This impressive new technology, 3D printing could be leading the world to a new industrial revolution.
More and more sectors develop ways of using this technology to their own needs. From food producing to bioprinting for medical purposes, a wide range of different uses can be imagined.
Figurines, clothes, furniture… In theory it would be possible to recreate any object we use in everyday life.
Creation Engineering, a Welsh company, provides 3D printing services to companies and to individuals across the UK. The main areas in which the company prints products are architecture, fashion, engineering, toy design and biomedical.
Dr Daniel J. Thomas from Creation Engineering said: “Creation Engineering is a specialist in producing medical-based surgical model production and prototype medical device fabrication. We are also developing the aspects of bioprinting for the NHS which is printing living tissue – primarily bone cement for trauma patients.”
New developments in this technology are allowing assembling functioning sections of human liver tissues. There could soon be a lot of improvements in health and medicine possible because of 3D printing.
“Bioprinting is a future development in which there are a number of companies that are developing the printing of soft tissue. Modern Meadow for instance are experimenting with the printing of beef tissue which can be used as meat,” Dr Thomas said.
3D printing starts with a product design created by computer, either with creation software or by scanning a real object. This design model is then cut into two-dimensional “slices” for the printer to interpret it.
Then the printer deposits several layers of material which can be paper, plastic, metal, carbon for instance.
Objects printed can be hard or flexible, all in one block or with small movable parts. Almost everything is possible really, and the 3D technologies keep improving quickly.
“3D Printing is developing on a month-by-month basis in which many improvements are being made in both extrusion technology and photo resistant resin-based systems. The level of accuracy and speed in which systems are being developed is becoming the vanguard of such systems. The current layer resolution is100µm (a hair width) but newer systems can get down to 50µm layer resolution. With the use of water soluble materials then moving parts can also be produced within a single structure,” Dr Thomas explained.
3D printing is currently being questioned regarding its consequences for ecology. On one hand, some say that if more individuals start printing 3D objects as a do-it-yourself fashion, this could imply a waste of materials leftover in the printing process.
On the other hand, Dr Thomas said: “3D printed materials such as ABS plastic (the same plastic that are used to make lego bricks) is 100% recyclable. The wastage is minimal because it is an additive process rather than subtractive.
“Further to this new bioplastics i.e. Poly Lactic Acids (PLA) can be 3D printed. These are made from renewable organic sources usually fermented sunflower oil or potatoes. These plastics are also biodegradable.”
However 3D printing also leads to many issues and important questions regarding the objects which it allows to produce. Rather worrying, the 3D printing of guns is becoming very concrete.