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The future is here: 3D printing

31-08-2010
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in 
The future is here: 3D printing

Three-dimensional (3D) printing technology is providing significant benefits to industries and companies throughout the world.

Manufacturing industries throughout Australia are reaping the benefits of this revolutionary technology.

In short, with 3D printing many companies are now able to drastically reduce the amount of time traditionally taken to produce moulds.

3D printing is a way of making three-dimensional solid objects of practically any shape from a digital model.

The technology, also known as "additive manufacturing," could have applications in a wide range of industries including mining, defence, aerospace, automotive and metals manufacturing.

And now this exciting technology has become so cheap that everyone may soon have a 3D printer at home.

In fact, the 3D printer may soon be as ubiquitous as the television or telephone.

Schoolchildren who have access to a cheap 3D printer can make their own 3D models of simple items like mobile phone cases or toys.

So how does it work?

Printers produce a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any form from a digital model.

Additive manufacturing takes virtual blueprints from computer-aided design or animation modeling software and “slices” them into digital cross-sections.

The machine reads the design and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model, fusing the cross-sections together to create almost any shape or geometric feature.

The virtual model and the physical model are thus almost identical, providing objects that can be used anywhere throughout the product life cycle, from pre-production to full-scale production, in addition to tooling applications and post-production customisation.

You may be surprised to learn that 3D printers have been around for nearly three decades.

But the first devices in the mid-80s were prohibitively expense and the materials used cost several hundreds of dollars.

The first commercial 3D printers entered service only in 1986, but were already being used by mould manufacturers by 1990.

Now 3D printers are becoming increasingly affordable for businesses of all sizes.

Over the past couple of decades, costs have dropped dramatically from high six figure amounts to $1000-$2000 for small consumer models.

The quality of the cheaper models is not generally up to commercial standards, but they are suitable for educational and home use.

Three dimensional printing has come a long way in the past decade.

For example, you can now use a 3D printer without a dedicated computer.

USB host ports also allow the printer to interact with other devices in the workplace.

This includes counters, scales, keyboards, scanners and other printers, simplifying the entire printing process.

Fingerprint controls the programmable display and numeric keypads, which allows users to enter data on the front-panel display and numeric keypad, even providing alerts and messages that let staff know when they need attention.

The end result is a printer that virtually eliminates the need for personal computers, cutting costs and providing a more robust, reliable and simpler infrastructure.

And Computer Aided Design (CAD) software is much simpler than 20 years ago.

Many primary and secondary schools are now teaching CAD courses.

Research into 3D printing is also advancing in leaps and bounds. Recent breakthroughs include 3D printed medicines and microscopic batteries.

The applications for 3D printing are almost endless.

And whether or not the personal 3D printer becomes a household item, one thing is certain – it’s definitely here to stay.

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