3D printers are devices that can create three-dimensional objects. Most 3D printers create objects in plastic. Some use ceramic, metal or other materials. There’s even a 3D printer that forms items out of chocolate or cheese.
3D printers are used in large manufactering at the moment but there is worry about public usage due to the possibilities of creating weapons.
When they eventually launch it to the public which is sooner then you might think this will change life in how we go about doing things dramatically.
Imagine the possibilities of printing your own shoes for example in the luxury of your own home or scanning the latest toy to give your child at christmas. This right here is every man’s dream I mean imagine cutting out crowds and queuing just by the click of the mouse.
How does 3D printing work?
In a way, the term “3D printing” is misleading. It sounds like a 3D printer somehow folds ordinary paper into objects – like origami.
But that’s not how 3D printing works. Instead, 3D printers start with a computer-generated design for an object. Then the printer forms a three-dimensional object out of plastic or other material. Most 3D printers work by layering the material in thin layers over and over until the material builds up.
The technology isn’t new. Aerospace companies and auto manufacturers have been using large, industrial-grade 3D printers for about 25 years. What’s new is the availability on the market of cheap 3D printing options affordable by small businesses.
The Designing Part
It all starts with a concept. The first stage of 3D printing is laying out an original idea with digital modeling — that is, with computer aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software.
Whichever program you choose, you’re able to create a virtual blueprint of the object you want to print. The program then divides the object into digital cross-sections so the printer is able to build it layer by layer. The cross-sections essentially act as guides for the printer, so that the object is the exact size and shape you want. Both CAD and animation modeling software are WYSIWYG graphics editors — “what you see is what you get.”
If you’re not particularly design-inclined, you can purchase, download or request ready-made designs from sites like Shapeways, Sculpteo or Thingiverse.
Once you have a completed design, you send it to the 3D printer with the standard file extension .STL (for “stereolithography” or “Standard Tessellation Language”). STL files contain three-dimensional polygons that are sliced up so the printer can easily digest its information.
Pros and Cons of 3D printing
Protoyping Speed – One of the main advantages of 3D printing is that it can speed up the prototyping process. Rather than having to design a conceptual model and then finding the materials and equipment necessary to create a physical prototype, businesses can simply design the model digitally and then print it.
Reduced costs – Aside from the initial investment in the printer and materials, there isn’t much cost associated with 3D printing if you do it yourself.
Production Speed – If you’re a small-scale manufacturer or crafter, 3D printers can be used for the manufacturing process. But the printers are relatively slow. This makes them unrealistic for manufacturing large quantities.
Intellectual property – Another concern is that 3D printing could give people an easier way to create counterfeit items based on digital designs of others.
A 3D printer called the Cube (pictured above), made by 3D Systems, can be purchased online and will be available at Staples stores in June This Year starting from $1,299.
The Cube is preassembled and can hook up to a Wi-Fi network, allowing users to download their designs and print them into real objects. Or you can insert a USB stick with the design and print.Other small 3D printers run as low as $999.
What is the cost of 3D printing?
Smaller printers, (like the cube) designed for printing toys and other small gadgets, can be as little as $1,000, larger, more professional models can cost anywhere from $14,900 to $59,000. And the really advanced, heavy duty models? Those can set you back more than $600,000.
There are online 3D printing services like Shapeways that allow users to create digital designs and have them printed and shipped by the company. Users can even set up their own shops to sell their designs to others.
Check out the video below to learn more and see the process.