of his very own nozzle.
“This is Totoro,” Whisk manager Nick Ray-Keeffe says as shows me one of the cookie stamps that Hal, the Makerbot Replicator 3D printer, makes.
A Totoro stamp with other PLA cookie cutters Hal printed.
Situated by the register, Hal stays busy printing out another Totoro stamp and a karate-kicking cutter. Two levels of trays lay below him, displaying several finished models: whales, wine bottles, fish, lightning bolts. These items are printed out of PLA, a biodegradable corn and sugarcane byproduct plastic, material that Ray-Keeffe determined suitable after two years of experimenting with the 3D printer.
Ray-Keeffe explains that PLA’s tendency to melt at a low temperature and cool very quickly makes the plastic prone to getting stuck in Hal’s nozzle. He continues that because Makerbot doesn’t offer–or suggest–a proper tool for how to unclog the nozzle, users are left to become innovative on their own, even going as far as inventing toothpick-poking devices. At Whisk, they started experimenting with inventory at hand.
“A cake tester is actually the best size,” Ray-Keeffe informs me as he pulls out the pointy metallic tool that has tiny blue bits of PLA at its peak. “Ribbons of plastic will just push through.”
Hal hard at work.
Ray-Keeffe calls Hal a “Frankenstein version” of the Makerbot model, or rather, the fruit of his labor after researching DIY repair technique forums online and rigging a miniature fan on top of the machine.
There were also periods of tinkering with different software to perfect Hal’s cookie-cutting capabilities. To install images today, Ray-Keeffe uses Tinkercad, a 3D CAD designing software program, and allows customers to submit ideas for desired cookie cutters. Generally, people will send him pictures that they want cutters to resemble, which he then traces and translates into a vector image file. He shows me a photo of the most difficult one he’s completed, which is the intricately detailed stamp of the Brown University Crest.
In the future, Whisk may experiment with 3D-printing other kitchen supplies. Perhaps, by then, Hal will be promoted to the role of 3D manager and direct such departments as they develop.
All photos by Tanya Silverman.