Living in the 21st century, most of us are accustomed to instant or slightly delayed gratification. Our electronic devices charge faster and more powerfully than ever, yet we still become irritated when we have to plug in our phone, laptop, watch, etc. and wait the excruciating half-hour until the battery is full once more. Furthermore, when something breaks, we can log onto Amazon and buy a new one without waiting three days for its delivery. It is in this “instantaneous satisfaction” attitude that the 3D printer was born.
What is a 3D printer? This machine extrudes a thin stream of plastic, which hardens into a shape dictated by multiple computer software programs. These programs divide into two basic categories: systems that create and others that slice. The ‘creator’ or modeling program allows a user to create a 3D image suiting his needs. Then, this image is placed into the slicer software which slices the image into layers. This last system is incredibly important because it breaks the image or design into slices that the 3D printer can make. Amazingly, the extruder tip, the part of the printer which lays the plastic into shape, moves along three planes rather than the usual two in order for it to reach any point on its print bed. This tip can be manipulated by motors in several ways. Some printers use pneumatic arms, others a series of belts and pulleys. Whatever the method, however, these various systems can move the extruder tip and direct the plastic into any shape determined by the computer. Depending on the size and volume of one’s print, a single design can be manufactured in under 5 hours. Even Amazon can’t rival that.
As expected, the possibilities of this tech are endless, and exciting showcases of designs are popping up across the internet. Excitingly, 3D printing is for everyone. Even if you aren’t a computer engineer, you can create anything. Several years ago, 3D printers cost thousands of dollars. Some still do. However, other printers such as the Makerbot, Ultimaker, Desktop Metal, and Formlabs are taking innovative steps to lower the price of their printers to as little as 200 dollars. For some, this is still quite an investment, but imagine waking up and creating anything sparked by your imagination: dragons that double as pencil sharpeners, earbud holders, parts for broken toys, models, furniture, tool grips, phone holders, vases, models of body or chemical systems, and ears. Yes, that’s right, ears.
Scientists around the USA successfully print body parts and other devices that can save people’s lives or change their otherwise unsightly appearance. Children with a deformed ear can have one printed for them so that they can integrate normally with regular society and regain hearing. Surgeons have implanted heart valves into patients with malfunctioning cardiac systems, plastic surgeons no longer need to graft skin from other areas of the body, and bones are replaced, all using this fantastic technology. Also, companies such as Boeing Airlines have experimented with printing entire planes. New technology even enables high end commercial printers to lay down multiple materials simultaneously. These types of printers are for colleges and labs but will probably enter private home use in the near future.
Although this was only a brief introduction to 3D printers, it is enough to be able to glimpse the fantastic applications and capabilities of this technology. Since we have such incredible tools at our finger tips, dive in and create. The only question is, what will you build?
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Featured images from https://biranima.com
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