3D printers make it possible for anyone to have their own personal assembly line. From personal home printers to mass production industrial printers, 3D printing is the future of production. Almost anything is possible with 3D printing technologies, replacement parts, working guns, and even sports cars. So, how is it possible that one technology could create so many different things, and how does it work?
3D printers function by building the item they are assigned to from the ground up layer by layer. Every 3D printer requires different material as its input, often called a filament. These materials can range from PLA plastics to Stainless steel and almost always have ways of heating the material into a form that can be spread like icing onto a cake. The printer has its nozzle suspended by two tracks, one is used to move the nozzle forward and backward and the other moves it left to right. This nozzle is what is used to spread the melted filament onto the print bay where it quickly hardens to create a solid foundation for the next layer to be built upon. As the printer proceeds with the print, the tracks rise vertically on a stationary track in order to lift the nozzle above the layers that it will print on top of. Watching this process can seem otherworldly at times, and words cannot do it justice.
However, the printer needs a model to print, so before the printer can do its magic someone has to design the item that will be printed. This is done using computer programs such as Fusion 360 to 3D model the part digitally. For those who don’t know, 3D modelling is in its simplest form about creating triangles from a series of points in 3D space, these triangles are then arranged into any complex shape that can be imagined. The artist working on the model can use various tools to build the model and has the ability to navigate the displayed view in virtual space in order to see the subject from different angles. Once the model is finished it’s uploaded to the printer and the fun begins. For a standard household PLA printer, it takes anywhere between 1 hour to 5 days to finish a print, depending on the size of the model and assuming there weren’t any errors with the print that would require it to be restarted.
Some new printing applications are bringing 3D printing to much larger scales. For example, Peri, one construction company is printing houses using their giant concrete printers. They set the machine up in a new location, and let it run to build the structure of the house, while workers install windows, doors and other delicate features. There are even plans to use rovers to act as 3D printers on Mars, building large domes from the naturally iron rich soil on the planet. This would make it much easier for people to live in once they arrive to colonize the planet. Another example of a new 3D printing use is the Czinger 21C, the world’s first 3D printed sports car. The vehicle has a surprisingly nice design considering it is 3D printed, and It doesn’t show the layer lines that are traditionally expected with many 3D printing technologies. There is even research into printing human organs from stem cells to create a customized transplant that has almost no risk of rejection due to it being built from the DNA of the recipient. Although this is in early stages of what it will eventually become, this technology is going to change the world forever, considering they already have used it for printing bladder transplants. The Potential of 3D printing is virtually limitless, anyone who can afford a 3D printer could create almost anything they could dream up and its only getting started.