September 7th, 2011 | Published in Information
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing, or Stereolithography, is the process in which a 3d object is created by special machine using Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software. While the field is still in its early stage of development, the potential of this technology, to transform society by transitioning from the age of industrialism to a new golden age of personal manufacturing, is one of the potentially greatest advancements since the age of Enlightenment. Three Dimensional printing lowers the cost of production, undermining economies of scale and is conjectured to have as great an impact upon the world as the advent of the factory.
Where the age of information technology allowed useres to explore a virtual world of vertices and shaders, a world where objects had no physical form or presence, 3d printing has allowed designers to manipulate ideas in reality, rather than virtually, allowing for new insights into their inventions, and new ways of conceptualizing objects. The technologies include Stereo lithography (SL), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), 3 Dimensional Printing (3DP), Polyjet, and Polyjet Matrix. Additionally CNC milling, Laser cutters, and Water Jet cutters are similar in nature and are likely to be used in tandem with 3d printing machines for rapid prototype development and light manufacturing. The market for 3D Printers is expected to reach $782.6 million by 2013, and the development of 3D printing technology is expected to continue in respect to resolution quality, durability, and ancillary technological integration. The father of 3d printing, Chuck Hull (May 12, 1939), inventor of the Stereolithography process and other patents in the fields of ion optics and rapid prototyping, envisioned a future where 3d printing would be ubiquitous to society, where great ideas could be taken from the drawing board and manufactured through rapid prototyping, speeding development and deployment of new technologies and machines exponentially.
The advent of home personal manufacturing development from the invention of Reprap technologies, created end user 3d printer systems capable of manufacturing various elements of their own parts. These consumer models are often sold as an unassembled kit, however such companies as Makerbot and Buildatron offer pre-assembled consumer 3d printers and printing solutions. The RepRap project aims to produce a FOSS 3d printer, whose full specifications are released under the GNU General Public License. 3D Printer kits can also be purchased by companies such as Thing-O-Matic, Ultimaker, and Shapercube 3d printers. These unassembled kit prices are in the range of 1500 euro. Fab@Home is an open source personal injection printer developed at Cornell University, designed for printing food and many other materials.
Since 2003 the world has seen a large growth in the sale of 3D printers for use in industries such as jewelry, footwear, industrial design, civil engineers, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), aerospace, dental, automotive, education, medical, GIS, etc. While there are several 3d printing manufactures such as 3D Systems, Object, Stratasys, and Z Corp, the internet revolution opened up the possibility of new companies such as Imaterialize and Sculpteo to outsource their clients needs through ecommerce systems, developing a thriving community of designers who upload their own 3d designs on the company website, where objects are then printed via industrial 3d printers and shipped directly. Additionally the cost of 3d printers are expected to continue to decline as the technology becomes ever more prevalent in every day life. Printer kits are available as low as $500 USD for low end consumer models, and the price increases for office use between $10,000 and $50,000, and for warehouse and manufacturing capabilities that number is between the $60,000 and $200,000 range. Additionally ancillary developments of 3d printing technologies have lead to new and interesting uses, such as Enrico Dini, a European artist who built a 3D printer the size of a living room for his CAD modeled sculptures.
Industry growth of 3d printing has continued to increase at 26.2 percent over a 23-year history, and 24.1 percent in 2010 alone. This growth is compounded by the increase in market visibility and new ecommerce concepts that have allowed for generation of a new field of boutique online businesses.