3D printing is the future that is now. It is new, it is fast, it is cool and simply magical. It is the new kid on the block! There has been a lot of buzz lately about 3D printing and how it has or is going to change the world. Well what most people don’t know is that it has actually been here for 30 years now but it did not gain much importance until 1990. Still then it was only confined to the world of engineering, architecture and manufacturing. However all that is about to change. This new technology has got people from all professions and hobbyists alike very excited and to tell you the truth 3D printing is going to change the world if it has not changed it yet.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing also called additive manufacturing is a process used to make a 3D object from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file or from a 3D scanner. The file is then sent to the 3d printer to be printer. In the printer, the object to be printed is broken down into many small layers thousands even, depending on the size of your object. The object is printed one layer on top of the other, starting at the bottom of the design until the whole object is printed. It is just like you print on a sheet of paper but with an added third dimension upwards, the Z axis.
Where is 3D printing used?
In the early years of its inception, 3D printing was primarily used for prototyping but now every major industry in the world uses 3D printing to make end-use products.
One of the major fascinating applications of 3D printing is in medicine and precisely surgery. Surgeons have confessed that some of their successful surgeries were as a result of the use of 3D printing. The organ to be operated on is 3D printed and the surgeon studies and/ or uses the printed organ as a rehearsal before the operation such that they know exactly the position of the organ and what type of procedure they are going to use.
Thanks to 3D printing, low cost prosthetic limbs have been developed for survivors of war torn nation many of whom are left with amputated limbs. In medicine this is just the beginning of the overwhelming application of 3D printing. The much hype about 3D printing in the medical world is not about to die any time sooner and with the already successful printing of various objects proving just how much potential 3D printing has in healthcare. Medical researchers at Harvard University are working on bioprinted blood vessels and if this is successful then it will be a step closer towards printing of organs with blood supply.
3D printing sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie but the only difference is that it is actually a reality. First to get one thing straight is that 3D printing will not replace all forms of traditional manufacturing, but for the right applications it will be the best option. For example in traditional manufacturing, creating a tool like a spanner involved a lot of subtraction processes such as machining, milling, grinding and forging. It took a lot of time and you had to manufacture many components even if you needed only one. However 3D printing can create the same component in a single operation by layering starting with the bottom one on top of the other. The beauty of 3D printing in manufacturing is that the same printer can for example be used to create an engine cylinder and its flywheel. There is no need for a large factory and retooling for an entire assembly line. One example of application of 3D printing in manufacturing is the creation of footwear by Nike in which they use the technology to give customers custom made shoes for them. Few people have identical feet and most often shoes don’t fit one of the feet well. Good news, now you can have your shoes 3D printed for you right on the spot or even in a shoe store. How amazing!
3D printing is the future and that future is here. In 2014 Made in Space, a company launched in 2010 had already installed its first 3D printers installed in the International Space station (ISS). The company has partnered with NASA to have the Additive Manufacturing Facility in space to service NASA. NASA says they need a 3D printer in space because it is very expensive and time consuming to send something into space. For astronauts and space tourists, this is a step in the right direction. Now you can 3D print whatever it is that you need to use in space, other than carrying it all in a space ship from earth. If 3D printing isn’t getting you excited then what will? NASA is now even carrying out more research to see if they can 3D print food, yes food for their astronauts while in space. The European Space Agency on the other hand has shown interest in creating a ‘moon village’ by 3D printing it using lunar soil. It will take us sometime to know where our next home will be, either the Moon or Mars. But wherever it will be, thanks to 3D printing we have started imaging the possibility that Earth could not be our only home.
Whatever your imagination, just imagine it in 3D printing it can be created. What sets apart 3D printing from ‘old school’ manufacturing is the fact that intricate parts that could not be created can now be 3D printed.