There are many varieties in the most advanced type of printing available; in fact one could say one of the most advanced forms of technologies that are present today. 3D printing has added a whole new dimension to the vision of future technology and how it was perceived to affect daily life structure. The processes of implementing this technology might vary but they all share one thing in common i.e. creating a three dimensional object by structuring it layer by layer, until the final 3 dimensional end result is achieved.
Each of these layers consists of a thinly sliced, parallel cross-section of the eventual object. To make it simple to imagine, think of a multi-layer cake, and it being baked by laying down each layer one at a time until the whole cake takes shape. Similar is the process of 3D printing, but only a bit more complicated and much more revolutionary.
The Digital File
Each of the 3D-printed objects begins with a digital file, also known as the CAD file. It is created with a 3D modeling program, or can also be scanned into one using a 3D scanner. To make this file compatible with the execution of a 3D printer, the software then cuts the design down into hundreds and thousands of horizontal layers.
The printer then reads this file, and continues to create every layer exactly to the specification of the object given in the form of a file. As and when the layers get created, they merge together with a zero hint of the layering that exists inside, resulting in one intact 3 dimensional object.
The 3D Printer
The 3D printer could be a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer, somewhat similar to current 2D inkjet printers but with an additional axis, which deposits a thin stream of melted material through a nozzle to form each layer. It could be a selective laser sintering (SLS) printer, where the object is built up in a bed of powdered material by a scanning laser beam that fuses bits of the powder together, again, one layer at a time. Or it could be one of several other technologies.
3D printing is also called “additive manufacturing” because it uses an “additive process.” This is opposed to what is called a “subtractive process.” To explain the difference, imagine a sculptor chiseling a block of stone. He chips away until he has the sculpture just as he wants it, and then throws out what’s been whittled away. He began with a block of material and then subtracted from it. This is a subtractive process. In the manufacturing world, this is analogous to material being cut, drilled, milled, or machined off. But in additive manufacturing, the 3D printer doesn’t take anything away; it simply creates each bit of the object where it needs it, layer by layer, successively, in an additive process.
3D Printing: The Game Changer
Instantly printing parts and entire products, anywhere in the world, is a game changer. But it doesn’t stop there. 3D printing will affect almost every aspect of industry and our personal lives.
Medicine will forever be changed as new bioprinters actually print human tissue for both pharmaceutical testing and eventually entire organs and bones.
Architecture and construction are changing as well. Now, 3D-printed models of complex architectural drawings are created quickly and inexpensively, rather than the expensive and time-consuming process of handcrafting models out of cardboard. And experimental, massive 3D printers are printing concrete structures, with the goal of someday creating entire buildings with a 3D printer.
Art is already forever changed. Digital artists are creating magnificent pieces that seem almost impossible to have been made by traditional methods. From sculptures to light fixtures, beautiful objects no longer need to be handcrafted, just designed on a computer.
And there are developments where you least expect them: for example, archeologists can 3D scan priceless and delicate artifacts, and then print copies of them so they can handle them without fear of breakage. Replicas can be easily made and distributed to other research facilities or museums. It has been used to create a full-size reproduction of King Tutankhamun’s mummy and to repair Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker.
The Future of 3D Printing
This is a disruptive technology of mammoth proportions, with effects on energy use, waste, customization, product availability, art, medicine, construction, the sciences, and of course manufacturing. It will change the world as we know it. Before you know it.
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