The car you drive, the house you live in and the computer you are using are all manufactured using thousands of parts, sourced worldwide using a variety of techniques, using specialised equipment and being operated by trained technicians. But this is all about to change. We are approaching the era of a new wave of manufacturing, 3D Printing.
3D Printing – or Additive Manufacturing, is a process which takes three dimensional models from a computer, and using a 3D printer can create your final product. It does this by breaking the object into thin layers or slices. The printer, which creates a layer at a time, builds upon the object until the process is complete. Using this method you can create a huge range of different products for a variety of purposes. The technology has been developing for the last 30 years, until recently it was restricted to making prototypes and solid objects. We now see innovations in 3D printing in almost all aspects of modern manufacturing.
Most recently, scientists in the US have been developing ways of creating very intricate cell structures as a way to produce living tissue. They develop the structures using computer aided design (CAD), then Print out the designs using sugar as the building material. This network of sugars then creates the framework and nutrients needed by the cells to grow and create organs. Using this technique, it is very likely that in the near future we will be creating organs ready for transplantation.
Using different techniques and different materials it is easy to create the item you are after. Sugar is perfectly suited to the health industry, but the technique can be used with many different materials including metal and plastics. UK based fashion designer, Janina Alleyne, has released a range of high heel shoes made using 3D printing. She designed the shoes as a 3D model and used plastic in which to manufacture them. Companies are now creating printers for the domestic market, allowing people to download a variety of different designs, from chess pieces to utensils, and print them out in their own home. The versatility and the accessibility of the technology make all manner of manufacturing possible, and will be changing the way everyday items are made.
Although in its relative infancy, 3D printing has the possibility to change the world just as the industrial revolution and the assembly line once did. Since CRDM have now introduced a large SLA machine with a build area of 750 x 650 x 550mm, the potential to make much bigger parts has moved on, so how big will it go to? The size of a car next or one day a plane, 3D houses, boats, clothes and livers, the possibilities are endless, so let your imagination be the only restriction.