3D printing has been around for years and has nestled its way into lots of companies' product development processes as a more effective way to produce prototype products, test functional parts, and perhaps even pump out limited-run production parts.
Yet in addition to that so-called serious product development and engineering work, there's a significant number of less serious, but equally important, efforts underway. These are pushing the limits of 3D printing toward more consumer-friendly -- even quirky, some might say -- applications. We're talking 3D-printed chocolate, 3D-printed fabric and clothes, and even 3D-printed body parts.
Click the image below to see 16 examples of some of the more creative 3D printing projects out there.
This 3D printed guitar, one of the many creations of Derek Manson, director at the one.61 product development firm, sports a body made from a polycarbonate polymer along with a central core, which is CNC-machined from wood. (Source: one.61)
The vast majority of the folks that I see won't be able to print pancakes with a 3D printer, much less anything of value. They are simply not capable of focusing their attention long enough to even start the process. So the big winner will be the producers of the 3D printing machines. But I also predict a problem with a lot of machines in the "JUNK" class being sold, so that no matter what, the items produced will not be useful. It happens with every product and the 3D printers will not be an exception. And that problem will kill it for a whole lot of people. So the factories in China will never need to close up because things are being made here by everybody. It just won't happen that way.
Just look at the general public and you will see that I am correct.
An article in the Boston Globe talks about how being able to make things at home will change everything from putting Chinese factories out of work to closing retailers to shipping companies, etc. It might even bring manufacturing back to the US.
Then, I say, a medical study will come along saying that people are getting new ailments or cancers from the materials and all 3D printing will be banned. The Chinese factories will start up again, using 3D printing.
R.Moon, you have my sympathy on losing "fun". That is a large portion of motivation, and at some jobs it was really great. Of course it does require some enlightened management, those folks who are able to define the results needed for a project and not insist on the following of specific rules about how one's pencils must be arranged on the desk and how each days papers must be stacked. Those folks should work at a fast food place where consisency of everything is critical.
But being able to look at each day and anticipate what interesting challenges will appear, and anticipate the fun of solving them, is what made engineering so much fun for over 35 years. Except, of course, for those times when managers of the opposite type were involved. And the really interesting fact is that most of the organizations that brought in the bad managers are either not around any more, or they are in a totally different business now. This shows that on most occasions the proof is found in the results.
Real engineering is indeed a fun profession, even dispite those sometimes high stress levels.
One of the casualties of becoming a working engineer is slowly losing the concept of "fun". Making things for the sheer heck of it has an untold value that can lead to slicker, sexier designs that make the customer happy to be a user. This is a strange statement coming from a person known to be a "function over form" type.
I've always seen 3D printing as a new tool that can neatly complement the older subtractive machining techniques. Yes, material science in 3-D printing must continue to try to catch up to our desires, but the mere idea of 3-D printing has pulled open a new direction. An artist friend of mine once taught me that all techniques are at your disposal when you really want to create something.
3D printing has already changed the game, and the change is really just beginning. What we are approaching is an era of " If you can dream it and if you can draw it, then you can make it", which is approachng fantastic. Of course, materials are still the limiting factor, a reality that has not changed for hundreds of years. But I am convinced that in the near future somebody is going to put some of that sintered steel powder into some sort of 3D printing machine and make some nice 3D parts. OF course, until it can deliver the same surfaces and accuracies as a good machinist, we will still need machinists, and probably CNC wizards as well. A CNC wizard needs to know everything that an expert machinist knows, plus programming, but they don't need quite as steady hands. But CNC following a good 3D printer should be able to produce whatever can be designed. Quite likely not cheap enough, but certainly cheaper than before.
The problem, as always, will be finding an adequate source of unobtainium. That stuff is hard to get.
Beth, this 3-D printing world is very exciting!! I'm a older mechanical engineer and glad to see the next generation of designers freed from the time we old timers spent learning to be competent at welding, machining, layout, and assembly.
There's a whole new kind of manufacturing world about to happen. How rare it is and how lucky we are to be right at the cusp of such an industrial revolution.
In addition to the excitement, revolutionary changes give more choices. At least for a little while there will still be places for the old style "make and assemble" craftsman as well as for the new 3-D printer-designer.
I also know that some of this 3D printing is going to make it possible to make things that otherwise would not be able to be machined. I still feel the loss of hands on knowledge will just get exponentially worse.
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