10 ways 3D printing is going to change the world
Learn more about the invention causing the biggest change to manufacturing since the industrial revolution.Peter Iantorno November 11, 2014
To many people a 3D printer sounds more like something that would be found in a sci-fi film than in a home, and while for now the machines are generally too large and expensive to be considered for widespread use, thanks to rapid advancement in the technology, soon they will be smaller, cheaper and more intelligent than ever before.
The technology could well change how we run our everyday lives, but for an invention that is predicted to cause the biggest change to manufacturing since the industrial revolution, it’s actually quite a simple process.
First, a 3D design is created on a computer or with a 3D scanner. The file is then transferred to a 3D printer, which reads the file and builds the object. Easy! It is a form of additive manufacturing - building three-dimensional objects by adding layers of materials together - making it the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, which cuts a block of raw material into a desired shape.
The beginnings of the 3D printer can be traced as far back as the 1970s, when the first variations of the technology were built - although the first example of something resembling the machines we have today came in 1992 with the first stereolithographic apparatus machine.
Nowadays 3D printers are far more sophisticated and their possible uses are endless. To fully understand the likely consequences, here are 10 ways 3D printing is going to change the world:
1. It could be used by the military
In March 2013 the world’s first working 3D-printed gun was made. Although the thought of people being able to print off live firearms in their own home is rather worrying, if used correctly, the technology could be highly beneficial for the military. 2. It doesn’t just use plastic any more
Some 3D printers can now handle bronze, nylon and other hard-wearing materials, which means that the products they produce are of much higher quality than ones made from cheap plastic.
3. It’s helping in the world of medicine
3D printers have already been used to create embryonic stem cells, which researchers can use it to test drugs or build tissue. Scaled up, this could see whole human organs being created by 3D printers.
4. It can even print food
Some 3D printers have the ability to print food to your exact specifications. At the moment they only produce the raw ingredients and the actual cooking of the food is left to the user, but machines with the ability to cook too are already being tested. 5. It could help progress space travel
A 3D-printed lunar base concept is currently being tested, which could see a moon base created entirely from lunar soil by a 3D printer.
6. It will make online shopping more interactive than ever
Online retail giant Amazon has already delved into the world of 3D printing by partnering up with various specialists to offer its customers the option of creating their own customised products - including iPhone cases and jewellery - and having them printed before being shipped right to their front door.
7. It makes car manufacturing easy
Amazingly, a car manufactured completely by a 3D printer has already been made - and even more amazingly, it works! It's called the Strati and it was made by a company called Local Motors. 8. It can help special-needs children
Researchers at the University of Colorado have developed 3D-printed books featuring raised illustrations designed to be felt by blind or visually impaired children while they have the stories read aloud to them.
9. It is environmentally friendly
The possibility of using 3D printers for building projects is one that is currently being explored by various researchers and companies. If perfected, it would mean the cost and environmental effect of transporting heavy building materials would be eliminated.
10. It’s going to be a money-spinner
Financial services giant Credit Suisse estimates that, by the year 2020, the 3D printing industry will be worth more than $10 billion.