3D Printing – Changing the future of Science, Development & Shopping

3D printing is a hard concept to grasp at first. It’s NOT your current 2D printer printing an image on a piece of paper!

The best way to describe it is to think of an Inkjet printer; going left to right, forwards and backwards, but now add up and down to create a three dimensional object by placing successive layers of material on top of each other to create the object.

This 3D printing technology is integrated with 3D image files, like CAD files to create 3D design. By using laser technology you first scan an object, and we now have the ability to print a clone of that exact object. The 3D printer can already be found in a lot of ‘Research & Development’ companies for the re-creation of a prototype after making adjustments, or just to re-make the prototype to send to another division or team.

3D printing is a preferred option for prototypes; because often the cost is cheaper than to re-create the original prototype. Factor in the man hours for the rebuild, the cost of engineers making and overseeing the product being built, add the materials – time is money and 3D printing saves a lot of it.

With 3D printing, you simply scan the prototype and print from 3D image to the 3D printer, hours later you have an exact replication to the smallest detail.

3D printing works by using a CAD file – a 3D image design in which the object  is sliced into many layers, and by printing layer over layer with the special material, the object is created. However, 3D printing is so far limited to plastics, but likely to expand into more materials as time and research develops further.

Many industries to date have been using this technology; jewelry, footware, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental, and medical fields. Biotechnology companies and universities have been doing investigative research, using 3D printing and material for use in tissue engineering, were organs and bones could be created by being 3D printed and placed into humans saving lives. Imagine car wreck survivors needing bone replacements, burn victims requiring skin tissue – simply 3D print the part and a replacement is available.

Looking into the future, many scientists see 3D printing in health systems; imagine having a full body image scan of you, being saved to a CAD file of sorts, and if required by some unfortunate means you require a replacement body part, Doctors are then able to print your exact same healthy organ to maybe save your life. What this means, is no searching for compatible donors, saving hospital funds and effort, but most importantly getting you on the track to recovery in less than a day.

Other industries could benefit or totally change how things are done by this 3D printing technology, take toy manufacturers for example. Rather than paying large sums of money for what is just a piece of plastic, you pay for the CAD file, and 3D print the toy using your very own home version of a 3D printer. This means children who were exactly like me, and love to destroy things to ‘investigate’ i.e break things, you could just simply re-3D print the toy again from the CAD file. The same methodology could be used for spare parts from broken items such as white goods, kitchen items, virtually anything. At this very moment, my mind is running through the joys of not having to wait weeks for spare parts to be shipped. All you do is simply print the part and hours later you have what you need. In the future, it may not even take hours!

At this stage what I’ve explained is very far off, due to the limited materials available which can be “printed” and the challenge and cost of creating these materials. Another huge negative I can foresee is piracy. In the digital world, files such as CAD can be pirated on the internet, allowing you to download the newest and latest toys and other material, possibly reducing the incentive for manufacturing giants to keep investing in R&D.

But lets keep our hopes up! The music industry is still profitable through companies such as Apple and Amazon and the many others which have made music freely available or cheaper to download, have revitalized the industry with their online stores.

Written By Steve Bakker