3D Printing: Make Anything You Want!

3D printing is one of those things in this information age; everyone talks about it but very few people actually know what it is. Well, 3D printing additive manufacturing to be more accurate is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also very distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).

A 3D printer is a limited type of industrial robot that is capable of carrying out an additive process under computer control. The possibilities of 3D printers are nearly limitless and this is one of the most amazing and kinda scary things about 3D printing. Imagine being able to print food or a gun or pretty much anything from a model. Sounds like something out of a science fiction movie doesn’t it?

Now you’re probably saying “Naaah, 3D printer with printing faceCredit: http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-plastic-head-printed-d-image35272334 impossible!” or if you’re more open minded you’re asking how? How is this possible? Well additive manufacturing (which is 3D printing) takes virtual models (3D blueprints) from computer aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software and "slices" them into digital cross-sections for the machine to successively use as a guideline for printing. Depending on the machine used, material or a binding material is deposited on the build bed or platform until material/binder layering is complete and the final 3D model has been "printed." For those who are not technically inclined, 3D printing takes models that were created using special software, creates 3 dimensional sections of it and uses various materials to create layer after layer until the model is successfully replicated – printed!

How 3D printing will change the World

That 3D printing will change the world cannot be in doubt but how will it change the world?

  1. It puts the power to make an object or manufacture an object in anyone's hands. You no longer need to go to a factory, all you have to do is come up with the planned item and hit the print button. The ramifications will be felt everywhere, factories may begin to lose their relevance.
  2. The way we shop for products will change drastically. If you could order a product and instead of waiting 2-3 working days (or more as is often the case) you click the print button and voila your product appears before you, wouldn’t that be awesome? And this is probably the future of 3D printing. Everything is made easier, more convenient and really reduces the already short number of reasons we have for getting off the couch J
  3. This third reason is already happening. That’s right; the dental industry is one industry that is making use of the revolutionary 3D printer. Dating back as recent as 5 years ago, if you went to a dentist to get a crown for your teeth, you would have bitten into clay to produce a mold of your teeth. Your dentist would have then made your crown by hand, even going so far as to hand-sand it! Can I just say, eeeew. Today, crowns are made completely using 3D technology. Gone are the days when you would bite into that terribly tasting clay mold. Now, the dentist simply wands your mouth with the 3M wand and makes a digital file of your mouth. The dentist then teleports the CAD file and has the implant arrive at his office the very next day. Did I hear you say Harry who? Yup, Harry Potter certainly doesn’t have much on us.
  4. 3D printing will certainly have a lot of effect on the medical field and it is already happening now. With 3D printing, the creation of prosthetic limbs and devices has now become much quicker and easier. It is possible to create prosthetics that are custom made for the individuals and so suit their unique needs, all without breaking the bank.
  5. The future is not coming, the future is here. And it rode in with its trusty sidekick 3D printing. With the introduction of 3D printing comes the innovation of instant CAD files through laser scanners. There are now handheld laser that you can point at an object, and the laser will then create a CAD file of what you're pointing at in real time. This CAD file of the object is then sent to the 3D printer, which will have it printed out in no time. So basically, you point your handheld laser at ANY object you want and reproduce a 3D copy of it for yourself. Amazing, right?!
  6. This is really very important. 3D printing is not just a cool, totally cool thing but it can actually help solve one of Earth’s biggest problems. Let’s face it; we cannot deny that we are all leaving a very big carbon footprint on our world. One of the biggest factors contributing to this carbon footprint, however, is the manufacturing, transporting and importing of goods. So how can 3D printing fix this? Firstly, carbon emissions would reduce a great amount because businesses would no longer need to transport goods. 3D-printed products can be produced and assembled in just one process, therefore hundreds and even thousands of parts would not have to be shipped from dozens of factories around the world. Another bonus is that companies will no longer have to go in search of space to store their prototypes and other models. This is because most product design files could also be transmitted digitally and then printed on demand from anywhere in the world. This, in turn, will allow more space for environmental conservation.

I could go on and on about how 3D printing can, and already is changing the world but the possibilities are near infinite. From really cool stuff like Jay Leno printing parts for his collection of classic cars to reducing carbon emission, 3D printing has really done a lot. And it’s not just the super-rich multi-zillionaires who can afford it, the price of a 3D printer has gone down to just over a thousand US dollars and they say the price will continue to fall. In fact, experts say that very soon there will be at least one 3D printer in every home. What dramatic difference could this have on us and our lives? The mind boggles. One thing is for sure though; 3D printers are incredible technology that we just can’t get enough of.