An overview of 3D printing, how a 3D printer works, their uses, and impact on the world, for those who don’t know what 3D printing is.
You’ve heard of 3D printing from newscasters and journalists, astonished at what they’ve witnessed. A machine reminiscent of the Star Trek Replicator, something magical that can create objects out of thin air. It can “print” in plastic, metal, nylon, and over a hundred other materials. It can be used for making nonsensical little models like the over-printed Yoda, yet it can also print manufacturing prototypes, end user products, quasi-legal guns, aircraft engine parts and even human organs using a person’s own cells.
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. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling. A materials printer usually performs 3D printing using digital technology.
The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. Since the start of the 21st century there has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price has dropped substantially. According to Wohlers Associates, a consultancy, the market for 3D printers and services was worth $2.2 billion worldwide in 2012, up 29% from 2011.
The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, engineering, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech, fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields.
It has been speculated that 3D printing may become a mass market item because open source 3D printing can easily offset their capital costs by enabling consumers to avoid costs associated with purchasing common household objects.
This is a technology of mammoth proportions, with effects on energy use, waste, customization, product availability, art, medicine, construction, the sciences, and of course manufacturing. It will change the world as we know it. Before you know it.
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