Technology saves day for injured joiner

ADAM ROBERTS
Last updated 13:20 21/06/2012
Liam Beale and  Gary Willis
COLIN SMITH/Fairfax NZ

LOOKING AHEAD: Liam Beale and Gary Willis use a RepRap, an open-source 3-D printer to record the Nelson Mail's visit [inset].

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When an injury meant he could not work in his chosen field, a Nelson man made a new career for himself using a tool that until recently was the stuff of science fiction.

Former joiner Gary Willis, along with his stepson, Nelson College student Liam Beale, 17, are using a RepRap, an open-source 3-D printer that can create custom-made plastic objects, to print out products to sell.

The device uses a small nozzle to extrude hot plastic into layers, with the design of the object determined by a computer program.

The pair have printed everything from hooks to hang fishing rods, parts to use to build shelves, and even a plastic wine glass as a Christmas present.

When the Nelson Mail came to interview the pair, the machine took about five minutes to put together a small red rectangle, about 5cm by 3cm, with the initials "NM" embossed.

The machine can also construct 30 per cent of its own parts, making it easy to produce additional RepRap machines.

Because of this, the pair construct and sell their own RepRap kitsets, selling them around the country under Mr Beale's own electronics brand, Acronum.

The device was bought 18 months ago after Mr Willis injured his shoulder.

The injury meant he had to give up his career, and he started to look at emerging technologies to decide on a way to upskill himself.

Mr Beale was an electronics whizz, and when he brought up the idea of buying a RepRap, Mr Willis saw a new pathway.

The family bought the device from Europe for about $2500.

At that stage the devices were not common in New Zealand and the pair believe they were among the first three users in the South Island.

Mr Willis taught himself basic computer-aided-design skills, learnt some basic electronics skills from Mr Beale, and drew on the mechanical skills he had developed during his career.

"The idea was, if I decide to learn to use this, I might be able to use that knowledge to cross over into a career," he said.

"When you have been building your whole life and now you can't, you need to do something."

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- The Nelson Mail

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