The latest editions of Time Magazine (1 & 8 December 2014) and National Geographic (December 2014) both have articles naming 3-D printing a hot new technology. According to Time:
A machine that can build any object. It sounds like sci-fi fantasy, but thanks to the rise of 3-D printers–devices that can build objects from digital blueprints, usually by layering plastic or other materials–is rapidly becoming reality.
That’s a boon for consumers and corporations alike. In the past year alone, middle-school students have 3-D printed stock cars for physics lessons, scientists have 3-D printed tissues for human organs, and GE has used 3-D printing to improve the efficiency of its jet engines. “This is one of the technologies that literally touches everything we do,” say Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, who 3-D printers produce candy and musical instruments, among other things.
Time names the technology one of the “25 best inventions of 2014.” According to Roff Smith writing in NG:
Rocket engine parts, chocolate figurines, functional replica pistols, a Dutch canal house, designer sunglasses, a zippy two-seater car, a rowboat, a prototype bionic ear, pizzas–hardly a week goes by without a startling tour de force in the rapidly evolving technology of 3-D printing.
The magazine goes on the describe 3 ways to print in 3-D:
The term “3-D printing” includes a number of different technologies, but they all rely on the same basic principle: building up an object by adding material layer by layer. The methods, which vary in cost, speed, accuracy, and materials, each have their own advantages.
- Fused Deposition Modeling: Plastic filament is fed into a printer, melted, and deposited in layers, which harden. The process is suitable for an office, making this an ideal technology for desktop consumer printers.
- Selective Laser Sintering: Fine powder, such as metal or plastic, is laid down, and a laser passes over it, selectively fusing it to the layer beneath. This allows a broad range of materials to be printed.
- Stereolithography: A photosensitive liquid resin is exposed to a laser or ultraviolet light, which hardens it. The process is fast and can create high-resolution shapes, but yields objects with limited material strength.