Digital technology is now integrated with everything. We’ve seen it in our businesses, our economy and how we socialize and relax. Now, with the rise of 3D printing technology, that very same digital revolution is sparking the powder keg of another metamorphosis.
Welcome to the Manufacturing Revolution
People are saying that 2014 will be the year of the 3D printer.
3D printing refers to taking 3D data and feeding it into a machine, which then produces the physical product.
Think of a multi-layered cake. The baker laying down each layer one at a time until the entire pastry is finished. A 3D printer works much the same way.
It begins with a digital file – specifically a Computer Aided design (CAD). This is created using a 3D modelling program. There are many such programs out there. Some examples are:
Images can be made both from scratch using these programs, or from a model created by a 3D scanner.
This data is then sent to a 3D printer, which slices it up into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers. These layers are then printed one on top of the other until the item is complete.
From a theoretical standpoint, this is just a small step forward from spraying ink and toner on paper. Instead of spraying ink something more substantial is used, like plastic resin, until the layers add up to make a physical product.
Of course, from a practical standpoint, the process is much more complicated.
The process of manufacturing through 3D printing is completely different, right down to a fundamental level, from how we produce items today.
To produce items today, we use a process called subtracted manufacturing.
Subtractive Manufacturing: a process that relies upon the removal of material to create something. Like a sculptor carving away at a piece of rock to produce a statue.
3D printing technology uses a process called additive manufacturing.
Additive Manufacturing: a process that relies upon adding material to create something.
3D printing technology has been around for about 30 years. It is just recently coming into the public eye because in the past they’ve been too inefficient, inaccessible, expensive and slow to be practical at all.
As new technologies develop, so do the capabilities of existing devices. In a short 30 years we’ve gone from a impractical concept, to 3D printers being a desktop item.
The Micro 3D
It’s looking like The Micro 3D printer will be the worlds first truly affordable 3D printers for the everyday user.
Costing just $249 and weighing 2.2lbs, it can print objects up to 4.6 inches tall. It is a crowdfunding project that is hosted on Kickstarter. It’s designers (M3D) launched the product on April 7, 2014 and within 11 minutes they achieved their target of $50,000.
Lets put this into perspective. The Micro 3D printer costs less than an iPhone.
With this technology, the possibilities are endless. It is the end of large scale manufacturing and the birth of customizable, one-off production. In some ways we could abolish the need for manual labour at all.
Artists can now make objects that would otherwise be impossible to create.
Medical implants can now be custom made to the individual. Need a new part for a device that’s out of production? No problem – download the file and make it yourself.
Machines are making themselves!
Let’s take this one step further. If items can easily be made as they are ordered, it’s logical to assume that they can more easily be made to the specifications the customer asks for.
3D printers are heralding in the next generation of customization. Consumers can now direct personally how they want their products to look. This is not to be confused with varium production, but actual unique products.
Varium Production: variations of the same product.
The customization doesn’t stop there. What about building replacement organs using the donors own skin cells? Restoring damaged pieces of artwork to their former glory by printing replacement pieces? Studying dinosaur bones by producing exact replicas of them within minutes with no fear of breakage. Architecture that doesn’t have to be built, but printed!
Manufacturing revolution indeed.