I grew up around newspaper printing machines. They changed the world since the first printing press was invented in 1440 in ways that would have been considered incomprehensible at the time. 3D-Printing (officially called Additive Manufacturing) has the potential to change the world in ways that may be even more impactful.
What is 3D-Printing
3D Printing is the process of depositing a material layer by layer to create an object that one desires. Various techniques are used to achieve this. For example, heat is used to melt plastic and lay it down in layers (FDM/FFF). Ultraviolet rays are used to cure resin into shapes (SLA). Lasers are used to solidify powders to achieve the same end (SLS).
Why would you use 3D-Printing
There are multiple advantages worth discussing.
3D printing allows us to create customised products. If you can create a 3D design, it is quite likely that it can be printed. It also allows manufacturing to move closer to the point of use. As an example, use of 3D printers at home by hobbyists continues to grow. The combination of these 2 has resulted in a plethora of freely available designs to solve everyday problems. A visit to sites like Thingiverse will give you a taste of this.
Additive manufacturing results in minimal waste given that we are not carving material away. The process also allows us to do things which are not possible/easy with other processes. It can create assemblies in one piece such as chains. We can configure the material filling within a shape, making the product lighter by using less material.
The usage of this technology continues to grow, almost on a daily basis. It has grown beyond hobbies and replacement parts done within the home.
- Homes and other concrete structures
- Pizzas and pancakes
- Aerospace components
- What else can you think of?
3D Printing is not nirvana (yet!). It is slow. What can be made industrially at multiple pieces a minute may take hours, or even days to print. Cost is another factor – the combination of raw materials, electricity, etc does not always justify using the technology. Quality is still a concern – the finished product may not stand up to the stresses of real life when compared to a similarly machined product. But, a lot of progress has been made in this space over the past decade or so. The progress continues to accelerate, in my humble opinion.
So, in essence, I am excited! Looking forward to talking about the impact in upcoming articles.
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