If you do a Google search for a ‘3-D printer’, you can buy one for a couple thousand bucks. But do you know what it is? Believe me, these machines are able to do a lot more than print out your kids’ homework.
3-D printing is going to revolutionize manufacturing—in fact, it already is. The technology has been around since 1984, when Charles Hull built the first commercial machine based on a technique called stereolithography.
What you should know about 3-D printing is that it is an additive technology in which objects are built up in layers in a machine in a process that takes several hours—or at least for now it does. It is a process that requires fewer raw material and is more cost efficient than ‘subtractive’ manufacturing (cutting/drilling bashing metal). With 3-D printing, making one item different from the next only requires a simple coding configuration. Not only that, but the printers are able to produce ready-made items requiring next to no assembly as well as items that traditional methods would struggle with, like the chain mail glove. It’s a future where a device connected to a computer can print out a solid object.
What kind of printable objects are we talking here? As of right now, most 3-D printers are not creating the store products. They are used to make prototypes or molds that are perfected before final mass production occurs. Some products that have used 3-D printing in their design process include automobiles, jewelry, toys, and a variety of containers and bottles. With 3-D printing, engineers are able to fit parts together and make sure a model is perfect before committing to large-scale production costs.
Similarly, architects utilized the technology to show detailed and low-cost models to their clients before construction. One Dutch architect, Janjaap Ruijssenaars, is at work designing the first 3-D printed house he’s named “The Landscape House”. For this house, a massive printer called the D-Shape printer will literally ‘print out’ 20×30 pieces of sand that will eventually turn into a marble-like material to make up the curved walls of the house. Ruijssenaars says the printing technique is “a more direct way of constructing,” as it eliminates others from adding their own interpretation to his plan.
Though we haven’t quite achieved human teleportation, the fact that we might be able to print out custom cars in our lifetime is pretty exciting. As 3-D printing becomes more accessible to the public, it will force everyday people to become developers and to take more creative risks. I predict when this technology really starts to take off, we will see mandatory coding classes starting in elementary school throughout public school system.
MakerBot 3-D Printer Demo – CES 2011
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