3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is quickly becoming mainstream and we’re are rubbing our hands with glee at the prospect. But what’s so exciting about a technology, which some say has the potential to be as important as the Internet?
1. Well, for a start, it can print cars! The makers of the latest Bond movie, Skyfall, got German 3D printing company, Voxeljet, to knock up three 1:3 scale models of 007′s precious Aston Martin DB5 for (gulp) destruction during filming. Never mind, though—one survived, and was later sold by Christie’s for almost £100,000.
2. Smaller but equally as suave, the world’s very first Nokia Lumia 820 shell was printed by 3D printing wizards, Makerbot just last week. The specs had been available for less than a day when the guys did what they do best, 3D magic.
3. The medical equipment industry is one of the largest markets to have embraced 3D printing. What a hip? Print it out! The prosthetics market loves 3D. Biomedics specialists in Belgium recently implanted a 3D-printed titanium jawbone into an 83 year-old woman. Whatever next?
4. Wing Commander Andy Green is gearing up to smash the land speed record in 2013, piloting the Bloodhound SSC above 1,000mph—and the car’s been fitted out with 3D printed components. Using CAD and a clay moulding of Green’s hands, the titanium steering wheel was printed out as a custom fit for the intrepid driver. Ready, steady…
5. We were also jazzed to learn that 3D printers can be used in conjunction with CAT scans to print out a clone of a tumour before an operation, so that surgeons can see exactly what they’ll be tackling. Very handy!
6. University of Warwick scientists say that electronic circuitry can be integral to 3D printed objects—and to prove it, they’ve invented a material called carbomorph, and used it to create both a computer game controller and a mug that knows when it’s full.
7. NASA and researchers at Washington State University are working on 3D printing using moon dust. We could eventually be looking at on-site fabrication of a moon-base, using all-local materials. Meanwhile astronauts could use the tech to repair or replace broken equipment. Houston, we have a solution!
8. Finding the postal service slow? File-sharing company The Pirate Bay have launched a content category called ‘Physibles’, for what they describe as ‘data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical’. In other words, upload your 3D blueprints, and whoever receives the file can print out the actual object. Now that’s what we call sharing!
9. Be careful, though: some 3D printing gamers have run into legal difficulties after using their devices to replicate Warhammer 40,000 figurines. Games Workshop—Warhammer’s makers—were quick to step in, worried about their patents. Looks like the fight over physical objects will be the next stage in the digital copyright battle…
10. Want more? Check out Thingiverse, where 3D printing aficionados upload shots of their home-made printables: from toys, jewellery and key-rings, to camera stands, mobile phone cases and USB stick holders, there’s enough on there to make your eyes pop!
As you can see 3D printing is already doing some amazing stuff, but apparently there’s plenty more to come. Question is, if you were only limited by your imagination what would be your first 3D printed project?