3-dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing and 3-D printing, is the process of making a physical object from a 3-dimensional digital file using a device that lays down successive thin layers of materials. The printing is achieved by using an additive process whereby commercial plastics are laid down successively in 2-dimensional slices. Recently, 3-D printing has seen an increase in popularity due to the increased availability of desktop printers that can create objects with commercial plastics. The equipment has gained wide acceptance with hobbyists and do-it-yourself enthusiasts, as well as academic and research institutions.
CURRENT USES OF DEVICE
Hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts are currently the most avid users of 3-D printers. It is likely that they will determine future trends on the limitations and possibilities of this device, as well as a wide variety of issues, which are likely to arise from its usage and patronage (see Problems and Issues below).
Other uses are in education, surgical reconstruction, self-manufacturing (esp. smartphone cases), and paleontology. Firms like Thingiverse, and Shapeways have taken a lead in testing the future of commercial business models by establishing manufacturing services around the concept of 3-D printers by offering to print and distribute 3-D products for clients to their customers.
The projected uses of 3-d printers are extremely wide. The following is an idea of projected future applications:
- General manufacturing.
- New materials, i.e. materials that can withstand extreme physical conditions (e.g. temperature).
- Open source laboratories.
- Replicating historical and ancient and priceless artifacts in archaeology,
- Forensic pathology – bone reconstruction, crime scene investigations.
- Building construction.
- Chemical compounds synthesis.
- Customized food through 3D Hydrocolloid Printing.
- Printing biological organs and tissues
- Coral reefs damage replacement
- Mass production systems using multiple ‘nozzles’ and hence widespread manufacturing.
- NASA is taking an interest in applying 3-D printing in space environment by producing needed devices in space instead of having it made on earth and sent to space, thus avoiding the expense of launch.
PROBLEMS AND ISSUES
A growing concern with 3-D printing is the definition of original design and attendant copyright protection enforcement. If an item is widely reprinted, how will intellectual rights violations be resolved? To what extent must a design be altered in order to identify a reproduction as an “original” creation? Other issues of concern are the creation, reproduction, and propagation of harmful devices such as firearms and the potential effects that this reproduction capability will have on legal control over the issue.
Current limitations on 3-D printing are that existing machines are generally regarded as ‘slow,’ they are also limited by their size and the applicable materials available for printing.