If you have not heard of 3D printing yet, I am sorry, you’ve been missing out on a great deal of awesomeness. 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing otherwise known as the father of ‘The Replicator’ (The last one is a Star Trek reference, don’t sweat if you didn’t get it) is probably the next big thing that is probably going to revolutionize the way you look at the world. Now, it is time I quit stalling and start telling you what it is all about.
Usually manufacturing is done by a process of subtraction, simply put, make something bigger or larger than what is required then subtract the unnecessary things and voila! There is a masterpiece. This includes all our traditional processes of casting, sculpting and all traditional forms in which we use to make things. But this type of manufacturing had multiple barriers for entry, it needed a big investment, it can only be done in a large scale, and it entailed a lot of wastage. Now, imagine if you could make the product that you want to make with absolute precision, without a huge investment, change the detail and make of each product in the production line and all with zero wastage! These are the few perks that 3D printing or additive manufacturing brings to the table.
The life cycle of any product starts with the design phase, first the model of the object that has to be made should be virtually built. In this case any Computer Aided Design tool can be used, in simpler terms it is just MSPaint but in 3D. Then the process of manufacture starts as the system slices the 3D model into multiple layers and then starts printing the object from bottom to top, only here the printing does not happen in paper but on previous layers that have been already printed. Just think of putting together the pieces of LEGOs, layer after layer to make a model, but here the pieces of the model are granular in size.
This might all sound technical and boring, but to completely understand what 3D printing is all about and to feel the awesomeness of it, you need a demonstration. This is a BBC feature about 3D printing.
The news gets better, you can use any kind of material for the process, the only condition is that it has to be fluid enough during the manufacture process; it can be hardened later.
Just think of the possibilities… Artists are going to have a field day with this, it has blurred the distinction between sculpting and painting, and now they can make art that can literally jump out of the canvas. The power of production with every one; Rapid prototypes, no more simulations or models, you can just make it and see if it works. Machines that can make machines; Whoa! SkyNet alert! Just kidding.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Iron Man’s Helmet and his Gauntlets for the movie were made with 3D printing technology.
Just to give you an idea of things that are possible with 3D printing, here is a glimpse of the London 3D print show which happened in Oct of 2012.
Well, 3D printing technology is not actually a new invention, it is been here for more than two decades but the reason we are actually facing an explosion of this technology now is very simple; Everybody can do it now. Although a little pricy, companies like MakerBot and 3DSystems have come out with desktop 3D printers, which are roughly the size of your normal printer. 3DSystems also have a 3D printing cloud in which they offer personal 3D printing services.
We all can think of things to make with 3D printers dresses, foot wear, accessories, 3D models, prosthetics, toys, etc., but now, just to blow your mind, here are some things that you would have never guessed 3D printers would be useful for,
- Researchers at Cornell University have showed that by using 3D printing technology and injections of living cells, you can make a human ear. Yes, you heard me right; they just might be able to print out body parts. Extrapolate that, would that be a Utopia or a Dystopia?
- Obama wants to land people on asteroids by 2030, so NASA is building the biggest rocket ever and guess how they are doing it, 3D printers. NASA has adopted 3D printing to make rocket parts as it is precise, cost effective and fast.
- Talking of space, guess what astronauts are packing in their luggage. It is really costly to take your shelter with you when you are going to establish a base or a colony in either the moon or some other planet. Scientists and engineers are actually planning to send a couple of robots with 3D printing capability to scoop up the materials that are available in the vicinity and print out shelters for future visitors.
- Everything has it is dark side, with the advent of 3D printers, there is a possibility of homemade undetectable fire arms and when you bring in guns into the equation, it is always bad news. A ‘Wiki Weapons’ project on it is way to making a fully 3D printable gun test fired an AR-15 assault rifle with a single 3D printed part and on the sixth shot it broke apart.
When apple came up with the first ever personal computer, people really didn’t think that they would want one. This piece of technology is also following a similar curve, initially people were indifferent about it and didn’t think that they really wanted one and now its climbing up exponentially. The highest funded kickstarter tech campaign is the ‘Form 1 3D printer’. Formlabs started their campaign with a goal of $100,000 and they ended up raising a whopping $2,945,885, that was the public response to this innovative technology.
Another kickstarter campaign with affordability in mind has come up with 3Doodler – The World’s first 3D printing pen. This campaign’s goal was to raise $30,000 and it has already raised close to two Million dollars a whole month before the deadline! With a price tag of $75 a pen, they are selling like cupcakes. You can probably get one if you are fast enough.
Here’s something, buy a 3D printer, make more 3D printer and sell them. How is that for a business idea? ;-)