Rich Crocco

Where is 3D Printing Headed in 2015 and Beyond?

3D Printer

Although 3D Printing was invented in the 1980’s it seems it really started to show some of its potential and become part of the wider tech conversation in the last couple of years. How much have they changed our lives so far? How will they impact our lives in the near future?

3D printing, just to give a little background, is a form of printing where a 3D physical product is created from a 3D digital image (usually a CAD drawing). There are several types of 3D printing styles such as SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) and SLA (Stereolithography) however the basic protocol of all these technologies is that a 3D digital image is ‘sliced’ into hundreds of thousands of tiny layers (approximately 0.1 millimeter thick) and then this information is fed into a 3D printer and reconstructed layer by layer. Depending on the protocol used, the layers might be formed by fusing small particles together layer by layer or by using a ultraviolet laser light to trace and cure each layer (please refer to 3dprinting.com for a more thorough explanation of these methods).

3D printing has been in use for awhile to build prototypes for manufacturing and to assist in modeling in architecture and other disciplines. What they haven’t done is change the way we live our lives, yet. In Jaron Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future” (where 3D printing was first introduced to me) Jaron claims that with 3D printing now in use, the only limitation holding this technology back from taking over large scale manufacturing is the sophistication of the inputs (the ‘stuff’ the printed objects are made out of). Once the inputs are sophisticated enough to make let’s say a usable vacuum cleaner in its entirety, then you could manufacture 10,000 vacuum cleaners at the touch of a button rather than employing a traditional manufacturing plant with all the expenses that come with it, payroll etc. What effect would this have on the manufacturing industry at large?

3D printing is already getting cheaper and cheaper (as is the case with most tech products) as they increase in popularity. You can imagine getting to a point when there is a 3D printer in every home. Once you have one in your home then you can effectively become your own manufacturing center as long as you can develop a CAD drawing. NASA is actually planning to use this technology in space. Imagine not having to send new equipment or supplies to space when something breaks or runs out, you just print a new one right there at the space station!

AT TED2014, Avi Reichental of 3D Systems took a different approach when he said that the ability to create objects of all kinds (even food!) at home will be a return to more authentic products. Rather than large scale production of identical products, 3D printing gives us the ability to bring real craftsmanship back to manufacturing.

For a more near term look at 3D printing I would use the new NVPRO front NVBOTS as an example. The NVPRO is a 3D printer that is in testing now and was built to bring 3D printing to classrooms. It is sophisticated enough to handle multiple students sending print jobs to it, however as easy to use as a copier.  Or as one of the founders stated, “We have developed the only 3D printer that can run 24-7 without human interaction and that can be simply controlled from any device.” Currently this product costs approximately $3k a year to use so you can see that that these products are getting closer to a price point where they will be fit for mainstream adoption. You might want to clear a space in your home for your next tech purchase!

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