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3D Printers: Make Whatever You Want

Headline created with 3D printer
Headline created with 3D printerPhotograph by Keegin-Ma Forever for Bloomberg Businessweek

On most weekends, 14-year-old Riley Lewis and a few of his eighth grade friends gather at his house in Santa Clara, Calif. The group of about five, depending on who’s around, grab some chips and bean dip and repair to the garage, where Riley and his dad have created something of a state-of-the-art manufacturing hub. The boys can pretty much fabricate anything they can dream up on a machine called the RapMan. As the hours tick by, they cover tables with their creations: rockets and guitar picks and cutlery. They hold forth on plastic extrusion rates and thermodynamics and how such forces affect the precision of the objects they can produce. “That’s a very beautiful gear you have printed,” a boy named Douglas tells Riley.

The kids obsess over what versions of the Linux operating system they run on their laptops and engage in awkward banter. “I will stab you with flash drives,” Riley tells Vernon, a skinny boy with a braided rattail who shows off a pair of freshly made plastic brass knuckles. Vernon says, “I want to print an essay for one of my teachers and hand it in on sheets of plastic instead of paper just to confuse people.”