In CIM, we briefly discuss some of the rapid prototyping technologies that exist, including 3D printing. Two of my colleagues at school have 3D printers, and with them we can see one of the amazing ways a design can be transformed into a reality.
In contrast to the subtractive way that material is removed from a wooden block to make jewelry boxes, 3D printing is an additive process. Material is laid down and fused or solidified, one thin cross-sectional layer at a time.
3D printing is changing the way we make things. Usually things made in small quantities are expensive, with cost coming down if they are mass-produced. 3D printing is a relatively-cheap way to create something unique or low-volume. This is one reason it has often been used by engineers to create a physical prototype of some designed idea, that can be examined and tested (and revised), before moving on to the more expensive venture of producing the actual item created traditionally from the final materials.
But with more and more materials becoming 3D printable–beyond the usual plastics to gold, titanium, stainless steel–3D printing can be used not just for prototypes but for actual manufactured products. From art to jewelry to lamps to cup-holders to vases.
Combining the conventional 2D techniques of printing and scanning is a way to make copies (e.g. the photocopier machine). The same can be done with 3D scanning, limited of course by materials and the fineness of the scanner. See Stephen Colbert’s head scanned and printed here.
3D printing also has ramifications in medicine. Bone and joint structure can be 3D printed, allowing more sophisticated implants and artificial limbs. Artificial blood vessels that are will be accepted by the body are near the point of being 3D printed. And organ scaffolds are being 3D printed that may one day allow for cell and organ regeneration.
Anyway, 3D printing is cool, I guess that’s my message here 🙂