A 3D printer is basically a tool to convert a 3D design created on a computer into a physical 3D model. To set an example, if we design a cup of coffee on our computer (through a CAD – Computer Aided Design program), we can print that cup in three dimensions using a 3D printer, thus obtaining a product or physical object, in this case, the cup of coffee.
This technology allows you to create objects “from scratch”, from the most simple, like the cup of coffee used as an example, to the most complex, such as aircraft components or materials that are already being used in medicine.
How do they work?
I will try to avoid getting too technical and explain in a straightforward manner how this type of printer works …
To shape any object with its three dimensions, the 3D printer forms and superposes the layers until the shape of the object is completed. As ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, check out this video :
There are sophisticated design programs fitted with advanced features, but to make the designs and use this type of printer, you don’t need to be an expert in CAD programmes. There are many user-friendly programmes that allow this type of printers to have a more domestic use as well.
Types of 3D printers
These are printers that add layers of the material the object is composed of.
In these printers a mass of powder is compacted in layers. There is a type of printer using ink that agglomerates powder to make it compact and that it can also be different colours. There is another type of printer that uses laser instead of ink, projecting energy to the powder and making it polymerize to then immerse it in a fluid that makes it solidify.
What objects can 3D printers create?
It is difficult to answer this question because, most likely, these printers are able to create anything that can be designed: from simple household objects to prostheses or human organs.
When it comes to printers, we automatically tend to think of small objects, but nothing is further from reality … They can also be large and get to reproduce even buildings.
What is the future of 3D Printers?
Today 3D printers can already manufacture shoes, fashion items, toys and other consumer goods. But this is only the beginning. I dare say that we will soon see these devices producing all kinds of food with personalized nutritional values, for example.
Nowadays only the most powerful corporations have them available, but rather sooner than later their use will spread and they will be available to everyone … We will be able to create items for our own home in our own place, or at a nearby printing centre. And this inevitably results in a lesser need to import products, for instance, from China.
This is one of the few cases where we can say without a doubt that the future is already here …
We are becoming more familiar with this almost magical tool which, oddly enough, has its origins in the 80s, and that will probably drive the next industrial revolution, making a huge impact at all levels and literally changing the world.
The economy of knowledge is an increasingly present concept and a safe bet we are committed to …
In a near future, countries will export designs rather than products –countries will import these designs through the Internet and will produce them locally with 3D printers.
That said, the future is here to stay …