If the term 3D Printing sounds unfamiliar to you, you must have been quite busy over the last few of years. Since its understated introduction as a concept in the late nineteen-eighties, the technology has gone from strength to strength, with recent sales exploding by becoming not only more sophisticated but also exponentially more affordable.
But many may wonder if this is the new “face” of print, and by extension, printing technologies. Is the idea of printing itself moving into the 3D realm?
Well, you may not want to throw out of your inkjet and laser printers just yet, but you may want to consider treating yourself with one of these nifty devices in the near future.
How it Works
Whereas one typically creates something like a chair, by cutting away from a piece of wood until you have the required pieces (subtractive manufacturing) or pouring a compound into a mould, 3D printing uses an additive manufacturing process that constructs an object one polygon and horizontal layer at a time.
Firstly, the design model or CAD (Computer Aided Design) is created in a virtual environment through software. An existing design or 3D scanner, which scans another object for replication, can also be used. The software then turns this into polygons and slices the model into hundreds of horizontal layers to prepare it for printing.
Methods vary from here, but in general the additive material or polymer from the printing cartridge is melted in the printing head and deposited through a full-lateral motion-range printing nozzle, following the set horizontal layers set out by the CAD, until the full design is achieved. As the material is melted or in a liquid state, there are no layers or seams (visible or invisible) afterwards.
Click this link to view the technology in action: http://youtu.be/zF-0w2g7S9w
Ink Printing vs. 3D Printing
3D Printing is only really “printing” in name because of its ability to replicate using a template. It’s actually conceptually more similar to micro-construction. Like thousands and thousands of tiny Lego pieces that can be put together in any way. But both do print by depositing tiny globules of “ink” on a surface it systematically passes over.
Printers just realises images and words in a 2D environment. Basically it only has intellectual and aesthetic value, it can be physically used (unless you’re a paper plane or origami enthusiasts), only looked at and comprehended. And in this way, 3D printing and 2D printing satisfy completely distinct needs and functions, overlapping only perhaps in the art and graphic design world.
This isn’t to say the written word in print isn’t just as valuable, if not significantly more, given that it’s still the only way to communicate a principle or idea from one person to the other.
3D Printer Cartridges Still Very Expensive
The problem is that 3D Printers don’t have traditional generic printer cartridges, rather each type of printer uses a different “ink” or filament based on what they create and method it uses for printing. Printing cartridge filaments include: rubber, bioplastics, paper compounds, polyurethanes and similar materials.
In South Africa, the printer itself can run anywhere between R 20 000 to R 1 million, depending on the size and application. Admittedly, at entry level, it’s not too expensive. But a plastic polymer filament cartridge, that you can use to construct basic plastic models, will run you about R 3000 per kilogram. This is a lot when you consider that a basic plastic model will weigh about 200-500 grams.
3D Printing will change the World, But Not Printing
3D printing has revolutionised how sophisticated and delicate the structure of designs can be. As these don’t need to be traditionally constructed, they can as complex they need to be. So far, 3D Printing has been applied to create:
* Technology and electronics
* Medical supplies
* Synthetic organs and prosthetics
* Entire houses
* And even food printing!
As you can see, because 3D printing is a medium of design, it has no application limits! Basically, if it physically exists and isn’t animated life, it can theoretically be 3D printed. It will also eliminate a lot of the logistical problems that dog most of the third world, as people will be able to manufacture anything they need remotely, as soon as they need it.
And while print itself may not change much with the increasing popularity of this technology, the world around us certainly will.
To read more in-depth about how 3D printing works, have a look at this article: http://mashable.com/2013/03/28/3d-printing-explained/