Venture Explains: 3D Printing

What is it?

Many are predicting a manufacturing revolution is about to be ushered in by 3D printers: machines that can create a three-dimensional replica of almost any object, from toy figurines to human cartilage. While the technology for 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, the machines have only become commercially available in the past few years.

How does it work?

The material used for printing is fed into the machine, where it is then superheated and deposited to create the object. The creation process works on the concept of additive manufacturing: the superheated material is sequentially applied one layer at a time, according to the design schematic of the intended object. The layers fuse together and cool down, creating the final shape.

Where is the technology heading?

The technology and usage of 3D printers is improving at an incredibly fast pace and is beginning to threaten the conventional manufacturing process. Common household items such as plastic cups, bowls, clothes hangers, and curtain rods can all be printed at home. But it doesn’t stop there. Sophisticated 3D printers are being used to print a range of products from clothing, to prosthetic limbs, to handguns, and even living cells. And with online distribution of design blueprints, 3D printers will allow people to customize whatever product they want in just the way they desire.

NSK