This figure was created in
a single 3D printing
session in 15 hours,
with no construction
or painting required.
3D printing, or rapid prototyping as it is sometimes called, is a truly incredible technology. It’s actually been around since the mid-80’s, but it is only within the past decade that it has gained momentum towards becoming mainstream. 3d printing works by taking digital data (i.e. a digital 3d design) and using it to physically create three dimensional objects.
How does 3D printing work?
Extremely thin layers are added to each other to form 3D objects. The main strength of 3D printing and the thing that separates it from all other manufacturing technology, is the fact that highly intricate, multi-material objects can be created in just a few hours. 3d printers can create things that are literally impossible to create by any other means.
When will 3D printing be affordable for consumers?
As with most new technology, 3d printing must make the transition from being expensive and only used in industry to being cheap enough for widespread, personal use. Based on what has already been achieved by 3D printing, it is safe to say that in the future it will play a massive part in our lives. The only question is how long will it take for 3d printing to become a common consumer technology?
What’s already been done with 3D printing
Originally intended to be used solely for creating detailed prototypes (hence the name ‘rapid prototyping’), 3d printing is now used for a wide range of applications. Aerospace, defense and automotive companies all use 3D printing as part of their design and manufacturing processes.
An example of a replacement lower jaw,
created on a 3D printer.
Replacement jaw created using 3D printing
Some of the most impressive uses of the technology have occurred in the medical industry. Last year a medical team in the Netherlands successfully implanted a replacement jaw into an elderly woman. The jaw was created using a 3D printer. This meant that it was a perfect match for the patient and was ready for dental implants immediately. The transplant was a resounding success, despite the fact that the procedure was the first of its kind using a printed implant.
3D printing for personal use – now and in the future
3D printing services
3D printing, or at least a form of the technology, is already being used for personal/consumer applications. There are various websites that offer a custom 3D printing service. Customers are invited to upload their designs: toys, jewellery, ornaments or other accessories. The companies then print the items from your designs and send you the finished article. It’s a fantastic idea.
Buying a 3D printer
The recent media attention given to 3D printing has caused a huge increase in interest – as a result, a number of companies have produced printers that anyone can buy and use. These home 3D printers, available from around $1250, allow people to design and produce their own 3D creations. Although the products that can be created on these home printers are fairly rudimentary, it shows that the potential is there.
The possibilities are endless
Some experts are predicting that it won’t be long until people can download designs and print useful items such as replacement parts for household appliances. This will completely revolutionize the way we live, as well as the way companies work. In theory it will make some products much cheaper as manufacturing, labour and distribution costs will be slashed.
There is even active research being carried out into the idea of people being able to print their own custom medication, to save them going to the doctors or the pharmacy. The team responsible for the research, based at the University of Glasgow, have already printed organic compounds housed in what they call ‘reactionware’ which is printed at the same time. If this becomes a reality, healthcare will never be the same again.
The potential of 3D printing is hard to fathom. What has already been achieved and what is around the corner will help to push the boundaries of science and change the way we live. Hopefully in the near future there will be a multi-use 3D printer in every home, printing spare parts, personalized medicine and other items, making 3D printing the definition of personal technology.
This article was provided by Laser Lines 3D Printing.