Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The 3D printing revolution is ready to change the world. Here's what you should know.

The invention of the printing press, the advent of vaccines and modern medicine, the industrial revolution, the computer age, and the prevalence of social media all completely transformed our world, altering the course of history and bringing on innovations that weren’t even imaginable before. But there’s another revolution right at our front door that will be just as profound, yet few people realize it. The dawn of the 3d printing revolution is here and ready permeate into just about every aspect of society. 

In this blog we’ll explain the basics of 3d printing, and next time we’ll write about the creative, cool, and mind-boggling uses of 3d printing. And check out part 2 of this blog, the revolutionary uses of 3D printing that are already changing the world!

What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a process where materials are shot from a nozzle. But unlike a traditional printer that uses ink and paper, 3D printers dispense a substance onto moving platforms, eventually creating an object instead of a 2-dimensional document or picture.

How does 3d printing work?
3D printers shoot all sorts of materials onto moving platforms layer by layer. The layers are extremely thin but eventually build up a 3-dimensional item. The real name for this process is “Additive Manufacturing” but it’s commonly known as 3D printing.

3D printers can work with almost any material that can be liquefied, like plastics, glass, metal, polymers, wax, nylon, and sand and glue mixes. You can even use some foods with 3d printers and amazingly, human tissue is even being “printed” with these tools.

The 3D printer knows what to add, when, and how much to achieve a perfect finished product based on a CAD, or Computer Aided Design, file that’s created digitally and uploaded via computer.

Why is 3d printing so revolutionary?
The industrial revolution changed the world in the late 19th and early 20th century, allowing standardization and mass production in manufacturing the products that we use every day. The next great revolution in technology brought on the digital age of personal computing, internet, mobile devices and social media.

But now, 3d printing is combining the two and ready to propel us light years ahead. Instead of traditional manufacturing where have prefabricated objects and parts that are expensive to design, mass produce, and require storage and shipping, people can just design what they need on the spot. So ideally, if someone in rural farm in South Dakota needed a part to fix their irrigation system, instead of ordering the part and driving a long way to get it or waiting for a long time to have it shipped, they could just download the CAD plans, upload it to their 3d printer, produce one perfect replica, and be back in business in hours. It will exponentially reduce the need for inventory, shipping, and alter the cost and timeline of producing any physical object. And just like cell phones and YouTube brought the world of instant information and communication to isolated areas of developing countries all across the world, 3d printing will ostensibly eliminate the need for machinery or distribution channels.

What’s the cost of 3d printing?
There is a wide range of price options to purchase 3d printers depending on their scale and use. For instance, one that you’d find that does large scale and large run industrial printing might cost $200,000. A good office 3d printer for manufacturing goes for $10,000-$50,000, and there are home models for consumers that cost only $500 to around $2,000. The cost of 3d printers has dropped dramatically in the decades since additive manufacturing has been in existence, but mostly since 2010. There are now basic home 3d printing kits for $200 and plans to bring that cost even lower.

And if you don’t want to purchase your own printer, there are plenty of services so you can outsource your projects and get even one item printed.

The history of additive manufacturing: 
The first 3D printing process was invented in 1984 and patented in 1986 by a man named Charles Hull who worked at 3D Systems. Hull designed a stereolithography (SLA) method by which a beam of ultraviolet light was focused onto the surface of a vat filled with liquid photocurable resin. The beam of light hardened the resin once it hit it, building a form one later at a time. Of course it wasn’t called 3D printing yet.

Additive Manufacturing was a completely different process than the conventional Subtractive Manufacturing, where a larger piece of metal, wood, etc. was molded and formed down to a smaller, finished shape and size, which was wasteful, inefficient, time and labor intensive, and can be imprecise.

Large manufacturers used 3d printing for decades, especially to build prototypes for machinery they’d later develop, but the technology really took a huge leap forward in speed, accuracy, range of uses, and lower prices in 2010, which sparked rampant growth and new developments.

The different types of 3d printing:
There are several variations of the additive manufacturing process that use different technologies, materials, and methods to achieve the same result.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), invented in the 1980s by Scott Crump, produces an object by layering a stream of thermoplastic material.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) was also invented in the 1980s, this time by Carl Deckard and his colleagues at the University of Texas. The big difference is that SLS printing uses powdered materials that are fused into the finished form when a laser is directed on them.

PolyJet printing uses a photopolymer liquid that is dispensed and then hardened with a UV light.

And Syringe Extrusion uses more malleable contents like clay, cement, and silicones to form the desired models. It can even use Play-Doh and certain foods

Modern adaptations of 3d printing:
Before 2010, the price of 3d printing was prohibitive, as was the design process that used CAD files, which required very specific design and computer program skills like architects use. But since 2010, the prices have dropped and the technology improved exponentially, increasing its popularity. There are also new computer programs that make it easier for the average untrained person to produce the CAD plans necessary to print, including Google’s Sketchup, Blender, Shapeways, and Ponoko.

One model of 3d printer, the RepRap, has revolutionized the potential of personal 3d printing like nothing before it, similar to how the Apple I computer changed micro computing in the 1970s. At only about $1,000 per printer, the RepRap kit, which stands for Replicating Rapid Prototype, allowed people to assemble their own fully functioning 3d printer at home.

Here’s where it gets fascinating – once you have a RepRap, you can even 3d print most of the parts needed to build more printers. So once you have one, it can almost completely self replicate. They still can’t print and self replicate their own circuit boards, but that technology is will come one day soon!

What can you print with 3d printers?
The uses for 3D printing are almost as limitless as our imaginations, and already there are some jaw-dropping applications that have become reality. Already 3d printing is making waves in the fields of medicine, science and research, environmental preservation, building and construction, space exploration, consumer goods, social philanthropy, food, and art.

Issues and social implications of 3d printing:
Just like any new, groundbreaking technology, the uses and implications are limitless and still being explored. 3d printing is expected to bring amazing strides in medicine, education, and empowering people in poor and developing countries if used correctly. But there is always a dark side to powerful technology, just like when the atom bomb was created from the first discovery of atomic energy. Already, people are using 3d printing to print homemade guns and firearms that aren’t registered and can’t be traced. It’s also easy to counterfeit goods. There are frontiers of patenting, property rights, and intellectual property laws that are all up in the air. But there’s no doubt that 3d printing will bring on some fascinating advances in human history, completely changing the world we live in. 

To read part 2, click here.http://thealfanogroup.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-applications-of-3d-printing-that.html

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