Also known as desktop fabrication or additive manufacturing, 3D printing is a process for making a solid object by putting down successive thin layers of a material, often plastic resin, but also metal, nylon or other materials. The process is similar to a pastry maker creating a layer cake…but with thousands of layers and much more precision.
As with many traditional designs, 3D printing begins in two dimensions…if you can draw it, you can make it. The designer creates the object on a computer using software that can range from sophisticated and expensive Computer Aided Design (CAD) packages to free or inexpensive shareware to a program from Google called SketchUp.
The technology for 3D printing actually has been around for years. Manufacturers often use 3D printing to make prototypes before creating expensive molds for mass production. But only recently has 3D printing become quick and affordable enough for the hobbyist and home user.
We are pleased to bring you The 3D Printer that won Popular Mechanic’s Breakthrough Award. Over a thousand free designs, such as an iPhone case, bracelets and the Sphinx of Hatshepsut can be downloaded from a website, or generate your own using software. Print cartridges, available in 16 colors, produce a warm, viscous thermoplastic that hardens within seconds.
As 3D printing has become within reach of all of us, it has also grown more sophisticated and widespread in its professional uses. The medical industry has embraced the technology and already produces hearing aids, dental braces and prosthetic limbs on 3D printers. Based on research being conducted currently, it’s quite possible that several years down the road, a 3D printer could produce human organs like livers and kidneys for transplants.
In the home, you can use a 3D printer to create fun pieces like toys or jewelry. Picture the future when a repairman shows up to fix your dishwasher and doesn’t have the part he needs. No problem…call up the design and produce it with your 3D printer. And because anything that can be squirted through a nozzle can be produced on a 3D printer, imagine printing your special someone custom-designed chocolates for Valentine’s Day.
As the technology continues to evolve and open-source designs proliferate, people will start to customize and create many of their own products instead of running out to the store to buy them. Need just the right pair of shoes to complete an outfit? The day may be near where you can simply print them yourself.