3D Printing – A new dimension of creation

By | January 5, 2015
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It has become quite common to hear about our daily use tech products to become ‘smarter’ or ‘connected’ day by day and one such product is 3D printer which has evolved from printers and is becoming smarter everyday with its customization and remarkable uses in various fields.
History & development:
As the name suggests, 3D printers are capable of printing customized three-dimensional solid usable objects from a digital file. The earliest 3D printing technology dates back to 1980s when they were called Rapid Prototyping Technologies. Though the first model was printed in 1982 by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute, 3D printer did not hit the common market until early 2000 because it was very expensive and not affordable at the general market. Initially, the technology was used to create prototypes for product development as it was considered an effective method to convince the clients by showing how the end result was going to be. The technology was commonly used for prototyping in construction, architecture, engineering, automotive design and military. But with the drastic fall in the price from $20000 to $2000 in last three years, it has taken other sectors like health care, dental, fashion, footwear etc., by storm. Customization is the key and biggest advantage of 3D printers which made it soar high in the market.

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Underlying process:
3D printing also called addictive manufacturing makes use of a digital file to create three-dimensional solid usable objects. The objects are created using addictive process where successive layers of the material are laid to create an entire object. Thin sliced horizontal cross-section of the end product would reveal each layer of the material.
The process starts with creating a virtual image of the product using CAD (Computer Aided Design)and 3D model program. 3D scanners can be used to replicate an existing product. The program created thousands of horizontal layers of the product and when inserted in the machine it creates the products using the same layering technique. Initially only plastic was used to create the object whereas stainless steel, ceramic and even edible items was used in 3D printing. Selective Laser Melting, Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition modeling are few addictive processes used by the printer to do the layering.



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Application in various sectors:

Hospitals & Health Care 
Of late, 3D Printers have become very popular in the field of modern medical science. The same principle as discussed above is being used in the medical procedures too. The printed objects in the industry varies from false teeth to functioning heart. Recent studies show that printable organs like spine to human skin will make rapid growth in mushrooming market of 3D printers.
3D printers in hospitals took a huge leap after being able to print biological tissues like skin, blood vessels etc. One such case was printing of a splint made of bio-compatible materials to open the blocked airway of three-month-old baby boy in 2012 which resulted without any side effects.

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Apart from the printing the actual part, models of the real organs were printed to assist the doctors. Such a case was printing of a three-week old baby’s heart model that was structured unusual using MRI scan. The model helped the doctors to carefully examine the heart condition before performing the complicated surgery.

3D printed model heart

3D printed model heart

Another very recent invention, is the Bio-scope 3D printed bandages which not only wrap the wound but also wirelessly communicate vital signs to the health care professional’s computer.

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3D printers have, thus, became boon to the health care sector. The bio-technology companies are working towards making the printers more affordable so that it could be made available to all the hospitals easily.



Home
The affordability of the 3D printer which starts from $300 dollars and its availability at Amazon and Ebay have made it widely popular among the households. It allows people to print consumer goods like home decor to jewelry at the comfort of the house. Studies show that using of personal 3D printer could save $1000s per year for the family by printing the household items at home.

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3D printed coffee mugs with glazed ceramic

3D printed coffee mugs with glazed ceramic

The printer uses materials like plastic, nylon, glazed ceramic, stainless steel etc to print the products. However, the consumer 3D printers are difficult and not user-friendly which prevents the consumers from buying it. But companies like Cubify Cube3 is working on to create simple 3D printer without heating process which can be used even by the kids.

Restaurants & Cafe
It is indeed quite surprising to know that 3D printers are even used in the restaurants and cafe to print food..yes! you are reading it right..food. XYZ printing company has come up with a food printer which makes use ingredients to make uncooked food. The uncooked food needs to be baked before serving. A cafe in Las Vegas allows customers to customize cookies in any shape they like.

Cookies printed with 3D printer in a cafe at LAs Vegas

Cookies printed with 3D printer in a cafe at Las Vegas

 

3D printed candy

3D printed candy

Also, Nasa is currently working on to create a food printer which could make pizzas to the astronauts heading to Mars. One may view food printers as a means to easy cooking but the researchers view it as technological advancement rather than a kitchen novelty.
By looking at the heightened and the ever increasing uses of the 3D printer, it’s evident that the day, when we may be ‘printing’ everything we need from household goods to food at the comfort of the house instead of ‘buying’ it from Ikea or Walmart, is not too far.