Say you want a custom designed ring for your someone-special, or a cell phone case with your name on it, or a keyring with your finger print engraved on it? How convenient would it be, if you could design it as you like, then print it, not a picture, an actual object, as real as it could get? How does the prospect of someday saying ‘Siri, could you cook me a pizza?’ sound to you? How many times have you had to buy a whole set of chess or carom board pieces because you lost one of them? Jewelry, custom made prosthetic limbs, hearing aids, heart transplants, kidney, even parts for jet planes, 3D printing is already here, and is now becoming available to anyone.
So, what must you know about it? How does it work? What have other people used it for? And how will it literally change the world we know? Let’s have an insight to all that.
What is it?
It’s simply the most astounding development in printing, since the printing press itself. According to Wikipedia,
3D printing 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.
The thing to note here is that this technology is an additive process, in which materials are deposited on top of other to form the desired object, unlike the regular subtractive process in which materials are chipped out from larger pieces. As cutting edge as it may sound, it isn’t actually new. It has been around for about 3 decades, mostly only used for prototyping. But it’s changing, and now actual, functional 3D objects are being printed.
How does it work?
The basic concept is simple. You layout your idea with digital modeling – computer aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software. The program then divides the object into digital cross-sections, so the printer can lay it out layer by layer. You can even purchase and download designs from sites like Shapeways, or Thingiverse. (Go ahead and have a look at all the awesome designs you could 3D print) The next step in printing, you send the design to the 3D printer, which then uses appropriate/available materials to build your object.
Pushing Innovations, Revolutionizing the World
Now the fun part. What have people accomplished using the technology? Well many things!! To just have an idea take a look at some awesome 3D printed objects.
While artists are the ones to first adopt this technology, 3D printing has seen numerous applications in many diverse fields.
Architects plan to use a giant 3D printer to build a möbius strip-shaped building within the next year. It is cheaper, more efficient, and impossible otherwise, they say.
In Japan you can have a model of your unborn fetus printed for just $1275. 3D printing has caused radical changes in medicine. Doctors have been using this technology for all kinds of stuffs – dental fabrication, customized prosthetics, organ replacements including ears, fingers, heart valves, even kidney. In Michigan, doctors paired their medical know-how with the latest 3D printing technology to generate a custom, synthetic bio-part that ultimately saved a child who’d lost the ability to breathe on his own. Research has been going on about healing deep wounds by 3D printing skin cells over it. Bioprinting is well on its way to revolutionize medicine. There’s no doubt that in a few years you can have yourself completely scanned, and later when needed, use it to print specific body parts for replacements. No fear of rejection, completely safe and affordable!!
The next field to benefit radically would be deep space exploration. Astronauts on board need plenty of tools and replacements. With 3D printing they can build the object they need, when they need it. This will greatly reduce the cargo size, and also make manned deep space explorations possible. This has already captured NASA’s attention which recently funded the development of a prototype “3D pizza printer” that could help feed astronauts on long space journeys, such as the 500-day trek to Mars.
They are already using 3D printing to bake cakes, cookies even chocolates. Research has been going on about 3D printing meat. It won’t be long before you can actually 3D print food right on your desktop. It will also be a great step towards ending the world hunger.
It’s clear that 3D printing has the potential to transform several industries. However it does have some drawbacks. The first one being the price. Though smaller models could be bought for as little as $1,000, it can only print small gadgets and toys. Larger, more professional models will cost you as much as $50,000. Other disadvantages would include prospect of 3D printed guns, and copyright infringement issues.
Here’s a great TEDx video explaining the prospects of what you could do with this awesome technology.
From guitars, to guitar picks, race-cars, beautiful lamps, mugs, toys, model replica of yourself, foods and body transplants, even guns – the possibilities are limitless, the only boundary is your imagination! 3D printing makes us rethink about everything, about the way we have fun, about how we express ourselves. It makes us re-imagine the most basic things like, how we buy stuff, how we cook food. Commerce, construction, medicine, architecture, 3D printing impacts every industry, every single one. It will revolutionize the world, and it’s not that far really. So be ready to watch the world as it changes, experience it, be a part of it.