Building the Future - 3D Printing

Building the Future - 3D Printing

From Iron Man's mask to electric guitars, 3D printing is building a new world.

We've all used a printer, whether it's the inkjet in our bedroom or the school's laser printer.  But imagine what it would be like to press PRINT and watch a brand new scooter appear, or an electric guitar like your favourite rock band's.

Science fiction? Not for long...

This October, the 3D Printshow London 2012 revealed some of the latest creations from designers, architects and engineers.  Even the band playing at the event was using a violin and guitars designed and printed from a computer!

For comic book and movie fans, the specials effects team that made Iron Man's mask for the Avengers film was on display.  The mask was made using, you guessed it, 3D printing...

Superhero Science: Iron Man

From music to fashion, gardening to motor racing, this technology may well change the way things are made forever.

What is 3D Printing?

As long ago as the 1980's, several companies were developing ways of producing 3-dimensional objects with printers connected to computers.

One of the first methods was invented by Charles Hull and is called stereolithography. It uses a liquid resin to build up the design layer by layer.  The resin hardens when ultraviolet light shines onto it, and each layer sticks to the ones above and below it.

Nowadays there are lots of methods of 3D printing using plastics, metals, paper, ceramic powder and more.

All the different methods have several things in common:

  • They start with an object created in a computer using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program, or scanned into a computer with a 3D Scanner.
  • This digital design is then sliced into hundreds of thousands of 2D layers.
  • The file is sent to a 3D printer which produces the object one layer at a time.

You can find out more about the process here.

Since 3D printing was first developed the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Objects with moving parts can now be produced, and in the future it may be possible to print everything from new body parts to chemical compounds.

That may not happen for a while, but check out this report by Christopher Barnatt from Nottingham University in which he presents some highlights from the London 2012 show.

You'll be amazed, we promise!