Today’s topic is something you may have heard of before: 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. There are many different kinds of 3D printing, but what they have in common is that controlled by a computer, and they involve adding material together, not carving it away.
3D printing has been used for a while as a way to make prototypes quickly, but it was only used by but manufacturing companies and the results were only good enough for prototypes, not final products. Nowadays 3D printers and 3D printing services are affordable and used by just about anyone, and have improved to produce much better results!
In the most common kind of 3D printing, a machine with a nozzle lays down a thin layer of a thick, goopy material – usually molten plastic – that will quickly harden into a solid. By building up thin layers, one after another, a solid form is produced; like how something as thin as paper can stack up to make a thick book.
Most forms of 3D printing use layers like this, but some do not. One exciting technique involves taking a vat of a special resin and shining a light on it in a pattern. The resin solidifies in that pattern, and the new solid object can be pulled out of the remaining liquid. If you shine the light from multiple angles, in the right kinds of patterns, you can make quite complex 3D objects. This technique was actually patented way back in 1986, if you can believe it!
Recently 3D printing has been used for some pretty incredible things: cars, food, even whole houses big enough to live in, made by special, huge printers! NASA has 3D printed mechanical parts and sensors for use in space, and it’s become a popular option for custom prosthetics or limited runs of sculptures. If any of these sound exciting to you, please, look it up and learn more. I’m also including a list of interesting articles for you to browse.
Are you curious about 3D printing now? Many schools, universities, and workshops have 3D printers available for people to experiment with. You can also use a dedicated service to print a model made by yourself or someone else for a small fee. Personally I use Shapeways (no sponsorship) but there are plenty of others across the web. And if you find yourself getting into 3D printing more deeply, personal home printers are getting cheaper and more capable all the time!