3D printing is an innovative technology that allows you to create a physical item from a digital model. As innovative as the technology is, it certainly isn’t new. 3D printing started in the 80’s, under the name “Rapid Prototyping.” It’s name was indicative of its original purpose—to prototype faster and cheaper than ever before. Nowadays, the technology behind 3D printing has advanced tremendously.
How does 3D printing work?
Most 3D printers work similar to inkjet printers. The 3D model is built up from the bottom, one layer at a time. Think of it this way– thousands of separate 2D prints are placed on top of each other, just without the paper in between. Instead of using ink—like an inkjet printer does—3D printers use molten plastic. Molten plastic is extruded through a tiny nozzle which is moved around by a computer. It prints a layer, waits for it to dry, and then prints the next layer over top.
Applications of 3D Printing
In theory, there are no limits to the number of ways 3D printing can be used! The technology is always developing and advancing.
We’ve already seen a multitude of body parts developed by medical scientists globally. So far, we’ve seen 3D printed ears (made by Indian Company Novabeans), muscles (made by Cornell University), arms and legs (made from Limbitless Solutions, Biomechanical Robotics Group, and Bespoke), and skin (made by Organovo and L’Oreal). Although we’re quite a ways from developing full organs and body systems, the scientific community is heading in that direction.
The 2015 Wohlers report–a worldwide review and analysis of additive manufacturing and 3D printing–states that the motor vehicles constituted 16.1% of the 3D printing market that year. Automotive companies are using 3D printing to create inexpensive car replacement parts, increase fuel efficiency of vehicles, and enhance performance of engines.
3D printing has already aided the improvement of aerospace technology. Recently, NASA’s rocket engine injector made from a 3D printer passed a major hot fire test with flying colors! In this groundbreaking test, the rocket engine injector generated 10 times more thrust than any 3D printed injector in the past. In addition to rocket engine injectors, 3D printing has been used to make surrogates (placeholder parts used throughout production), mounting brackets (used to mount complex lifesaving systems to the wall of a plane), and highly detailed visual prototypes.
As the science and technology of 3D printing continues to advance dramatically in the next coming years, many industries will be transformed. We at MakerSpace pride ourselves on staying current on technology and sharing that knowledge with our community. Stop by MakerSpace to learn more about 3D printing today!