Columbus plant makes plastics used in 3D printers

Quality control manager Le Cao stands on the factory floor with a spool of the finished product at IC3D Printers on the Far West Side. [Tom Dodge/Dispatch]
One of the first things visitors notice is an 8-foot-tall armored robot standing against a wall. This tough character is actually a suit of armor made of 3-D printed plastic parts.

Fans of the video game Fallout 4 will recognize this outfit as the T-60 power armor, which players can put on when they want to do some serious damage. The plastic version was made by IC3D as a showpiece and loaned to a cosplayer — a player who dresses up like one of the game characters — who wore it to a few public events.

“Everyone’s just been like, ‘Oh, my god,’ and they want to go up and pull on it,” Cao said.

He tries to give his factory a playful vibe, with unusual job titles — his is the chief extrusion officer — and spaces labeled with signs such as “Room of Utility” (the utility closet) and “Room of Replenishment” (the kitchen). The women’s restroom door bears a silhouette of Princess Leia from the first Star Wars film, and a unisex restroom has a silhouette of a Star Wars storm trooper.

Beyond all of this whimsy is a factory floor in which employees make rolls of plastic fiber. The material looks like the plastic line on a weed trimmer.

IC3D buys off-white plastic pellets in bulk, melts them down, mixes them with a coloring agent, and then pushes them through a mold that turns the liquid into a continuous, solid fiber.

A 3-D printer uses the fiber as the feedstock for a mechanical arm that “prints” tiny layers of a plastic shape. Cao compares the process to that of a glue gun, which takes solid glue and melts it into liquid, which then quickly dries into a solid after being applied.

About three-quarters of the company’s sales are the fiber rolls, which are bought by customers much like an owner of a paper printer would buy ink.

Read more: Columbus plant makes plastics used in 3D printers and finished products, too

thumbnail courtesy of