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3D Printing has become a bit of a pop culture phenomenon as of late. Blogs are covering it, media outlets are covering it, viral videos of the technology at use are popping up everywhere. However, it hasn’t always been this way, the recent rising of this technology has been a long road and those who have been following closely know that this technology is more than a pop culture “fad.” 3D printing has some strong implications for our present and our future world. The possibilities are virtually limitless. With this article, I want to explore some of those possibilities… But first, let’s start from the beginning… Where it all started…
The first 3d printing technologies were invented in the 1980s. They were originally conceived as a fast and cost effective method for creating prototypes. The origins can be traced to 1986. That’s when the first patent was issued for stereolithography apparatus (SLA). The patent was granted to Charles Hall, who first invented his machine in 1986. Hull went on to co-found one of the largest and most prolific 3D printing companies in the world. The company still has a stronghold on the industry today. That company is 3D Systems Corporation.
We’ve seen many different 3D printing processes emerge onto the scene since then. There’s Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Modelling, and Laminated Object Manufacturing amongst a host of others.
The world of 3D printing still remained a relative unknown to the broad audience unto 2012 when it got it’s first taste of mainstream spotlight. That year both the B9Creator and the Form 1 both launched hugely successful crowdfunding campaigns via the Kickstarter platform. The cat was officially out of the bag. We began to see viral videos of people making toys, firearms, and even furniture with this amazing new technology.
Yes, over the years 3D printing has been revamped, tweaked, and augmented since it’s inception in the 1980s. And the technology is still changing in many ways today. But one thing is for sure, what was once an industry focused wholly on industrial applications has now begun to take the commercial world, hobbyist, and even the medical world by storm.
Pegged as the 4th industrial revolution by some, it can’t be denied that 3D printing is having a major impact on a vast number of industries and has huge potential for future consumers. It will be interesting to watch it all unfold.
What’s possible with 3D printing? How cost effective can we make the devices? What are some of the uses we can find for the technology?
These are some of the questions 3D printer manufacturers and consumers have tried to answer over the years.
We’ve already seen the prices of these devices shrink. We’ve seen more form fitting and faster printing capabilities emerge. We’ve also seen many applications of the technology.
We’ve seen fashion designers experiment with 3D printed bikinis, shoes, and dresses. We’ve seen the automotive industry incorporate 3D printed parts into vehicles. We’ve also seen the Strati, which is the first functioning vehicle created entirely from 3D printing using ABS plastic and carbon fiber. 3D printing is being used in construction and architecture, functioning firearms are being produced and sold, and even prosthetic body parts are being created. Things have even began to take an otherworldly turn with 3D Printing research. That otherworldly turn is the creation of the Zero-G Printer, the first 3D printer designed to operate in zero gravity.
Similar projects have followed, the theory is that these printers could one day allow quick and efficient construction of off-Earth habitats. As you can see, the research into 3D printing is far reaching and has many uses and implications. We can only expect this to advance further as the technology is now making inroads into the classroom.
Students are creating inexpensive prototypes. The classroom environment is allowing them to employ the technology in new applications. For example, they have already been used for an open source educational mobile robotics platform.
Some experts have said that 3D printers offer an unprecedented revolution in the realms of science, technology, engineering, and math education. Not many doubt this analysis.