What the 3D Printer Taught Me

How I imagined a 3-D printer worked before this article:

  1. Someone went out and got a fresh new stack of computer papers from Staples
  2. Someone sitting at a computer designed some sort of cool object
  3. A magical printer took the paper and BAM; made it into said cool object

…that’s about it. I realize that’s not saying much for my knowledge of the technology, but I’m willing to put myself out there for those that were on the same level.

imagesWhat it is

So let’s take a look at the idea. 3D printing is also known as “additive manufacturing”, a process by which digital 3D design data is used to build up a component in layers by depositing material. Essentially, 3D printing is the building of layers until you create an entire object. It helps to visualize building a burger layer by layer, only using technology. Because we all know tech and burgers go well together.

20130815-3D-Printing-Medical-KidneyHow it works-The Breakdown

  1. A 3D object is first created on a computer as a virtual design, like a 3D blueprint. It’s possible to create basically anything one can think of; from pictures frames to homes, it’s doable.
  2. The virtual design is made in a Computer Aided Design file. (A program that works automatically as opposed to old programs that were done manually.)
  3. The Computer Aided Design program uses a 3D modelling program or a 3D scanner to create the object. (Scanners are able to make multiple models of one design.)
  4. The program divides the virtual design of your object into horizontal cross sections, sending the design layer by layer for the printer to read and create. (See burger reference.)
  5. You can choose the type of material you want to use; options include rubber, metal, paper etc.
  6. The material can be transferred in a variety of ways onto its platform. Depending on the material it can be sprayed, squeezed, spread, etc.

easton_limbDid you Know?

The printer actually works quite quickly. Considering we still have to wait a few minutes for our regular printers to finish printing letters, it’s impressive that 3D printers can create objects in as little as a few hours depending on the project.

Look closely, and you can see the thin layers in an object that has been 3D printed. The average layer is approximately 100 microns, which is equivalent to 0.1 millimeters.

In our World

3D printers seemed untouchable before this point; however you can actually purchase a 3D printer of your own for as little as $1,000. And while larger scale printers may be out of your price range, many of those that are in use are being used for some really great things.

What originally brought my attention to these printers was a recent story about an injured sea turtle. NBC News reported on the loggerhead sea turtle robo-turtle-receives-species-first-3d-printed-jaw-implant_8f57d4374541f5137f43615aed8a4103_nbcnews-ux-560-440whose jaw had been almost completely destroyed by a boat’s propeller. With the help of a company called B-Tech, a 3D custom-fitted jaw was printed out of titanium materials. At this point the jaw seems to be working quite well for the turtle.

Other amazing things that have been created with these printers include prosthetic limbs, human organs and even synthetic food. It seems that there are not many things that this printer cannot do. However, as with many things in the world of technology, there are always going to be some pros and cons concerning the power we have found. A popular controversy I found was the debate over the creation of a 3D printed gun, which has sparked arguments over what the printers should be used for.

After I finally understood how the printer was made, it turned out that there was a lot more to it than just a cool tech toy. These printers are capable of some really astonishing things; things that can change people’s lives and really make an impact in our society. Here is to hoping that the printers continue to do good for the world, and avoid the less friendly creations that we could do without. From initially imagining a piece of paper turning into a desk, to realizing that 3D printers actually have quite a lot of responsibility, I am excited to see what kinds of things can be created to take the tech world another leap forward.

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“What the 3D Printer Taught Me”

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