3D printing: the future of innovation and technology
“What is 3D printing?”
3D printing is an emerging technology that is increasing in popularity around the globe. Put simply, 3D printers can create three dimensional objects as easily as a paper printer can create a document. With prices on the way down, 3D printing is set to revolutionise manufacturing in the same way that the print press changed publishing.
“How does it work?”
At the moment there are several technologies that can form objects from digital designs designed on a computer. Selective Laser Sintering uses as laser to combine tiny pieces of plastic, ceramic glass or metal. Another method, Fused Deposition Modelling, uses a nozzle to layer up melted plastic. The earliest 3D printer models spray an adhesive binder onto layers of powder to create an object.
“How can 3D printing help my business?”
While used heavily by manufacturers and for prototyping new products, the use of 3D printers are only limited by your imagination. We have listed our top ten innovate uses below to inspire you.
The most common use of 3D printing technology is for engineering prototypes. 3D printers can provide designers with easy access to models they can use to test ideas cheaply before they commit to expensive bespoke machinery and processes.
2. Designing for home printing
As the technology becomes more common and cheaper, chances are that savvy designers won’t even need to use the printer to manufacturer items – the buyer will be able to download designs and print objects at home. Just imagine, you’ve lost the back off your TV remote or need a certain sized screw while doing DIY. There’s no need to pop to the shops when you can find what you need online, pay to download the item and print it instantly.
UK scientists have created a prototype chocolate printer. In the words of Dr Liang Hao, lead scientist of the Choc Edge company in Exeter, “You just need to melt some chocolate, fill a syringe that is stored in the printer, and get creative printing your chocolate.” Other companies around the world are developing similar printers.
Engineers have found a durable replacement for bones that have been destroyed by illness or in accidents – titanium that is shaped using 3D printing. In 2011, an anonymous Dutch woman was the first to receive a new titanium jaw. Design technology was used to ensure it fit the patient perfectly and even included areas where nerves could be attached so she could maintain sensations such as touch.
5. Drugs and medicine
Researchers at Glasgow University are currently working on a new method of creating medicine using 3D printers. Their research has resulted in a printer that can not only print the casing of a pill, but also deposit the chemicals inside of them. This would allow for bespoke medicines, allowing treatment to happen much more efficiently.
The worlds first 3D printed car was prototyped in 2011. The ‘Urbee’ has a slick futuristic design and uses a petrol and electric hybrid engine. It is one of the greenest cars in the world and can be charged for next to nothing from a plug socket. The team behind the Urbee are raising funds for a second prototype and it will be some time until the Urbee is available to buy, but the process of its creation is set to revolutionise the industry.
Italian Enrico Dini, founder of Monolte UK has created the D-Shape printer, which is the worlds largest. It bonds sand with a special binding material to make a sandstone style product that can be used to create large structures. There are many benefits of his system, as it allows for easy production of Gaudi-esque designs and the ability to either create buildings bit by bit off site or in one go on site.
Many jewellery designers have started to use 3D printing to create intricate designs out of materials such as plastic and titanium. As the technology becomes more sophisticated people should be able to commission their own designs, which provides great potential for bespoke wedding rings and gifts.
9. Personalised toys and gifts
Ever fancied being your favourite superhero or wrestler? Several online toy manufacturers are now using 3D printers to manufacture bespoke action figures that have the facial features of the customer based on photographs that are sent to them. Disney are also in on the act at their Hollywood Studios, allowing Star Wars fans to step into a booth where cameras map out their features and allows their image to be ‘carbonised’ in 3D like Han Solo in the Empire Strikes Back. For non Star Wars fans, this essentially means that mini statues of their form can be printed out for them to display at home.
Independent film makers take heed, everything from Iron Man’s suit in the popular Avengers movie, to parts of the plasticine characters in Aardman’s The Pirates has been created using 3D printers. As the technology becomes more prominent, it will play an important part in creating new special effects, props and costumes in your favourite films, TV shows and theatre productions. Is there a gap in the market for bespoke costumes for role players and fancy dress shops?
The ERDF funded Lancashire Innovation Network provides free events, advice, support and partial funding to businesses that can grow through innovation and technology. To find out how the programme can help your business, click here.