In 1984, Charles Hull invented a printing process (stereolithography) that enabled the creation of three-dimensional objects from a digital data source (see the infographic “A Brief History of 3D Printing” from T. Rowe Price). The method was originally used by larger companies as an aid in testing and prototyping but has developed multi-purpose applications in many areas of society today.
Much as the price of a home computer has fallen to a range many consider affordable, the cost of 3D printers has also come down considerably over the years. It has proven to be cost effective enough for smaller organizations, and even hobbyists, to produce everything from toys and games to tools and robotics. Though the MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer, at $2900, is still out of reach for use in most homes, there’s a strong possibility it won’t be in the near future.
Will children someday design and 3D-print their own toys? Will we build our own replacements for auto parts, design our own hovercars? Homes could be built in a day (see below), and with few workers. 3D printing could change the clothing and sports industries as individuals create their own running shoes and snowboards. Medical innovations. Military applications. Economic implications…I feel a storyline coming on.
Here are just a few sites/articles I’ve found that look into the possibilities of this growing and diverse industry.
Thingiverse Design Community
- “MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things.” Check out their Collections page to see what people have already made with 3D printing.
- 3-D Printed Prosthetics That Look Fit for a Sci-Fi Warrior: 3D printing of super-lightweight prosthetic legs with “stealth styling.”
- E-nabling the Future designs and creates 3D printed assistive hand devices for those in need.
- Space Station’s 3D Printer Makes Wrench From ‘Beamed Up’ Design: A wrench and 19 other objects built in space will return to Earth for comparison with samples made by the same machine before it went to the Space Station.
- 3D Printing: 10 Ways It Could Transform Space Travel: The future of space travel requires new technologies, and 3D printing could hold the key.
- Chinese Company Builds Houses Quickly With 3D Printing: Four giant 3D printers were used to create 10 single-story houses in a day.
- Forget the 3D Printer: 4D Printing Could Change Everything: Creating “smart” or responsive objects that self-assemble or change shape when confronted with a change in their surroundings.
- Why is The Army Investing in 4D Printing? “Rather than construct a static material or one that simply changes its shape,” they propose developing “adaptive, biomimetic composites that re-program their shape, properties or functionality on demand, based upon external stimuli,” such as fabric that adapts to camouflage soldiers according to their environment.