The impact of 3D printing - 11/21/13

The impact of 3D printing

President Obama described 3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, as having the potential to “revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” In a perfect illustration of this, a ‘voice sculptor’ used a 3D printer to create a visual representation of a 39 second snippet of Obama’s state of the Union address. The 1.52m-long, 10 kg sculpture took two weeks to print out and is an impressive testament to the potential 3D has to create intricate, custom pieces. But how great an impact will 3D printing will actually have? 

The excitement that surrounds 3D printing is mostly to do with the effect that it could have on manufacturing, not only on an industrial scale, but by also giving people the ability to create things in their own homes. It is hoped that manufacturing will return to countries like America, with even the Chinese investing heavily in the technology in order to serve a growing domestic market. The idea of people being able to start their own business based around 3D printing is becoming more feasible as the printers become cheaper. Many desktop models are now priced at well under $1000, however industrial sized printers start at $10,000. Politicians hope that this will drive economic growth and create more business owners.  

The most common use for 3D printing at present is creating custom pieces and prototypes. NASA successfully tested a rocket engine fuel injector that had been manufactured this way. Such a part would normally take up to a year to make, but by using this method, it was 70% less expensive and took only four months to construct. The ability to create mass-produced precise structures, with reduced production costs and time is hugely appealing to manufacturers, as the supply chain can also be shortened, with products being built close to or even at their point of purchase. 

Industry is only one part that the technology can be used to improve people’s lives. The field of medicine has a lot to gain from 3D printing, but will require vast amount of investment to explore. A team of scientists at the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute believe that they will be able to print a whole heart within a decade, though it will be hugely costly. Having already created a coronary artery and smaller blood vessels, they think that creating a solid structure like the heart is achievable. Speaking about these claims, Kevin Shakesheff, director of the Wolfson Centre for Stem Cells, Tissue Engineering and Modelling “To do this in ten years needs a massive amount of funding and the money needs to be spent properly and quickly.” 

How great an impact do you think 3D printing will have on the world? Have you been working on your own technology? Post your technologies for free in our Boutique through the InnovatorCircle.

Gilles Azzaro and his sculpture

Gilles Azzaro and his sculpture

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