Guest Article by: Michael Holmes
Here’s a scenario for you: You need an object — anything — on demand. You head to your computer, pull up a digital image, choose what materials you want to use to build it and hit print.
In a matter of minutes, that object can be in your hands.
This sounds totally unbelievable, right? Like something out the movies?
Believe it or not, 3D printing is real. While the most advanced 3D printers are found at specialized companies or in research labs around the world., there’s a very good chance that a few companies in your city use 3D printers to create architectural models, develop prototypes, and more.
How Exactly Does 3D Printing Work?
3D printing is a fairly difficult process, but I’ll do my best to make it sound simple:
- A 3D object is designed and created on computer software such as CAD or even Photoshop.
- That design is then sent to a printer, where the printing material is selected. (And it’s not ink!)
- The printer then releases thethin layers of material that are piled one on top of the other. Over time, these layers of material can form a solid and complex object.
- Depending on how large your object is, this process could take a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days.
- Once those layers are done “printing,” you have your object in your hands.
What kind of materials can itbe printed?
The possibilities are endless, but expect to see a lot of hard plastics, rubbers and polyurethane-like materials…only some commercial 3D printers can print in aluminum and glass. Realistically, you could design a pair of shoes, print them off and wear them in a matter of minutes.
How Real is This Hype?
It’s pretty real. The 3D printing industry is expected to become a $1 billion dollar industry this year and skyrocket to a $5 billion industry by 2020 — a 300 percent growth in less than a decade’s time.
People strongly believe that 3D printing is an industry that will become just as big as the mobile phone market in years to come.
Can I Buy a 3D Printer?
Actually, you can. And while it’s expensive, it may be as expensive as you think.
3D Systems offers a wireless printer called Cube, which gives you software to create objects 5.5”x5.5”x5.5” in your choice of vibrant colors. The printer also includes software to help you create those objects. Asking price? $1,299.
The same company offers even more expensive printers and full kits to help you dive right into the growing industry of 3D printing.
While 3D printing was something you would see on science-fiction, it’s anything but fiction. Expect this industry to take off the in the next 10 years.