3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, allows a person to create an object based strictly on the concept as it exists in the creator’s mind. The object is built layer by layer until the complete object is formed. Unlike standard paper printing, where a two dimensional image is formed by ink on paper, 3D printing can take a three dimensional “real world” object and create it out of plastic or metal.
How Was 3D Printing Developed?
3D printing technology first developed in the 1980s by Charles W. “Chuck” Hull. He patented a solid imaging process that he called “stereo-lithography” or “3D printing”. In his patent, Hull defined stereo-lithography as a method and an apparatus for making solid objects by repeatedly “printing” thin layers of an ultraviolet curable material, one on top of the other. Using this method, a beam of concentrated ultraviolet light is focused on a container or vat filled with a liquid photopolymer. A computer controls the movement of the light beam, and the layers of the object are drawn onto the surface of the liquid material. When the beam hits the surface, the polymer solidifies in the shape defined by the computer program. Automobile manufacturers, aerospace companies, and the medical field, amongst others, are using this type of technology every day for a variety of uses.
3D Printing in Manufacturing and Other Fields
3D printers have been used extensively by designers in many fields to quickly create models and prototypes for testing new designs and modifications. But they are now also being used to create finished products. These revolutionary printers are now being used to manufacture furniture, tools, gift and novelty items, and even toys. Medical technologists can produce hearing aids, artificial teeth, prosthetics, and models of organs, tumors, or other internal components for study before invasive surgery.
3D Printing at Home?
As with so many other types of technology that were developed for large scale industrial uses, 3D printing is now available for home use. Artists use 3D printers to create sculptures, and jewelry makers develop wax castings for new jewelry designs. The possibility for home improvement use is almost endless: do-it-yourselfers can produce doorknobs, picture frames, drain stoppers, curtain hooks, and many more items. The range of uses for 3D printing is sure to grow and the cost of the technology will likely drop over the coming years.
Will 3D Printing Change Our Lives?
It is entirely possible that 3D printing will lead to a new industrial revolution. However, predictions of a world where every consumer is their own manufacturer have to be tempered with considerations of the cost of hardware and software, production materials, availability of templates or design capabilities, and numerous other factors.
The 3D printing technology has become a staple amongst industries and its uses help develop new items or help individuals get a closer look at things that aren’t normally able to be seen in a 3D manner. While 3D printing is still rising in popularity, it is one technology that is certainly different and definitely interesting.