3D printing refers to various processes used to synthesize a three-dimensional object from a digital file. In 3D printing, successive layers of material are formed under computer control to create an object. These objects can be of almost any shape or geometry and are produced from a 3D model or other electronic data source. A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.
Futurologists such as Jeremy Rifkin believe that 3D printing signals the beginning of a third industrial revolution, succeeding the production line assembly that dominated manufacturing starting in the late 19th century. Using the power of the Internet, it may eventually be possible to send a blueprint of any product to any place in the world to be replicated by a 3D printer with “elemental inks” capable of being combined into any material substance of any desired form.
3D printing in the term’s original sense refers to processes that sequentially deposit material onto a powder bed with inkjet printer heads. More recently, the meaning of the term has expanded to encompass a wider variety of techniques such as extrusion and sintering-based processes. Technical standards generally use the term additive manufacturing for this broader sense.
The latest technology inventions in 3d printing are rapidly changing how things are being made. It’s an emerging technology that is an alternative to the traditional tooling and machining processes used in manufacturing. At the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, a little known Arizona-based car maker created a media sensation by manufacturing a car at the show. It was a full scale, fully functional car that was 3d printed in 44 hours and assembled in 2 days. The video below shows the car being made.
It is predicted by some additive manufacturing advocates that this technological development will change the nature of commerce, because end users will be able to do much of their own manufacturing rather than engaging in trade to buy products from other people and corporations.
3D printers capable of outputting in colour and multiple materials already exist and will continue to improve to a point where functional products will be able to be output. With effects on energy use, waste reduction, customization, product availability, medicine, art, construction and sciences, 3D printing will change the manufacturing world as we know it.