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Many believe that we are in a preliminary stage of an industrial revolution. 3D printing is predicted to radically change the way we live as the costs of the technology are falling to make it affordable to the mass market.
3D printing is not a completely new technology and has surprisingly been around since the 80’s. But over the last five years various technological advancements and falling costs are enabling more and more people to the point where we will possibly have one within our households one day.
3D printing was originally a means to build fast prototypes but now has the ability to create products for medical, aerospace, automotive, and even furniture industries. All very futuristic and exciting, but how does it actually work?
A process called ‘additive manufacturing’ is used to send a digital file to a 3D printer to then build the desired object layer-by-layer until to object is completed. It sounds incredibly simple for something so revolutionary. One day we will be able to send each other an email with products and objects which we can download onto our household printers and physically have with in minutes.
Here is the 3D printing process laid out in layman’s terms.
Step 1 – First of all, designers model various 3D objects using computer-aided design [CAD] software. This allows the creation of products that are more tailored to our needs adding more room for trial and error in the design process. Designers can have multiple attempts at a design without producing thousands of faulty products that can misuse and waste great amounts of company materials.
Step 2 – The design is then sent to the 3D printer and the appropriate printing material is selected. Some 3D printers can make over a 100 materials such as rubber, plastic, glass – a huge range of materials to build an incredibly amount of different products.
Step 3 – 3D printer software chops the CAD model into thin layers at 5 to 10 layers per millimeter. The 3D printer releases small amounts of materials moving side to side in a layer-by-layer building process.
Step 4 – The process will repeat layer-by layer from bottom to top until the model is fully formed. This process can take a while depending on the size of the object. An average 3D print can take from around 6 to 12 hours with larger objects possibly taking days to complete.
Step 5 – Once this process is completed the objects are rinsed with a solvent to then bake them in an ultraviolet oven. This thoroughly cures the plastic in what is almost a cooking/baking like process. And there you have it, your 3D object ready to be used just as any other product.
Massive companies such as Disney are investing in this technology in total belief that 3D printing will revolutionise the world due in no small part to the range of objects the technology can now manufacture. The medical sector is also using 3D printing for things such as prosthetics, e.g., a recently 3D printed prosthetic jaw.
The main 3D companies out there in the stock market at the moment include Proto Labs, 3D Systems, and Stratasys. The share prices for these companies are soaring in a rapidly changing industrial world that everyone is talking about. It seems that business should jump onboard 3D printing or run the risk of being left behind.
Do you think 3D printing is a good thing? Or is it going to destroy an industry, completely wiping out jobs and companies around the world?
- License: Creative Commons image source
James Duval writes various blogs for Cartridge Shop about technology and other things. He is a bit of a nerd and his blogs provide an outlet for his built up enthusiasm toward new and exciting technological advancements.