Are You Printing in Black and White, Color, or 3D?

April 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm Leave a comment

The question posed by the title of this post may seem like a caption out of a science fiction magazine, but type of question may become a realization in the near future. The concept of 3D printing has existed for a number of years, but new technological advances have shaped the potential impact it may have. 3D printing applications span over many diverse different industries. Recent advances in technology may create 3D printing stores in every city, much like the FedEx’s Kinkos exists today.


What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing breaks down a common perception many individuals have of a printer. 3D printing involves a machine much more advanced than the standard Xerox machine. The actual cost of the machine varies greatly. Some machine price’s range from $10,000 to $50,000. Prototype 3D printers may cost millions of dollars, while open source models are free. No matter the price of the model, they all tend to do similar operations. A typical small scale print would take an entire day to complete, much longer than printing a 20 page term paper. The reason for this extensive length is the amount of “pages” that machine is actually printing. The 3D printer will print the length and width of an object, and then raise itself as little as one tenth of a  millimeter in vertical space to print the next layer. The process is repeated thousands of times until a print is made that matches length, width, and height specifications. The video below show the creation of a business card holder from a 3D printer.


Who Uses 3D Printing?

With the recent advancements nearly any individual may consider using 3D printing. At first 3D printing was limited only to creation of plastic pieces, but new materials including stainless steel, glass, and even silver can now be printed into nearly any shape or size. With these materials available, individuals could potentially print an entire car or building. Since the object is created entirely in computer aided design software, products could be created with features that once were impossible to create. Currently the manufacturing industry uses 3D printers to create rapid prototypes.

Bioprinting could change the entire medical industry

Generally creating a prototype product make take weeks, with advances in 3D printing this process now takes only a day. Advances are being made to allow 3D printing to use human tissue as “ink.” This new area of medical technology is referred to a bioprinting.  Experts estimate that 3D printers could soon be printing human body parts.


How To Get One For Free

The Free Open Source RepRap

If you are like me, you probably can’t wait to get your hands on this great technology. As mentioned above the prices of 3D printers vary greatly. One particular 3D printer that I wanted to bring up is called the RepRap. Unlike most other 3D models, the RepRap is open source. Open source means that anyone can download the software for free and even edit the software if they have pro0gramming knowledge. Besides the software being free the RepRap also can print itself. The majority of the RepRap parts are plastic which makes self replication fairly simple. Those involved in the RepRap project are working on printing computer circuits because these are the only parts of itself the RepRap cannot create yet. You can learn more about the RepRap by visiting their site.

It seems that new advances are being made every single day in this emerging field. While no one really knows which industries will adopt 3D printing, those that do are sure to experience rapid change.

I hope you enjoyed the article!

– Paul


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