Engineers and designers have been using 3D printers for more than 30 years, but recently these versatile machines made their way into the public eye. Their seemingly overnight spike in popularity is due to an increase in accessibility, made possible by a variety of factors.
What is 3D printing?
3-D printing is a manufacturing process that builds layers to create a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model.
To print a 3-D object, the manufacturer uses a computer-aided design (CAD) program to create a digital model that gets sliced into very thin cross-sections called layers. During the print process, the 3-D printer starts at the bottom of the design and builds up successive layers of material until the object is finished.
Reason for it’s growing popularity
Most importantly, 3D printers have enjoyed a significant price decrease over the last several years. A handful of companies and organizations have led the charge, developing finely tuned “desktop” versions of the previously industrial-sized machines.
These companies have largely made 3D printers affordable and practical for consumers – consumers who continue to find creative & valuable uses for 3D printing today, even as this emerging technology continues to evolve.
Simply put, it has the ability to transform consumerism. By empowering people to build their goods, unprecedented customization and a significant shift in manufacturing power are possible. The technology is here to stay, and will only become more commonplace as it continues to be refined.
Some of the areas in which 3d printing have played a significant role and I am sure will continue to play are:
The medical field alone has a number of uses for them. Surgeons are increasingly planning their operations by producing and reviewing 3D printed replicas of the physical problem being operated on.
Using this method of preparation, surgeons can gather a better idea of what the surgery entails – reducing the likelihood of error. Printed models are also a more cost-effective way for medical students to study human anatomy.
Instead of requiring cadavers to learn about the body, medical schools simply print models. Prosthetic limbs are increasingly being developed by way of 3D printing – bringing the latest cutting-edge technology in functional prosthetics to entire communities of people that would otherwise not be able to afford or access the care they need.
Fashion and design
Fashion and interior designers are taking advantage of 3d printing to create remarkable products. The world of fashion, known for embracing the newest trends, has produced stylish high heels and chunky statement jewellery.
Interior designers are building everything from ottomans to sets of tables and chairs. The furniture is more artistically inspired than its conventional counterparts, and it’s lighter too – one of the benefits of being printed. However, the pieces sacrifice nothing in terms of sturdiness.
Because of their exacting structure, they are durable and sleek. Lamps have also found their way into the 3D printing market. Floor lamps, table lamps, ceiling lights, and wall lights have all been designed and printed.
3D printers have also proven their practicality for around-the-house projects. Printing custom doorstops, bookends, and corner buffers allow users to design a product specific to their need. The world of digital design has created some spectacular images and virtual objects.
Until now, however, they were trapped behind computer screens – destined to be viewed digitally, never held & put to use. When inspiration strikes, consumers can now design their idea with a modelling program and print it in less than a day.
With the advent of 3D printing, artists and designers are now able to pull their creations from the virtual world and turn them into physical objects. Because of 3D printing, artists can avoid the required time and cost associated with traditional method.
Future of 3d printing
As the technology surrounding it improves, 3D printers will become increasingly versatile. They’ll be used for an ever-growing number of tasks, in a manner similar to the last two decades of digital expansion via personal computers.
Imagine a third world village printing vital medical equipment on demand. Aid workers never being without the specific supplies they need, a result of carrying portable 3D printers with them into combat zones and disaster areas.
Imagine hospitals being able to print organs on demand instead of waiting for a donor. 3D printers have virtually limitless potential as the technology driving them improves.