Ever so often there are inventions that simply blow our collective minds. Remember the first time someone called you from a mobile phone? Maybe they bragged that they were actually at the grocery store and talking on the phone at the same time. That was probably a moment of head shaking wonder and speculation as to what the next big thing might be as you listened on the phone attached to wall with a cord.
Fast-forward to today and it is challenging to answer a question without pulling out your smart phone to call someone or to do a Google search for the right answer. We check our bank accounts, send messages via text, and basically run our entire lives with the help of our phones. The invention of mobile phone technology was a game changer that fed our cultural desires for precision, quality, and the right answer immediately.
Another equally amazing invention that is predicted to rock our world is Additive Manufacturing or known otherwise as 3D printing. This technology was developed in the 1980’s and used huge printers to make plastic forms or “prints” of items. The practical applications of 3D printing are truly endless and the early innovators realized it quickly.
3D printers are much smaller now and have the flexibility to use a variety of print materials that include various plastic polymers, metal, glass, and the list continues to grow. Currently, a variety of companies use 3D printing to support rapid prototyping so products spend less time on the drawing board and more time making money. This application of the process allows companies to be more creative and test their products faster, for less money that ever before. Most recently, 3D printing technology was even used by the technological powerhouse, NASA, to create nickel alloy parts that will help power the next rocket to Mars.
Although it sounds crazy, 3D printers are fairly easy to understand. To perform a print, the machine first creates a blueprint of the item that will serve as the guide for the printing process. After the blueprint is created, the printer then separates the blueprint into cross sections and now the magic happens.
The printer then begins layering the material according to cross sections from the original blueprint. During the print process, the material layers are seamlessly bonded together to create a tough, usable product. Within a few minutes the item is completed and ready for use.
With all the research and development in the last twenty years on 3D printing it has quickly advanced to the point that an average consumer can now purchase a 3D printer for their use at home. Home 3D printers are quite a lot smaller than commercial 3D printers so home users are somewhat limited as to the size of what they can print. Nonetheless, it is now possible to buy a home 3D printer and quickly fabricate a stylish customized case for your mobile phone right before your eyes.
The most common material used in home 3D printing is plastic because it is light, useful in most applications, and economical. Home 3D printers are creating missing doorstops, art, jewelry, and a variety of other items to help households around the world fix what ever the problem is. And do not worry, they also provide bragging rights for everyone in the house to say, “I printed this thing at home!”
Erik Dries has extensive experience working with PSI Urethanes for multiple applications. He enjoys sharing his experiences on various blogs.
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