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An introduction to 3D printing

History may show that 3D printer technology was one of the key discoveries that increased innovation in this century. Much attention has been given to 3D printing recently and that’s because the implications of the technology are astounding.

An article in The Economist suggests that 3D printing will bring about a third industrial revolution and be a game-changer, bringing  outsourced manufacturing jobs back to wealthier nations like the U.S. However, the jobs associated with 3D printing will be skilled manufacturing jobs and likely to employ fewer people.

Makerbot Replicator 2 in action

What is 3D printing?

These printers work by depositing materials, often plastics, layer by layer to create objects. By using 3D printers manufacturing single, or small batches of items becomes much easier and more economical. Simple objects out of simple materials can now be printed by anyone.

Prevalence of 3D printing

Around the world there are currently more than 50,000 3D printers in service for a handful of manufacturers. Several months ago a 3D printer manufacturer, Stratasys, released a $9,900 U.S. model that’s nearly as small as HP office printer you’d use in a home office, which is capable of industrial-quality prototype design. For simpler objects there is a home model that is available for the price of a new HDTV. The Makerbot Replicator 2, a 3D desktop printer, was recently released for $2,247 and can print with a resolution capability of 100 microns and a 410 cubic inch build volume. A resolution of 100 microns is about as thin as a piece of copy paper.

Increasing competition

Scott Simpson at the Vancouver Sun even thinks that the technology might potentially usurp name brand goods. He mentions a scenario in which a girl in a high school art class designs a shoe, which then goes viral. He sees a world where kids chase notoriety by uploading free CAD designs for consumer items that others can print at home. There are already several places on the web to find open source blueprints for items that can be printed using a 3D printer. Thingiverse is a good place to start for designs.

Applications for 3-D printing

3D printers are being used to prototype objects out of metal, glue and other substances. Now some people are working on machines to print cloth and others are even working on substitutes for human tissue. Wired outlined some small-scale things that the printers can produce, as well.

An item printed with a 3D printer

Right now you can design a toy or other small-scale item using free CAD software from Autodesk 123D and they will even output it to a 3D printer for manufacture if you don’t have one. Other communities offering 3D printing and other production services are already forming online.

In the coming weeks we’ll delve deeper into 3D printer technology here at Dream It! Do It! Nebraska. Subscribe to our RSS feed or come back for information on building your own 3D printer and making a 3D model of yourself to be printed with this amazing technology.

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