3-D printing is at your fingertips

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By Joshua Ostrer

Three-Dimensional printing might just revolutionize the way we make everything

Tired of your phone? Want a new one? Why not just print one out? Until only recently, printing has been restricted to two dimensions. That is now changing, and fast.

The ability to print in 3-D is now upon us, and it’s making quite the impact.

While the first 3-D printer was invented by Charles W. Hull after he patented his “Apparatus for Production of Three-Dimensional Objects by Stereolithography” in 1983. The technology has come a long way since then.

Three Dimensional printers have existed for almost 30 years now, but its innovation in 2012 and thus far in 2013 is making headlines.

What can 3-D printers make? A better question would be to ask what they can’t make, but recently 3-D printers have made news headlines for making the following: Christmas cookies, rifles, dildos, human stem cells, a re-creation of Richard III’s face, jewelry, a car, a house that can be built in a day and supposedly the hardest Rubik’s cube ever created entitled “The X-Cube.”

How do 3-D printers work? Well in short, the printer works by processing a digital model, and then placing layer after layer after layer of material down to exactly replicate the digital model.

While there are now many different printers following different additive processes, there are four main types: Extrusion (uses Thermoplastics, metals and edible materials), Granular (uses metal and Titanium alloys as well as plaster), Laminated (uses Paper and metal foil) or Light Polymerized (uses liquid resin).

Basically, 3-D printers can use just about any material, and create a 3-D object to almost exact specifications.

While 3-D printers still produce rough products—meaning they’re not always completely smoothed out—progress is also being made as new printers attempt to think for themselves and smooth and edit surfaces so they are exactly to specifications.

You might think that something like this must cost absurd amounts of money, but it is not necessarily that expensive.

There are 3-D printers on the market for as low as $400. While it might take a few hours, you could re-create virtually any small object using it.

While the 3-D printer might be a fun toy for hobbyists, it is also revolutionizing industrial production.

These 3-D printers are being used constantly for something called “rapid prototyping,” which is where companies use 3-D printers to print out product prototypes, shortcutting the otherwise extensive process of manufacturing one.

The 3-D printer has also caused controversy. Many companies wonder if the 3-D printer will eventually put them out of business.

For example, why buy the new iPhone when you can just download and print one in your own home for nothing more than the cost of the materials?

The prospect of 3-D printing has also scared some, after Michael Guslick used off-the-shelf parts, combined with his 3-D printer, to create an AR-15 rifle, a rifle similar to the M-16.  Gulick had to use off-the-shelf parts because consumer-grade printers cannot use materials like metal yet. However, the issue is likely to resurface as 3-D printing develops, and will likely instigate new legislation regarding weapons and 3-D printing.

In a Feb. 10, 2011 article, The Economist described the impact of 3-D printers: “It is likely to disrupt every field it touches. Companies, regulators and entrepreneurs should start thinking about it now. One thing, at least, seems clear: Although 3-D printing will create winners and losers in the short term, in the long run it will expand the realm of industry—and imagination.”

The possibilities and consequences of 3-D printing are endless, and it will be very interesting to see how it changes our lives.

 

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