Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Addendum to 3D Printing

There was one more thing I wanted to mention in my 3D printing article but neglected to include.

3D printing has transformed physical objects into information technology. What does this mean? Since any item that you may wish to print can be expressed as a digital file, you can manipulate them like a digital file. For instance, let's say that you've just designed a guitar. But rather than print it out, you can email it someone and they can print it out (sans the strings). Emailing musical instruments; how cool is that?

Or maybe you want to bring your guitar with you on your vacation, but it doesn't fit in your luggage. Keep the file on a flash drive and carry it in your pocket instead! Then when you get to your destination, find a 3D printer (they won't be so hard to find in just a few years) and print it out there. Problem solved.

Monday, October 15, 2012

3D Printing

Historically, if you wanted to purchase a product, you could either go to the store, or order one via a catalog or online. Both of these methods have drawbacks. Going to the store is time consuming and limits you to what the store has in stock. Ordering online, gives you a much bigger selection, but you usually have to wait several days for your item to arrive. Furthermore, if the product you were looking for didn’t exist, you were out of luck.

Now there is a new way to get what you need; 3D printing.

3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, is very much like the name suggests; a printer that prints physical objects in three dimensions.

And don’t think that they’re printing in ink like their 2D counterparts. They can print in numerous different materials, such as plastic, nylon and rubber to name a few.

How does it work? Actually, it’s surprisingly simple. First you design the product you want with a special software program (this step is not necessarily required. I’ll explain why shortly). Then you send the design to your printer, which starts building the product.

The machine looks like a large hollow box with glass windows that allows you to see inside it, much like a jewelry case.

Inside, there are tubes with nozzles, similar to the ones you would use to squeeze frosting onto a cake. Except instead of frosting, these tubes squeeze out the materials needed to build your object.

Starting at the bottom, it slowly, layer by layer builds your object. Each layer is only a fraction of a millimeter thick, so you can be very detailed with your object.

The process can take up to a few hours, but once it’s done, you have a brand new item. From an adjustable monkey wrench, to a figurine or even a working flute, you can print it all. (Watch this amazing video of a man playing a printed flute.)
Even sneakers have been printed with 3D printers, and the number of items successfully printed is growing daily.

One of the most amazing things about 3D printing is that you don’t actually have to design your own objects. If you go to the website, you can browse thousands of already designed objects. When you find one that you like, simply click on that item and then click on the DOWNLOADS button. This will let you send the file(s) to your printer where it will start downloading. Best of all, all the items on the site can be downloaded for free!

With 3-D printing, products are less expensive and more varied than traditionally manufactured products. And with a little bit of know how, you can design your own products that don’t exist elsewhere. Does your favorite recipe call for 2 and a half teaspoons of sugar? Make a two and a half teaspoon measuring cup! Did you step on an extension from your vacuum cleaner and now it’s cracked? Don’t pay a fortune ordering a new piece from the manufacturer; print a new one yourself!

No more waiting in line at the store to check out. No more waiting for UPS to deliver your package (or even not having it delivered because you weren’t home). If you need something, just print it!