I am excited to be an early adopter of the latest wave of technology gaining momentum and actively altering the landscape of many industries in inconceivable ways. Most thrilling, perhaps, are the creative possibilities these developments will bring to the inventor and the innovator.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a term to describe the growing number of processes and methods used to produce a three-dimensional object. The earliest prototypes, developed in the late 1970s, were expensive and limited in capability. These young industrial robots produced 3D objects by depositing material onto a powder bed in a manner similar to an inkjet printer. Today, new processes are continually emerging while older methods mature.
How is it done?
All 3D printers require a virtual model that can be made with computer software or a 3D scanner, which collect information about an object’s shape and appearance in order to replicate it. Printing materials, which were originally limited to photopolymers cured with ultraviolet light lasers, have now expanded to include metal alloys, clay, rubber, edibles, thermoplastics, and more.
In many methods, these materials are printed in thin, successive layers, as directed by a computer, until the desired object is produced. The process can take up to several days or as little as an hour, depending on the complexities of the method, printer, and model.
What can we use 3D printing for?
Automotive and aerospace manufacturers have already begun to explore the commercial possibilities afforded by 3D printing. Design, architecture, and fashion industries have a unique opportunity for creative endeavor and production. Many companies are now working to develop affordable 3D printers for consumers.
Research and development in food production has sparked curiosity in the potential of 3D printing to aid in the developing world. Additionally, it has been proposed that 3D printing can inform medical equipment and drug production and distribution.
As technologies mature, methods sharpen, and new generations of innovators are introduced to this new vehicle for creation, 3D printing will affect change in every dimension of our lives. The myriad of opportunities has yet to unfold in entirety and will surely continue to expand.