3D printing is here to stay – and there’s no sitting around waiting for the resin to dry. The evolution of the modern production marvel is progressing at a rapid rate. Science never sleeps, after all.
Since its 1980s inception, 3D printing has come a long way. Originally starting out as a method for prototype production, the layer-by-layer technology has been through several stages of development to get to where it is today.
From novel to marvel
Moving beyond relatively simple 3D blueprints preparing for manufacture, today the process can produce moving parts, complex machinery and is moving towards products wholly organic in nature. In just thirty years the leap from hollow models to replicating human organs is seismic. Who knows where the next thirty might take us?
Rising popularity, lowering costs
It’s an absolute certainty that 3D printers will boom as an inexpensive consumer item. Think of any widespread current technology – be it smartphones, tablets or 4K TVs. Not so long ago, each was considered a luxury product. As their popularity soared more models followed – and their entry price points came crashing down. Okay, we’re not yet talking about printing a bike in your front room for a swift last-minute weekend cycle, but complex model making at the push of a button? It’s easy – and it’s only going to get better.
As if printing human skin wasn’t intricate enough, additive manufacturing is going to get even more complex. The move towards industrial-grade materials such as titanium widens the scope of possibility enormously. With entire homes that can take shape via the 3D printing route, large parts of the building and manufacturing trade will gear towards low-fuss, high-speed reproduction of essentials. A cheap alternative to traditional building methods that can tackle any potential housing crisis head-on is only going to be encouraged. Add to that biocompatibility and industries such dentistry exploiting the medium and it’s clear that the potential for discovery is only just begun.
Tailored products designed to the specifics of the individual: increasing numbers of products are made to fit the consumer. It’s an ethos that permeates throughout the open market and 3D printing is no different. As such we’re looking ahead to made-to-order manufacturing for one. Fed up with one-size-fits-all headphones that pop out of your ear at the slightest provocation? Print them to the exact contours of your body. Want something created? You design it, someone can print it. With the ease of use of CAD software such as SOLIDWORKS, 3D printing has never been more favourably skewed to the individual.
Print gets pixelated
There’s an app for almost every conceivable product or service. Guess what? You’re right, it’s the future for additive manufacturing. As the next generation step up to the design workspace, they’re integrating the functionality of digital applications with the practical products formed by 3D printing. Commercially viable, user-friendly smartphone apps to broaden appeal is how the future is shaping for the design process.
Easy to use, but more difficult to design, 3D printing’s about to simplify. Yet this entry-level approach will require a lot more complicated design work under the bonnet. With the increased sophistication of both software (with sensitive data transfer using blockchain technology) and materials, the expansion of widespread 3D printing is going to require more coders and designers to create the supporting infrastructure.
Then, when 3D printing starts launching its technology into space, it would appear that not even the sky is the limit.