The bizarre-sounding digital printing phenomena called 3D-Printing has been mulling around from the past. Recently, has been in the limelight; specifically in the press for the wrong reasons. In 2013, a University of Texas law student, Cody Wilson created a blueprint for a single-shot 3D-printed handgun, named “The Liberator”.
Of recent, guns have posed a serious threat to peaceful living when in the wrong hands. But what if anyone could hastily manufacture them unsupervised, from the comfort of their homes?
Defense Distributed, Wilson’s company had been distributing downloadable weapons plans for free. This would be great if it was planned for building something useful for engineering and something practical rather than destructive. Point is, with this new device, you can literally make a 3D copy of any imaginable object – even food!
3D printing builds parts (mostly out of plastic or other synthetics) based on the central concept: a digital model e.g. a CAD drawing (Computer Assisted Drawing) This is turned into a physical three-dimensional object by adding material a layer at a time. This is where the formal name for 3D printing, Additive Manufacturing comes from. The actual printing device is no bigger than a normal Deskjet or heavy duty paper printer and is quite a marvel to watch in action.
3D printing is a fundamentally different way of producing parts compared to traditional subtractive (CNC machining) or formative (Injection moulding) manufacturing technologies.
Some of the top 3D printing brands include MakerBot, XYZprinting, Formlabs and LulzBot and are priced from as little as $200 to $4000 (for high-end small business-level) depending on the product size, material, complexity and level of detail required. The most expensive if you are into heavy-duty manufacturing would, therefore, set you back a cool $2,500,000 for the Imprimere’s Model 2156.
Since its uptake in as far back as 2010, you will now discover that a lot of the products already in use are manufactured via 3D printing. It is prevalent in the medical and dental industry and used for custom prosthetics, implants, and dental aids.
They are also used in the manufacture of high-level sporting gear that can be tailored to fit athletes perfectly. There is then, of course, the ability to ‘print’ fashion accessories which generally, would be designed to fit your specific style, colour and fabric/material.
Some of the advantages of using these machines include:
- Speed: The ability to upload complex designs from a CAD model and print in a matter of hours.
- It facilitates more design freedom; it also allows complete customization of designs.
- It is more eco-friendly: Additive manufacturing methods use only the material needed to build a part. The raw materials that can be recycled and re-used.
- Costs: compared to traditional manufacturing, where highly skilled machinists and operators are typically required, the labour costs for a 3D printer are almost zero
For a more comprehensive comparison of 3DPrinters available depending on what you want to do with one (hopefully not to build weapons), look at the 3D Printing index on our resources page under technology.
Here is a list of cool things to create with a 3D printer if you are looking for great ideas for Xmas or birthdays – this might just be it!