The Future Is Bright For 3-D Printing

by Dave Coover, AIM

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to view a 3-D printer at work, you really need to seek one out soon if you’d like to peer into the future. Although the concept of 3-D printing sounds complex, it’s really very similar to a commonplace inkjet printer. Rather than spraying ink droplets out of its nozzles, a 3-D printer’s nozzles are fed with composite resin that dries quickly to produce a solid object.

The 3-D printers that I’ve had the opportunity to watch in action so far have been for something “less than industrial” use, such as for the very slow creation of keychain fobs and army men. But these technologies always begin small and quickly scale themselves.

As this technology moves into the mainstream, the price of the printing units is sure to drop and the production capability will expand. One noticeable advantage of 3-D printing is that the machinery itself is portable, thus allowing allowing car and agricultural implement dealers to “print” their own parts as needed rather than keeping a large inventory on hand.

This new model of highly flexible, small-scale manufacturing has big implications for countries like China and Malaysia that have leveraged themselves around huge, repetitive mass manufacturing contracts. This could very well lead to a new economic shift as small-scale manufacturing jobs begin to find their way back to our shores as 3-D technology evolves and matures. Here are some interesting uses of 3-D printers:

1. Medicine: Parts for soft-tissue organs (ear, eye, ligaments) will be custom manufactured on an individual basis as well as hip, skull and jaw implants.

2. Military: Parts for machinery will be created within the remote theatre resulting in shorter transit time. Cloaked factories where parts can be produced will return us to the “Roswell” days where military secret projects can be conducted with fewer parts from civilian manufacturers.

3. Electronics: 3-D printing lends itself very well to intricate, small-scale electronic devices. Harvard University researchers have fabricated tiny batteries that are able to power insect-sized robots using 3-D printing techniques.

4. Jewelry: Jeweler’s techniques that have existed for centuries will be abandoned as 3-D printers begin to quickly create intricate chains, bracelets and necklaces that previously took great skill and a great deal of time.

5. Homebuilding: Prototype homes have already been created that utilized a concrete version of a 3-D printer that can frame an entire home in about one day. This technique sequentially adds layer upon layer of concrete for the walls, while leaving open conduits in the walls for plumbing, electricity, and HVAC.

Join us at AIM | Infotec to see 3-D printing firsthand in the all-new TryIT Zone! Conference registration is now open and reduced early bird pricing is available through March 15th. There is also still time to secure a conference sponsorship and a limited number of exhibit booths still remain.

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