The phrase 3D printers sounds a bit strange, and it brings to mind the image of pieces of paper with colourful pictures leaping out of the page at us. In fact, 3D printing isn’t quite like that but it could prove to be a revolution in the manufacturing industry.
What Is It?
What you can do with 3D printing is build a real life 3D object from a digital file. Let’s take a look at how this could work. Say you have a pair of ornaments which you really love and one of them gets broken. By using a 3D scanner you can upload the details of the surviving one and then use this to build a new one from scratch using 3D printing technology. It sounds all very sci-fi but the technology to do this exists today.
There are actually a few different methods of manufacturing 3D objects in this ways. These include granular materials binding, molten polymer deposition and photopolymerisation. Obviously there are some essential differences between these different processes but they also have a lot in common. The basic idea is to use a printer which deposits layers of material onto other layers instead of ink or toner onto paper. By doing this the object which is contained in the digital file is built up layer by layer in real life.
Does It Exist?
If you have never seen a 3D printer then you might think that this is all theoretical with no basis in reality. This isn’t the case, as these printers have been around for a few years and sales have been progressing in the last 5 years or so. Obviously it isn’t yet at the stage where many of us could buy one for our house to make new ornaments in the way we mentioned at the beginning. However, as the prices come down and the process continues to be refined we can expect to see more uses for it and more sales. Which leads us nicely onto the next point.
Who Will Use It?
This is the big question. As the recent advances in 3D printing technology mean that the price of these devices is expected to drop soon it will be interesting to see who takes advantage of this. At the moment it is difficult to predict how the biggest winners will be but it is expected that widespread acceptance of the technology will lead to huge changes in the manufacturing industry but don’t be expecting to replace your Samsung Toner anytime soon. There are also possibilities of using it in fields such as architecture, medicine and education amongst others. Only time will tell how big an effect it has on the world but it seems that we will be seeing a lot more of it in the future.