With 3D printing on the rise, we’re taking a look at the amazing ways this technology is going to change the world.
3D printing is going to transition beyond making knick knacks out of plastic, and into a global movement that uses scalable technology that can create almost anything, using all sorts of materials as ‘#ink‘.
With prosthesis technology improving day-by-day, we’ll soon see super 3D #printed limbs, with full movement, for amputees. In the future you’ll have bones fixed with plug-in printed pieces, hearts repaired with new valves and even printed organs for transplantation. (Oh and it’s going to be great for medical students too. Need to practice surgery? Print out a patient for a trial operation.)
3D Printing prototypes allows for low-cost, rapid prototyping and new product development. This gives small firms a chance to compete with big companies by testing products quickly and efficiently, before bringing them to market. (You can also expect to find budding industrialists working at home; another form of the ‘bedroom coder’ that’s been driving the #smartphone #app market.)
What if your entire vehicle was 3D printed? Car manufacturers could save millions on shipping-tanker costs (and unsold inventory) by printing cars on demand in their local dealerships. To give you an idea of how fast this could be, one firm releasing a car in 2015 hopes to reduce build time to just 12 hours. While you’re not going to be taking the kids to school in one these for a while, their kids might just print and go.
Astronauts on the International Space Station already have a 3D printer to run tests, but they still have supplies sent up to them via rocket from earth. The really big chance for change is when we start sending people on longer missions and to other planets. Need a new sonic screwdriver on your moon base? Email NASA and they’ll send the plans right through. (Just make sure you don’t run out of #toner.)
As the cost of printing comes down, we’ll see it used more in the developing word. If you live in a remote village that has power and a telephone line, but is difficult to drive to, you might end up with local firms printing products on demand, rather than waiting for a shipment to come in. It could also be essential in disaster relief, where rescue teams could print medical supplies for victims (when running low) or even entire emergency shelters.
A nanometre is one billionth of a metre. There are now sculptures being printed on the nano scale – including a model of Tower Bridge. This technology isn’t just for show, though. Scientists are already using it to print teeny tiny lithium-ion batteries and, one day, it could create nano-robots that can swim through people’s bodies, diagnosing and curing illnesses (and which are powered by said batteries).
More and more shopping will be print on demand, but #Amazon is taking it further: the company has filed a patent on delivery trucks that will print your order as they are en route. Of course that will be for the bigger items that our home printers can’t handle, or when we can’t download the blueprint we need online. (We’ll see a copyright tug of war, similar to the MP3 pirating age, where companies try to restrict access to their print-plans so you can only get your order from approved suppliers).
It would be amazing if every house could have its own #StarTrek replicator where you’d print dinner for the family – but that is many, many years away. Right now, companies are using the technology to print fancy sweets that can’t be created by hand and, yes, chocolate. Do you think we’ll have pick ‘n’ mix printers at cinemas? (And if you fancy something savoury, Pepsi used a 3D printer to develop an extra-crunchy crisp.)
Will we have printed dresses, shoes and accessories? Yes. While it’s all going to be high-end for a while, one day you will have the chance to buy your own printed clothes and even luxury items. Richemont, which owns #Cartier #Dunhill, Baume & Mercier, #Montblanc and Vacheron Constantin has even set up an academic chair to look at this and other new manufacturing technologies.
Oil and gas companies are very interested in 3D printing. It not only gives them a chance to manufacture parts for their rigs and pipelines – especially important if they are trying to maintain older technology – but they can also supply the raw materials used to make the printing ‘ink and #toner’ itself. Printing might also be a boon to solar energy, making solar panels and cells cheaper to manufacture, lighter and more efficient.