One of the technologies that is revolving our world in an unbelievably rapid pace is 3D printing.
But what exactly is 3D printing? Very simply put, 3D printing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) turns digital 3D models into solid objects by building them up in layers.
For over 2 decades since its invention back in 1980s, 3D printing was a very expensive and fascinating technology almost solely used for rapid prototyping by large enterprises who could afford the very high costs. This is not the case today, and it seems 3D printing is now going to play an important role in the ongoing technological revolution.
In this article, I’ve tried to explore this very briefly.
Categorizing 3D Printers
The variety of 3D printers and the technologies they use, as well as their usage are expanding almost on a daily basis. I see the pace very much the same as what has happened with computers: starting from mainframe computers in 1960s and 70s to what we know today as “IOT” (Internet of Things) where you would find an embedded computer in almost every device and appliance you use in your daily life.
From an engineer’s point of view, I would prefer to “categorize” this variety of 3D printers to better formulate the topic:
Size: 3D printers can be categorized based on size – which is obviously proportional to the size of the product they are designed to produce. We now have microscale and nanoscale 3D printers that are used to create extremely precise nanoscale-size objects with resolutions as low as 10 nm! On the other side of the scale, we have the giant-sized 37 meter long printer that can print a 2700 square-foot office in 17 days!
This is a Material Extrusion 3D Printer, and a table that it has printed out:
A 3DMonstr photopolymerization 3D printer and its photocentric 3D print:
Fractal design metal sculpture printed via powder bed fusion.
Safety helmets printed on Stratasys polyjet material jetting hardware:
Color output from a 3D Systems Projet 4500, and an ExOne sand cast pattern.
Desktop direct metal 3D printing using Realizer SLM 50
Fruit and bowl 3D printed in paper using a MCor sheet lamination 3D printer:
Uses for 3D Printing
In the past few years, the range of applications for 3D printing is expanding at an astonishing rate. 3D printers are now so affordable that I would predict as early as 2020, they would become as common as ordinary printers and you can find one in any average home.
Some of the main usages of 3D Printers are:
Future of 3D Printing
In my opinion, in a few years, 3D printers would become so common that one would barely remember how the world was before them! (Just as we now feel about computers or internet or smartphones). You would find them in every repair shop, every dental clinic, every surgery room, every construction site, and every home! Maybe in not so distant future, we won’t see many products in pre-manufactured forms, but they would be manufactured to our specific customized requirements and desires – thanks to the invention of 3D printers!