The bizarre-sounding digital copying phenomena called 3D-printing has been mulling around from the past. Recently, it 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 your home?
Defense Distributed, Wilson’s company had been distributing downloadable weapons plans for free. This would be great if it was planned for building something more useful to society.
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 like 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 arises.
The actual 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 you can pick them up from as little as $200 to $4000.
The price naturally depends on the product size, material, complexity and level of detail you need.
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.
Application in the world
Since its uptake in as far back as 2010, a lot of the products already in use are manufactured using 3D printing. You will find its application mostly in the medical and dental industry and used for custom prosthetics, implants, and dental aids.
They are used to manufacture of high-level sporting gear – tailored to fit athletes perfectly. There is then, of course, the ability for you to ‘print’ fashion accessories.
This would give you more flexibility when it comes to your specific style, colour and fabric/material.
Some of the advantages of using these machines include:
- Speed: You can upload complex designs from a CAD model and print in a matter of hours.
- You have more design freedom. It gives you complete customization of designs.
- It is more eco-friendly: Additive manufacturing methods use only the material needed to build a part. The raw materials can be recycled and re-used.
- Costs: compared to traditional manufacturing, the labour costs for a 3D printer are almost zero.
For a more comprehensive comparison of 3D Printers available to you (hopefully not to build weapons), look at the 3D Printing index on the resources page.