Chances are you’ve heard news reports and stories about consumer 3D printers and the goal of someday soon having a 3D printer in every home. This sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, yet while it is very fantastical, it’s also very much true. In many ways it is already a reality, with global 3D printing sales at $1.7 billion in 2011 and expected to reach $6.5 billion by 2019.
3D printing offers a lot of potential for business owners and entrepreneurs, promising a more cost effective method of manufacturing. For consumers, manufacturing a much needed end user product using a 3D printer may in fact be much quicker than having to order it from overseas.
So how does 3D printing work?
Simply put, a 3D printer creates three dimensional objects, by building layer by successive layer (like a brick wall), until a complete object is created. The material that’s used is either metal or plastic, and the process of printing is usually based on a model that’s been designed on a computer.
The technology has actually been around for decades, having first been developed by Chuck Hull in the mid 1980s. Although, we didn’t actually hear the term “3D printing” used until the 1990s.
Who uses 3D printing and what for?
The limits of what 3D printers are capable of creating are vast and wide, with multiple uses across multiple industries. It has been tested that architects are able to print objects able to be used as part of the building process for industrial structures. There is the possibility of printing parts for aircrafts and other mechanical vehicles. There is also high potential for 3D printing to be an asset for the education, retail, manufacturing and other industries.
Probably the most incredible industry that if finding uses for 3D printing is the medical industry. The technology has already been used to make important medical parts such as hearing aids and braces, and can be used to make human parts such as hip replacements. The most astonishing use of all though, is that using human cells, a 3D printer is able to reproduce human organs, potentially eliminating the need for organ donors.
What lies ahead?
The future of 3D printing is still a little uncertain. But one thing that we can be sure of is that it is a massive game changer. That said, there are a few incredible possibilities that we may see in the not so distant future. While the next few years will see much of the same as now, beyond that there are some exciting developments that may come to fruition.
There are a number of new materials that will be introduced, meaning greater possibilities of what can be created, and at a much higher quality. This is likely to lead to a single machine using multiple materials, broadening the creative possibilities even further.
Some objects that scientists are predicting will be possible include leather, meat and other food items, weapons/guns, rocket parts, fashion items, liquid metal parts, and even a 3D printed moon habitat.
It is predicted that the cost of 3D printing will gradually lower, making the technology more accessible. This would result in a greater number of home users and hobbyists.
It would seem that the possibilities that 3D printing holds are limited only by our imagination. What once was possible only in sci-fi movies is now gradually becoming a part of our everyday lives, changing the world forever.