3D printing,the future is now
Desktop 3D printer from Makerbot
Anything is possible
Imagine a world where you can create anything at home with the touch of a button.I know that may sound like fantasy,but with today's new technologies in additive manufacturing(three dimensional printing)the fantastic is becoming realistic.This technology is widely unknown but growing exponentially.The growth and simplicity of this technology have made it entirely possible for anyone that can afford a high end printer to own their own personal 3D printer.School science projects are going to get very competitive and rather tough for the teachers to judge.
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What is a 3D printer?
A 3D printer is very similar to a conventional 2D printer that resides under or around every pc in most homes.Where a 2D printer prints a 2 dimensional image from a digital file by making passes across the surface of paper and spraying ink at the precise time to reproduce the digital image located in the pc.A 3D printer gives another direction of printing or a third dimension.This process is called additive manufacturing.The easiest explanation being,loading a CAD file into your pc or creating a 3D image or model then hit the print button and your digital file is turned into a real world product by the printer.In reality almost anything that can be imagined or scanned with deep penetrating infra-red or x-ray scanner can be created. The printer does this by applying successive layers of a variety of materials until a real world duplicate of the 3D image is produced.
In the early days of this technology it was primarily used in rapid prototyping by engineers and researchers to provide a mock up of potential products being developed.Within the last decade the technological advancement has evolved into the beginning of the new era of manufacturing.in it's beginning the primary material used was a molten polymer and then molten ABS.Lately technologies and machines are capable of using a wide variety of materials such as steel,aluminum,carbon fiber,platinum and so on.This has opened the doors of possibility in manufacturing to a degree unmatched.
Now producing complicated products that contain internal moving parts are only as difficult as creating a 3D model.With the addition of material penatrating scanners and x-ray images loaded onto computers virtually anything can be dublicated at one time and when complete is a totally functional product.For example see demo video from youtube
The future of more than manufacturing.
The practical uses of this technology is vast from,personal use as a hobby to military applications.At present there are companies that have built and are using multiple material machines that can print fully functional electronic devices,steel,titanium,and aluminum aircraft components and a wide variety of other parts and components that would normally be produced in machine shops and mills.
This type of tech is being used by the medical field in addition to stem cell research to develop fully functional human organs such as bones, eyes, hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers and limbs.The replacement organs are built up from a washed cell structure and when infused with the patients own blood and DNA produces an organ that the body doesn't reject.This technology has been used in many voluntary test recipients and has been successful but is still in the research stages.
What's the downside?
Although this new form of manufacturing is an amazing accomplishment for mankind there is a down side.3D printing is still a very new technology and as time passes the possibilities of what can be produced are beyond prediction,because many of the barriers that have limited what man can develop are now an issue of the past. The scary part of this technology is the impact it will have on the industries that employ millions of people.These machines actually cost less to build than machines that are the standard for manufacturing and do not require re-tooling to produce new or upgraded components.To change from an alternator bracket to an exhaust manifold would only require loading a different digital blueprint and changing the base material in a material bin. The reality of this is the replacement of not only millions of employees but also no need to contract different companies to manufacture different products.This may be offset minimally by the possibility of small business but due to the stand alone nature of the tech will not account for the impact on employment around the world.Since this is additive manufacturing material waste will be virtually zero,so material supply will also be dramatically reduced.Everything comes at a cost.
On the greener side.
Along with the obvious benefits to the medical field and advancement to innovation ,another welcome benefit of this type of manufacturing will be environmental impact.Not only will energy consumption be drastically reduced,it will be significantly less taxing on natural resources.It will greatly reduce dependence on fossil fuels in several ways from the reduction in electricity to the reduction of fuel due to freight transportation.So,at present the future holds many exciting advancements as well as challenges.Now only time can determine if 3D printing is a bane or blessing.