3D Printing is Technology’s Next Big Thing

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Additive manufacturing technology continues to edge its way into creative markets.

The emerging technology of the last few years is 3D printing, or, as it’s technically known, additive manufacturing. In brief, models can be drafted using any number of sculpting or CAD programs and then sent to an additive manufacturing machine. The machine then reproduces the design a layer at a time in a plastic, resin, or metal, using either a heated nozzle head that feeds the material onto the build platform, a resin-hardening light projector system, or laser sintering that applies a layer of powder to the build space and fuses the material with a laser. This technology has been in use in the commercial manufacturing industry for the last 30 years, but the last 3 years have seen this technology move into homes and small offices more and more as personal printer prices dip below the $500 mark.

There are several online communities dedicated to sharing printer and printable designs, and it’s clear to many that this will be the next staple of home needs. This kind of make-on-demand behavior will even improve global efficiency, since material won’t be wasted by producing more than a market demands, and the travel and transport costs of buying from a store or having something delivered will diminish. Do you need a soup ladle? Find or make a design and print it exactly how you want it. Did your phone case break? You can make another one identical to the original. Do you need a really tiny fork for some reason? You can take pictures of one you have to create a model, scale it down, and print it in miniature. The only limits are your creativity, skill with 3D modeling, and the size of the machine’s printing platform.

It seems that Scott Summit isn’t limited to any of these, though. He has recently become the first person to design and print an acoustic guitar. When he was young, he really wanted expensive guitars. But, since he didn’t have any money, he tried to build one himself. And according to him, “It sounded like crap.” So, over a recent holiday, he took his skills and know-how from his job designing custom limb prosthetics for 3D printing and applied them to designing a guitar. The print was done using the powder/laser sintering method on a large commercial-grade machine, so the entire body is one solid piece. And it even sounds good! Personal printers these days typically have build size limits around 4 by 4 by 4 to 6 by 6 by 6 (in inches), so such an ambitious job is out of the reach of most hobbyists for now. But as time goes by, it’s reasonable to think that every home will eventually have a personal manufacturing machine to make whatever we can dream up.

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