The idea of 3D printing reminds me of the saying “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. 3D printing to me, seems to spin the lesson on its heels. Rather than learning instructions which can be repeated over and over, one simply loads instructions into a 3D printer, to have nearly anything created as many times as they wish. So one person can write the instructions, while any person with a 3D printer can simply load the instructions, and sit back as the work is done for them.
Not as new as you think
The first working 3D printer was created in 1984, and needless to say, things have improved since then. When I first heard about 3D printing, it was related to people designing simple 3D concepts of house plans on a computer and then being able to print these as real world models which they could hold and show off. These days, I am hearing about complex objects such as working clocks, a remote controlled aircraft and even the possibility of human organs like livers.
How does 3D printing work?
My basic understanding is that a set of digital instructions are loaded into a 3D printer,. which will then “print” the desired product. Materials used vary widely from plastics and wax, to titanium and even human tissue. There are two main techniques used in 3D printing.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
The nozzle used to extrude the materials is heated so that the material is melted and able to be placed as designed. The nozzle moves along its x, y and z axis to construct layer after layer of the product until completion.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
In this process, a high powered laser fuses powdered forms of different materials. The work is done on the surface of the powder bed. Once the first layer is complete, another layer of powder is placed on top, and the process is repeated until the object is finally formed.
The future: controversial applications versus radical change
More recently, there has been controversy after instructions for creating an operational gun were published so that anyone with an appropriate 3D printer could load the instructions and print a ready to fire gun, without a licence to do so. This certainly poses further questions as to what could potentially be created in the near future which needs to be treated with caution.
3D printing could revolutionise the world in many ways including reducing:
There are even applications in space! NASA plan to send a 3D printer to the International Space Station to make spare parts and tools.
The prices of current top end 3D printers are realistically only in the reach of companies and institutions. Smaller 3D printers are advertised for around AUD1000 , however these can be a little limited in the complexity of what they are able to create. However at the rate we’re going, it sounds like it won’t be long before 3D printers can print a copy of themselves. Which is great for a buy 1 get 1 free deal.
Would you consider buying a 3D in the future? What would you use it for? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo credit: kakissel