Although 3D printing is on the cutting edge of today’s technology, it really goes back to 1983, when Charles Hull invented the stereolithography (SLA) machine. Hull went on to found 3D systems and launched a whole new industry. SLA machines were later called 3D printers. During the last decade, this technology has rapidly advanced, bringing about many practical applications. The future of 3D printing looks even more exciting.
Hull’s original work with his SLA machine was largely involved with resins and plastics. However, the technology expanded to include materials such as glass, metals, magnets and even used coffee grounds. Let’s look at a few of the most promising areas where 3D printers are transforming the world.
One of the most exciting uses of 3D printing is in the area of medicine. This technology gives medical professionals the ability to print medical devices and even limbs and organs. When doctors can literally print living body parts, it will radically transform medicine. For example, patients who need a vital organ such as a kidney or heart will no longer have to wait for a donor. Printed prosthetics make it easier for people to obtain artificial limbs. The next stage is printing, if not actual bones,
Printed prosthetics make it easier for people to obtain artificial limbs. The next stage is printing, if not actual bones, bone-like material that will give mobility to people missing limbs and with conditions such as osteoporosis. 3D printers are also useful for making dental items such as bridges and implants.
There’s little question that 3D medical advances are going to make life better for many people. With printers, people in remote areas or on airplanes or cruise ships will have access to faster medical care in emergencies. In the past, it would have been necessary to either ship medical parts to the injured/sick person or bring him or her to a major hospital, now the essential part can simply be 3D printed.
3D printers are creating parts for cars and airplanes, transforming the aerospace and automobile industries. It’s even possible to print entire vehicles. Beyond this, there are applications for using this technology for building materials. NASA now uses 3D printed rocket engines. In the near future, 3D printing is likely to make transportation faster, cheaper, and safer.
Construction and Architecture
Another area in which 3D printing is making major advances is in construction. Architects can now create 3D printed models of proposed projects, which makes it easier for developers and home builders to see how buildings will look. For example, when you hire an architect to design your home, you’ll be able to see a 3D model of possible styles rather than having to look at pictures or blueprints.
3D printers can not only print out models but actual homes and other buildings. A company in China, for example, has built a 3D-printed house made to withstand powerful earthquakes. This is another area where we are only starting to scratch the surface of potential applications. As this technology gets cheaper and more refined, 3D-printed homes could help address issues such as homelessness and housing shortages.
While it’s exciting to think about 3D printing applications in areas such as medicine, housing, and transportation (to name just a few), this technology will also transform everyday life in a multitude of ways. Some of the items you’ll soon be able to print include:
3D printing is likely to radically change the way people purchase many items. First, e-commerce made it possible to order products from the comfort of your home. 3D printing will create new possibilities, where you choose the specifications and simply print out what you want.
The Vast Potential of 3D Printing
Although the roots of 3D printing go back a few decades, this is still a very young technology. It’s hard to fathom all of the possibilities. We’ve only looked at a few promising areas. There are many others as well. For example, 3D printed food is already a reality. Right now it’s being used mainly for luxury items, but this could potentially help address food crises around the world and help people facing droughts or natural disasters.
3D printing has countless possibilities in many industries and areas of life. 3D-printed items will increasingly be used to make items for all purposes, from the frivolous to the practical to the humanitarian. Only time will tell where this technology will take us.
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