It sounds like a story out of Startrek, but is already a reality, it is called 3D-Printing.
Every 3D object can be made out of layers of 2D slices, and that is the basic thought behind it. With the help of CAD (Computer Aided Design) programs you can literally ‘print out’ any 3D object if you have the information stored in a file, sending it to the 3D printer and finally get the final product. It is still in an early stage but things are moving really fast and there are already a lot of companies working in this sector. The basic materials used in the 3D printing are plastic or metal dust, the printer uses this dust and unites it with tiny drops of glue or a tightly focused beam and sends the material through very fine nozzles (just like the paint in a conventional printer) building any object layer by layer. Each layer is very thin and becomes with each other layer the final object. By now the process is limited to certain materials (plastics, resins and metals) with a precision of a tenth of a millimetre. For now this technology is only used by a few enthusiasts but, like computing did before, 3D printing is spreading all over the planet and technology is improving constantly, so costs fall and quality improves. A basic 3D printer today costs less than a standard laser printer back in 1985.
Here you can see some climbing carabiners printed with the solidoodle printer:
As they are printed in plastic they will not work as a ‘real’ carabiner but did hold a weight of 50 pounds! Now imagine you ‘print’ it in aluminium…
The usage is unlimited, there are a lot of freaks out there already testing various objects like a copy of a vinyl (see the video here) that, for now, does not sound as good as the original but you can hear the song. Another one is trying to build a weapon called ‘wiki weapon’ (see the video here), a gun that can be printed out. Or see the printing of a plastic skull here. Even a bicycle is possible – and it works (see the video here)! Next step is to introduce different materials, some already think of printing out a house with everything included in the printing process, obviously on a larger scale than a normal 3D printer. And even a lot further, why not print out human tissue or whole organs, not just a copy of your real organ but a 1:1 identical one. See how this works here!
One of the great benefits of this new technique is that you do not need excessive material, you just produce the object with no degraded material left over. More benefits are that expensive production lines are not needed, and there are no limits to the design, whatever shape is wanted it can be printed out with those printers, resulting in new, more advanced and efficient designs for whatever object you may want to produce (or better said print). This will revolutionize the ways of production and shipping as finally production will be done in-place, means you can print out your own toys for the kids and ‘made in Taiwan’ is history…
The idea is not new, for years this technique is used in aerospace projects, in Formula One or other high tech projects to produce a prototype that could then be manufactured in the conventional way on a larger scale, but only lately this technique allows to actually produce not only the prototype but the whole production on a relatively low cost level.
20 years ago a normal printer was not normal in each household, nowadays those printers are cheaper than to buy the cartridges to refill it… So imagine what this technology can do in a few years time from now on.
Welcome to the future.
how it works explained by ‘The Economist’ here.
The 3D printing revolution on youtube here.
The printer in our featured image by Solidoodle here.
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