It’s an easy thing to understand how 3D printing plastics works. A term known as additive manufacturing, it’s as simple as understanding that a layer of plastic is laid on top of another layer of plastic over time. Of course initially the plastic is going to be hot, to allow it be flexible and as it is printed it cools and solidifies – which leaves us with our 3D printed object.
As you will remember from your science days, metals are molten at a particular temperature, but that temperature is quite high, making this an untenable proposition in terms of safety or creating nozzles that could withstand this temperature. The process of 3D printing metal involves using powdered metals, which use a laser to either sinter or melt the power. Here’s a good definition from Wikipedia:
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal), aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.
There are various differences in technology, outcomes and techniques, but this gives you a good idea of how 3D printing metal might work. 3D printing materials in this way has been of interest to automotive and aviation industries, to develop new designs and for spare parts. The question has been whether the quality of these parts can stand up to the high specifications required for the aviation industry – would you be the first person in a fully 3D manufactured plane?
But the technology and the quality of the products have been developing to the point where Monash University have manufactured a small jet engine using 3D printed parts! Amazing, check out the video below
I will age myself by telling you that I remember when the Rubik’s Cube came out. It was an amazing Christmas gift and I, like many people in the world, had no real idea how to solve it. I remember getting frustrated with it probably sometime in the early new year, and then figured out how to take it apart and ‘fix’ it, rather than solving it 🙂
But now, with 3D printing, boffin Matthew Bahner has recreated the Rubik’s cube, the best selling toy of all time, into large versions (the V-cube) and the smallest cube puzzle in the world at 3.4cm.
Bahner’s V Cube, the original Rubik’s Cube and World’s smallest cube.
While creating earlier versions closer to Rubik’s original, manufacturing issues meant that altering it slightly would make it work. Stickers were created by Olivier’s stickers.
I think this is a great application of 3D printing technology, allowing the revisioning of objects that we have had a particular relationship with. How many times have you thought “If only it could do x, then it would be awesome.” Well, get out there, get access to a 3D printer and see what you can do 🙂
One of the first things that got me into 3D printing was the idea that it could be used to teach higher education students. In particular, I thought that the idea that it could be used to teach medical students of the utmost importance. My own undergraduate degree involved a lot of physiology, particularly the nervous system. Of course, like any student, you see diagrams of body parts and systems, but the 2D nature of it all can be hard to translate to the real world.
After studying the brain for some time, I was quite confronted when I first cut into a real sheep’s brain. The textbooks quite specifically differentiate between structures by using colours and thick lines, but when I cut into that sheep’s brain, it was all GREY with tracts of white. So trying to locate one specific part of the brain seemed near impossible 🙂
So the idea that we can print out 3D body parts, with high scale resolution was an amazing proposition. Now we have such high resolution scanning devices such as MRIs, it is possible to produce anatomically correct body parts that can be used by medical students anywhere around the world! This added third dimension will help with the learning process and not just transposing the knowledge from the 2D to the 3D. Check out this interview with Monash University Professor, Paul McMenamin.
Since starting this project, people have been sending me lots of websites, articles and videos about 3D printing. It’s nearly been a full-time job just going through all this information!
I’m putting this great introduction to 3D printing from SciShow. It’s a great youtube channel with lots of content from a number of different hosts. I dip in from time to time to hear what they’re talking about. This is a great episode where they give you a nice intro to 3D printing and then talk about the potential of this technology (including printing humans!). Check it out 🙂
And please keep sending in those articles/videos/websites, they’re great 🙂
3D printing food has been an aspiration of 3D printing technologists. But the cost, with articles telling us that 3D printing meat costs thousands of dollars per kilo, it doesn’t seem likely in our future. I’ve written about printing chocolate, which seems like a very simple comparison. So what’s in between these two extremes?
In the following TEDx presentation, Lynette Kucsma talks about her company that is trying to print out healthy food using 3D printers. Can we print out tasty and healthy foods? Lynette says the answer is yes, and she talks about making such delicious meals, ranging from 3D printed ravioli to dinosaurs. Check it out 🙂
Fabricated came out last year, detailing the rise of 3D printing and the possibilities it has for the future.
Aimed at people who enjoy books on business strategy, popular science and novel technology, Fabricated will provide readers with practical and imaginative insights to the question ‘how will this technology change my life?’ Based on hundreds of hours of research and dozens of interviews with experts from a broad range of industries, Fabricated offers readers an informative, engaging and fast-paced introduction to 3D printing now and in the future.
Synopsis: Fabricated tells the story of 3D printers, humble manufacturing machines that are bursting out of the factory and into schools, kitchens, hospitals, even onto the fashion catwalk. Fabricated describes our emerging world of printable products, where people design and 3D print their own creations as easily as they edit an online document.
A 3D printer transforms digital information into a physical object by carrying out instructions from an electronic design file, or ‘blueprint.’ Guided by a design file, a 3D printer lays down layer after layer of a raw material to ‘print’ out an object. That’s not the whole story, however. The magic happens when you plug a 3D printer into today’s mind-boggling digital technologies. Add to that the Internet, tiny, low cost electronic circuitry, radical advances in materials science and biotech and voila! The result is an explosion of technological and social innovation.
Fabricated takes the reader onto a rich and fulfilling journey that explores how 3D printing is poised to impact nearly every part of our lives.
I featured this book on my other blog, Science Book a Day, so check out the reviews. Here is also the trailer for the book.
It’s easy to be swept away in the hype of 3D printers and I thought twice about writing this article. I’m someone who is interested in getting 3D printers into primary/elementary schools so students can learn about the future of the wonderful 3D industry.
But, as someone who communicates science as well, I know that you can’t shy away from the difficulties of any technology or finding. Voxeljet are a company that seeks to deal with the high end of 3D printing. Their aim was to get their 3D printers into industrial processes such as car and airline manufacturing and spare parts. They successfully got people in their company when it went on the stock exchange and promised a big bold future. But as this video indicates, everything isn’t going so well. Check it out.
But what does this mean? Should we abandon our printers and prepare for the zombie apocalypse? No, of course it doesn’t. But while you and I might subscribe to the idea that 3D printers will be a blessing in the future, it means that there is a lot of competition in the industry that players need to take into account, or perhaps it means that 3D printers will never be used at an industrial level. Whatever the case, there will be successes and failures and we learn from each.
3D printing technology is to a large degree about small devices and work by ‘hobbyists’. But work is being done in other more industrial areas, such as the automotive and aviation industries where the quality of the 3D fabricated component is essential. I’m personally interested in hearing about the first ‘3D printed plane’, although i might wait a little while before I’d be happy to fly in it 🙂
HP have entered the market with their 3D Mulit Jet Fusion which has 10,000 nozzles and is touted to print 10 times faster than current technologies. Some in the media have called this a game changing piece of technology, although we will have to wait until 2015-2016 to see it on the market. HP are aiming to have their printers used in industry, aiming their price point at around $150,000.
So while you and I probably won’t be getting our hands on one anytime soon, the boffins have thought to demonstrate the strength of their 3D printed items by lifting a car. Yes, a car. As you do.
This is a great TED presentation by Avi Reichental. Reichental is the current president and CEO of 3D Systems. The company co founded by the creator of 3D printing, Chuck Hall.
The video covers a broad range of topics about 3D printing and the future. Including what it will mean to manufacturing, but also to food, learning and design. It’s a positive vision of the future, so if you have 9 minutes and 4 seconds, I suggest you check it out 🙂
It was only a matter of time until I put something on this blog about 3D printed cars. I’m not a motor enthusiast by any regards, but the challenge to create a car is a complex problem that can be solved. Cars can have around 5000 parts which need to be created individually and then assembled. Spare parts need to be created and can often be left in massive storehouses until needed.
Local Motors has developed a 3D printed car known as the ‘Strati’. One of the difficulties with designing a car is the time/cost of development from design to manufacturing. Printing via 3D printing allows a better examination of the car and negates the need to have specialist tools made for the car itself. Recently shown at a Chicago trade show, the car is composed of a mix of plastic and carbon fibre, was printed in a few days, is composed of 49 parts and only specialised parts like the electric engine, tyres and suspension were created the traditional way.
Currently, this prototype can achieve a top speed of 65 kilometers per hour and is expected to retail for $20,000 ($AUD) once it has approval to be driven on roads.
Whenever that occurs, it does signal an important milestone in 3D printing. Might it see the end of those car dealerships? We’ll wait and see.
Here’s a link to the localmotors website: https://localmotors.com/localmotors/the-3d-printed-car-aka-direct-digital-manufacturing/